Explorers on the Moon

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Explorers on the Moon
(On a marché sur la Lune)
Wearing space suits, Tintin, Snowy, and Haddock are exploring the surface of the moon, with their rocket ship in the background.
Cover of the English edition
Date 1954
Series The Adventures of Tintin
Publisher Casterman
Creative team
Creator Hergé
Original publication
Published in Tintin magazine
Date of publication 29 October 1952 – 29 December 1953
Language French
Publisher Methuen
Date 1959
  • Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper
  • Michael Turner
Preceded by Destination Moon (1953)
Followed by The Calculus Affair (1956)

Explorers on the Moon (French: On a marché sur la Lune) is the seventeenth of The Adventures of Tintin, the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. The story was serialised weekly in the newly established Tintin magazine from October 1952 to December 1953. Completing an arc begun in Destination Moon, the story tells of young reporter Tintin, his dog Snowy, and friends Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, and Thomson and Thompson who are aboard a manner rocket mission to the moon.

Explorers on the Moon was published in book form by Casterman after its serialisation. Hergé continued The Adventures of Tintin with The Calculus Affair, while the series itself became a defining part of the Franco-Belgian comics tradition. Critics have praised the illustrative detail of the book, but have expressed mixed views of the story. The story was adapted for both the 1957 Belvision animated series, Hergé's Adventures of Tintin, and for the 1991 animated series The Adventures of Tintin by Ellipse and Nelvana.


Professor Calculus, Tintin, Tintin's dog Snowy, Captain Haddock, and Calculus' assistant Frank Wolff are aboard an atomic-powered rocket to the Moon. Soon after takeoff they discover that the detectives Thomson and Thompson have accidentally stowed away on board, putting a strain on the oxygen supply. The detectives accidentally turn off the motor, disrupting the artificial gravity and sending everyone floating until Tintin corrects the problem. They then suffered a relapse of the Formula 14 drug (seen in Land of Black Gold), resulting in their hair to grow rapidly in multiple colours; Calculus administers a cure. Haddock gets drunk and takes an impromptu spacewalk, during which he briefly becoming a satellite of the asteroid Adonis; Tintin rescues him.

The rocket lands in the Hipparchus Crater, with Tintin being the first human to step on the Moon. Three days later, the Captain, Wolff and Tintin take the battery-powered tank to explore some stalactite caves in the direction of the Ptolemaeus Crater; inside a cave Snowy slips into an ice-covered fissure, with Tintin rescuing him. Later aboard the ship, Tintin is overwhelmed by a third stowaway, Colonel Jorgen, a spy who had been smuggled aboard by Wolff, who has been blackmailed by a foreign power. With Wolff's help, Jorgen seeks to hijack the ship and return it to Earth, but is foiled by Tintin.

Due to the strain on the oxygen supplies, the crew decides to abandon most of the equipment and to cut short the lunar stay. The repair work is completed slightly ahead of schedule, and the rocket cleared for lift-off. Halfway to Earth, Jorgen escapes his bonds and tries to kill Tintin; Wolff seeks to prevent him, and in their struggle over a gun Jorgen is killed. When it is revealed that there will not be enough oxygen aboard for the crew to survive the journey, Wolff sacrifices himself by opening the airlock and floating out into space to his death. The crew fall unconscious but Tintin sets the rocket to auto-pilot and it arrives back in Syldavia safely.



Hergé first devised the idea of sending Tintin on a mission to the moon while he was working on Prisoners of the Sun.[1] His decision to move into the field of science-fiction might have been influenced by his friendly rivalry with his colleague Edgar P. Jacobs, who had recently had success with his own science-fiction comic, The Secret of the Swordfish.[2] He decided that it would be a two-volume story arc, as had proved successful with his earlier arcs, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure, and The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun.[1] He had initially intended on beginning this story after the culmination of Prisoners of the Sun, although both his wife Germaine Remi and his close friend Marcel Dehaye convinced him to proceed with Land of Black Gold, a story that he had previously left unfinished, instead.[3]

A German V-2 rocket being tested in 1942. The V-2 would serve as a major inspiration for Hergé in the work.

Seeking advice on the story, Hergé consulted his friend Bernard Heuvelmans, who had authored the non-fiction book L'Homme parmi les étoiles ("Man Among the Stars").[2] In autumn 1947 Heuvelmans and Jacques Van Melkebeke developed a script for the story, which they gave to Hergé. This version based Calculus' lunar expedition in a fictional location, Radio City, in the United States. It featured a return of Professor Decimus Phostle, a character who had previously appeared in The Shooting Star, but this time as an antagonist; Phostle had sold the secrets of the mission in order to attain funds to buy a diamond for the actress Rita Hayworth.[4] In early 1948, Hergé produced two black-and-white pages of this version of the story before abandoning it.[5] Hergé retained some elements of this original script in his finished version, namely the scenes in which Haddock drinks whiskey in a gravity-free environment and that in which Haddock is walking on the moon and nearly becomes a satellite of Adonis, which appear on pages 5 and 8 of the final book version respectively.[6] Nevertheless, Heuvelmans thought his influence on the story to be more significant, stating that "In going through the two books we [he and Van Melkebeke] really had the impression that it was what we had originally done at the beginning. In broad outline, that was it."[7]

