The Adventures of Tintin is a popular series of comic albums translated into many languages and distributed all over the world. The estate of cartoonist Hergé has always had a reputation for applying a no-nonsense policy when it comes to copyright compliance. But it still came as a surprise in March 2021 when his heirs sued artist Xavier Marabout for forgery and moral rights infringement. The reason for the lawsuit? Paintings illustrating the love life and erotic encounters of Hergé’s star character, Tintin. The court delivered its ruling in May.
Since 2014, French painter Xavier Marabout has been imagining Tintin spending time with young women in scenes by the American artist Edward Hopper. The Moulinsart company, which manages Hergé’s rights on behalf of his estate, was not impressed. As early as 2015, Moulinsart issued a first warning to Marabout.
Speaking to Le Figaro, the artist said that he had contacted the heirs to explain his artistic approach. In his eyes, it was obvious that his use of Tintin was a parody and that the works therefore benefitted from exceptions allowing use without permission. Since then, he has created 24 paintings.
Moulinsart doesn’t see things that way. In 2017, they filed a lawsuit in court. The first hearing was held in March 2021 and the company claimed €12,500 in damages.
Hergé’s estate isn’t joking about Tintin’s sex life
“Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!” is probably what Moulinsart representatives exclaimed when they saw the works by Xavier Marabout. The issue isn’t simply unauthorized use of the famous Belgian reporter character, it’s also the character’s sexualization that they find offensive.
According to Ouest-France, Moulinsart’s lawyer stated in court that Hergé was interviewed many times and had justified his decision to avoid depicting women in his works because he found that they rarely served as comedic elements.
In the heirs’ opinion, this distortion of Hergé’s intentions infringes the author’s moral rights.
What makes Tintin’s sex life a parody?
The sexual orientation of both Tintin and Captain Haddock has always been a topic of debate. The lack of women appearing in Tintin’s many adventures has added fuel to the controversy. In Le Figaro, Marabout explained that he had immediately wanted to have Tintin fall in love and to imagine a love life for this hero who’s considered asexual. And he then developed that story angle in Hopper’s paintings.
What’s the verdict?
The civil division of the judicial court of Rennes in France acknowledged Xavier Marabout’s “humorous intention” and noted that the effect comes from the incongruity of the situation in contrast to the sobriety and usual sadness of Hopper’s works and the absence of any female presence at Tintin’s side.
That means Xavier Marabout’s works comply with copyright because they benefit from the exception for the purpose of parody.
We can assume the artist shouted “ten thousand thundering typhoons!” when he heard the court’s decision.