BRUSSELS – The grumpy Captain Haddock, that drunken sailor wearing a blue sweater with a big heart and known for his eccentric repetitive phrases in Herge’s cartoons, is celebrating 80 years since he met Tintin, the intrepid journalist with whom he became an inseparable travel companion since January 1941.
“He needed a drunken ship captain. I made many sketches to try to find this character and I always started off by making him look drunk, like someone who really drank a lot,” said the Belgian author Georges Remi (1907-1983), universally known as Herge, about his character in 1964.
Very fond of drinking, of aristocratic origin and calling the castle of Moulinsart home, the bearded sailor Archibal Haddock made his debut in a comic strip by Tintin when the strip was published in black and white in the Belgian newspaper “Le Soir,” at the time controlled by the Nazi propaganda machine.
On January 2, 1941, in the middle of the Second World War, the first drawing of the captain appeared; on January 9, the sailor joined Tintin in a cartoon for the first time and on May 29, Herge gave him a name: Haddock.
These were fragments of what in 1941 would become the pages of an album entitled “The Crab with the Golden Claws,” reissued in color in 1944, in which Haddock is a hopeless alcoholic who, over the years and thanks to Tintin’s influence, eases his drinking.
“He indulges in a glass of whisky or two, even three, but he does not fall into the excesses of the past,” Herge said of a character inspired in part by his friend the cartoonist Edgar P. Jacobs, author of Blake and Mortimer, and who vaguely remembers the writer and navigator Ernest Hemingway.
“In the beginning, he’s not pleasant at all. He is a drunkard, a slave to his vice: a real disaster,” Herge admitted about a kind of patrician of the European high bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century with the forms of a sixteenth-century pirate.
Before Haddock, Snowy the white dog accompanied Tintin, the reporter in the beige raincoat from the first vignettes, which was published in 1929 in a supplement to the extinct daily “Le Vingtième Siècle” and brought together in 1930 in the album “The Adventures of Tintin in the Land of the Soviets.”
Although he was not the first or particularly likeable, or perhaps because of that, Haddock is the perfect foil to the protagonist and the most human and endearing character in the series.
“Tintin is an ideal creature, while Haddock is flesh and blood. He has faults and defects, humor and his famous swear words. He is a character who accompanies his friend Tintin everywhere, defends him and helps him. He is the most realistic character,” Dominique Maricq, author of half a dozen titles on Tintin and Herge, told EFE.
Haddock’s enduring qualities – most importantly his loyalty and his humanity – are on display in “Tintin in Tibet,” when the captain, without hesitation, accompanies his friend on a journey that he is convinced will end in certain death, or in “The Jewels of the Castafiore” when the captain offers a gypsy family that lives in poverty next to a dump to live on his farm, even defending their innocence when they are accused of a robbery because of racial prejudice.
But Haddock’s most characteristic feature are his expressive expletives, words chosen for their sonority that when voiced by the sailor acquire such aggressiveness that they function as insults, although rarely because of their actual meaning: ectoplasm, phlebotomy, lepidoptera, Zapotec, orycteropus, technocrat...
This talent for discrediting, which Casterman Publishing has brought together in a volume entitled “The swear words of Captain Haddock,” comes from an argument that Herge witnessed in a fishmonger’s, where the shopkeeper, who was arguing with a client, said: “Tell me, kind of a four-way street.”
Herge deduced that the ingenious fishmonger had borrowed the phrase from the “Four-Power Pact,” an international agreement reached in 1933 between the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany, and appropriated the expression for the captain to transform it into an insult.
“I thought it had a wonderful sound to it. Evidently, it was not an insult, but an expression, but I used it to give Captain Haddock a wider vocabulary and to use words that were not insulting, but that had a sonority that made it seem so,” explained the cartoonist of the sailor who popularized the phrase “Rayos y centellas!
The genius of a comic book author, for “tintinologist” Dominique Maricq, is that some words, objects or characters transcend the comic strip and remain “among us,” converted into references used in newspapers or on television.
“Although eighty years have passed, Haddock hasn’t got a single wrinkle,” he says.