The retail outlets and shops seen in The Adventures of Tintin, provide an opportunity to discover the young reporter's shopping preferences.
It may seem strange to want to push open the doors of these shops, given that their commercial activities hardly - if ever - interfere with the main plot of the adventures. But they're there, all right. Present in the image, like silent extras essential to the setting. But, after all, maybe it's just a facade…
That's what we're going to find out, with a tour of the sales outlets most frequented by Tintin.
Buying locally is great!
Sometimes, in the course of a scene or sequence, readers catch him in the act of shopping.
But they'll also see that he only goes to local shops, specialist shops that are within a stone's throw of his home or in the vicinity of where he's staying. And that's a credit to him, when you consider that at the time, shopping arcades, covered walkways and, above all, department stores (such as "Selfridges" in London, and "Macy’s" in New York) were legion and in full swing.
Despite the hype and rock-bottom prices, he seems to be holding out. So much so that, in the adventures, these new "consumer’s paradise" are conspicuous by their absence.
We can't say whether the hero shuns them by choice or by conviction, but the fact remains that, by doing so, he shows his unintentional support for the small independent shopkeepers who are to be found on almost every street he passes.
Let's take a look at the types of shops he prefers.
Of course, this was to be expected. As with most consumers, clothing is the number one item on their shopping list.
Far from being a fashion victim, he doesn't neglect his appearance - as we saw in a previous feature entitled "Clothes fit for a hero".
In fact, he doesn't chase bargains or the latest fashions. Instead, he looks for practical and/or essential fashion pieces to add to his wardrobe so that he can go about his business in a comfortable, practical and stylish way.
Besides, his very first adventure confirms this. If he takes the time to go window-shopping while being closely followed by a member of the Soviet Cheka, it's because his clothes are in tatters. These rags are a little too visible and noticeable for his taste, and he wants to get rid of them as quickly as possible in favour of a much more appropriate “locally inspired” outfit.Then, a few vignettes later, he repeated the experiment, this time swapping his aviator outfit for a driving suit.
In short, thanks to the ready-to-wear shops, our favourite hero can change his mind... well, his clothes and his shirts, in the space of just a few vignettes. How handy is that?
And as in The Adventures of Tintin, the villains are never far away, it was only to be expected that they would - at one time or another - stick their noses into these affairs. Sometimes, fashion boutiques are used as cover for lucrative underground businesses.
Mitsuhirato's shop - ironically located on the Street of Tranquility - is a good example. The man who acts as a go-between for Rastapopoulos and a cameo for the Japanese has absolutely nothing in common with a shopkeeper. This drug baron conducts his fraudulent activities directly from the back room of his establishment, in a comfortable office worthy of The Godfather.
Food and wonders
Another essential item of expenditure in a consumers' budgets is food.
Here too, Tintin prefers to eat locally, as this guarantees freshness and quality. But while the mini-markets he frequents are overflowing with all kinds of assortments, they are above all stocked with discoveries and other revelations. So much so that he never buys... anything. It's an effective way of saving money, of course, but it does absolutely nothing to fill the cupboards.
Readers can rest assured that the intrepid reporter is not losing out. Far from it, in fact, since these 'pit stops' always allow him to stumble across a good lead. In this case, promising new leads.
At Mohammed Ben Ali's, the grocer in The Crab with the Golden Claws, for example, he pulls off a double coup by discovering a large stock of canned goods - the famous yellow tins he's been investigating since the beginning of the adventure - and by obtaining a vital piece of information: the name of the town's biggest trader, a certain Omar Ben Salaad.
These vignettes, which are generally rich in detail, are also an opportunity to appreciate a few marketing "tricks of the trade", such as the one that has come to be known as "facing", which consists of displaying a maximum number of products on one or more levels of the shelf in a frontal manner - in other words, directly in front of the customers. The aim is to arouse customers' desires and trigger a purchase. Simple and effective! It’s worth thinking about.
Then in The Calculus Affair, Tintin and his sidekicks also dust off the sales techniques traditionally practised in markets. Italian, in particular. By driving his car into the middle of the stalls, he unwittingly - and well before his time - invented the concept of the "drive-in" or "drive-through". Thanks to this, he can take away a string of sausages without getting out of his car. Fast. Practical. Especially when you're in a hurry. Avanti!
It's hard to talk about food shops without mentioning the most famous of them all: the highly reputable Cutts the butcher's shop, a modest family-run establishment based in Marlinspike. And yet, like the Arlésienne, who never appears, everyone talks about it but no one has ever really seen it.
All readers know about it is a pale yellow wall adorned with earthenware tiles and a metal hanger where mouth-watering cuts of meat and charcuterie hang. A little too simplistic for your taste? Too bad, because that's as far as you'll get. So move along, there's nothing more to see, as this gourmet paradise is nothing more than a hoax designed to amuse the gallery.
In the commercial register, ephemeral retail outlets are also doing well. Following the example of today's pop-up stores (shops that can be set up and dismantled very quickly), some shops are playing the temporary card, and therefore the exclusivity card, by appearing only once in a series.
From a marketing point of view, this strategy is an excellent way of creating brand awareness, but for Hergé, it is above all an excuse to vary the pleasures, in other words: diversifying the offer and thus offering new types of goods. These unusual stalls ranged from an antique shop (The Broken Ear) to a tobacco shop (Tintin and the Picaros), a car dealership (Tintin in the Land of the Soviets), a toy shop (King Ottokar's Sceptre) and a newsagent (The Calculus Affair).
When it comes to diversity, senior Oliveira da Figueira knows a thing or two about it, as he has made bazaars his business. The figurehead.... or rather head of the street vendor, this dynamic Portuguese merchant is the perfect embodiment of the stereotypical travelling salesman - a profession almost as old as commerce itself.
His sales pitch is so persuasive that he can sell not ice to Eskimos, but roller skates to Bedouins! His talent is such that he has no limits. So much so that, even in the middle of the desert - where, by definition, there is never anyone - he manages to get the crowds moving.
But after working on just about every terrain, he finally settled in Wadesdah, where he has found an ideally located doorstep. A golden business that promises to be prosperous and long-lasting.
A good sign
Finally, when you say shop, you say sign. And that makes sense. Since mediaeval times, these visual markers have topped shop entrances so that onlookers and shoppers can identify them and know, at a glance, the nature of their activities.
Simplicity, legibility and visibility. These are the three criteria that make these external signs, equivalent to an address, effective distinguishing marks and, therefore, signs of recognition. But despite their symbolic significance, there is one person who falls for them every time. Or maybe it's the other way round, because Captain Haddock seems to have a knack for catching them on the corner of his nose or face. As in The Calculus Affair, for example, where he is fitted with a grotesque - because they are gigantic - pair of yellow spectacles.
And yet Hergé had set the tone. In addition to the "physical" gag, the cartoonist took care to write a slogan that was as hard-hitting as it was far-sighted: "To see clearly, Leclerc glasses". A tagline that almost sounds like a subliminal message. As if Hergé were advising his character, and his readers, to keep their eyes open... but the right ones!
But the right one! Why? Because, throughout the adventures, he has had fun slipping amusing notes of humour into these advertising materials. In the French edition of Tintin in America, for example, the clandestine distillery run by the local mafia is called "The moonshine club". So there's no deception here, since everything is clearly stated because it's the name of a smuggled spirit.
This is less true, however, for the armoury, "The Sword of Damoclès", whose company name is... how can I put this...a double-edged sword. While it's easy to guess that this is a specialist in bladed weapons, nothing is certain about the quality of its products or the welcome it extends to customers... Forewarned is forearmed, so beware and stay on your guard!