Hergé hoped for the story to be as realistic as possible, and sought to eschew fantastical elements.[8] In Hergé's own words, it contained "no moonmen, no monsters, no incredible surprises".[9] To ensure this realism, he collected a wide range of documents about rocketry and space travel with which to conduct research.[10] In this he was aided by Heuvelmans, who collected pictures of rockets and atomic research facilities for him.[11] Hergé's research archive included an article from the American magazine Collier's which discussed how humanity could reach the moon,[10] as well as books by Pierre Rousseau and Auguste Piccard.[12] A further work that he used was L'Astronautique, a book on putative space travel by the physicist Alexander Ananoff,[13] with whom Hergé began a correspondence in April 1950.[14] He also visited the Center for Atomic Research of the Ateliers de Constructions Electriques de Charleroi, striking up a subsequent correspondence with its director, Max Hoyaux.[15] Possible fictional influences on Hergé's story include the 1950 American film Destination Moon and Jules Verne's 1870 novel Around the Moon, both of which contain similarities with the comic story.[16] Hergé was certainly inspired by a number of photographic stills from the Destination Moon film which had been published.[17] Hergé incorporated much of this technical information into the story, but juxtaposed it with moments of humour to make it more accessible to his young readership.[18]

Hergé based his moon rocket on the designs of the V-2 rocket which had been developed by German scientists during World War II.[10] The red-and-white checker pattern on Hergé's rocket was based upon an illustration of a V-2 which Hergé had come upon in Leslie Simon's 1947 book German Research in World War II.[16] He commissioned the construction of a model rocket with detachable parts from his assistant Arthur Van Noeyen. He took the model to Paris where he showed it to Ananoff, asking him if it was realistic representation of what a moon rocket might look like. He and his then used the model from which to accurately sketch when producing the comic.[19] The computer system at the Sprodj space centre was visually based upon the UNIVAC I, the first computer to be created for non-military purposes.[20] Hergé introduced the character of Boris Jorgen into the story, who had previously appeared as an antagonist in King Ottokar's Sceptre.[21] He added evidence for water on the moon at the advice of Heuvelmans.[22]


On 7 September 1950, Hergé broke off the story with the statement "end of part one".[23] He felt the need for a break from work, having fallen back into clinical depression. He and his wife Germaine went on holiday to Gland in Switzerland, before returning to Brussels in late September.[24] Many readers sent letters to Tintin asking why Explorers on the Moon was no longer being serialised, with a rumour emerging that Hergé had died.[25] On 18 April 1951 he published an open letter in the magazine explaining his absence as a result of illness caused by exhaustion, and he included an illustration of himself sprawled out on an armchair.[25] As Hergé planed his return to work, covers of Tintin magazine announced the imminent return of the story.[26] Explorers of the Moon would resume after an eighteen-month hiatus,[27] returning in the 9 April 1951 issue, accompanied with a summary of the story so far.[28] Its final installment appeared on 31 December 1953.[7]


Upon the serial's publication, Hergé faced criticism for including Wolff's suicide in the story; suicide was widely viewed as a sin in Catholic-dominated Belgium. In deference to these critics, for the published book version he added Wolff's line of "perhaps by some miracle I shall escape too", to make the scene seem a less obvious suicide. Years later, Hergé expressed regret that he had capitulated on this issue.[29] The story was collected together and published by Editions Casterman as On a Marché Sur La Lune in 1954.[30] Publishers were unhappy with this title, which translates as "They Walked on the Moon", but Hergé resolutely refused to make a change.[31]

Critical analysis[edit]

Jean-Marc Lofficier and Randy Lofficier believed that the two-part story "belongs" to Calculus, because his "cosmic vision moves the story forward".[21] They further expressed the opinion that Wolff was a unique character in the Adventures of Tintin, suggesting that he is akin to a character from a John le Carré novel.[21] Referring specifically to Explorers on the Moon, they opined that it was "a true epic of the human imagination", believing that its depiction of the moon has "withstood the test of time" more than other "proto-space exploration novels".[32] They felt that the moon adventure was "Hergé at his best... a triumphant achievement on every level", awarding both halves of the story five stars out of five.[32]

Hergé biographer Benoît Peeters (pictured, 2010) felt that Wolff's character brought "a tragic note" to the story.[33]

Hergé biographer Pierre Assouline felt that the two moon adventures "mark a stage in the development of Hergé's work".[34] Hergé biographer Benoît Peeters praised the "gradual introduction into the story of a real dimension of evil" as being something particularly effective.[35] He also expressed the view that Wolff brings "a tragic note" to the story, comparing him to the characters in the stories of Graham Greene.[35] He was critical of the two-part story arc, stating that they had "neither the liveliness and dynamism" of The Secret of the Unicorn-Red Rackham's Treasure, "nor the supernatural quality" of The Seven Crystal Balls-Prisoners of the Sun.[35]

Harry Thompson noted that Explorers of the Moon was widely regarded as Hergé's "greatest artistic achievement",[36] describing the entire moon adventure as "a technical masterpiece" as a result of its "uncannily accurate" depiction of the moon.[37] Thompson expressed his opinion that Explorers could be compared to the work of science-fiction writers Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.[38] Focusing on the scene in which the Thom(p)sons hair grows rapidly in bright colours, he stated that it provides an abrupt contrast with "the almost scholastic nature of the rest of the story", and that it "injects a few bright splashes" into an otherwise "carefully restrained colour scheme".[39] Philippe Goddin praised the depiction of the rocket's landing as "a magnificent spectacle, well worth the double space spread given by Hergé",[40] also highlighting what he perceived as the ending's "unprecedented dramatic tension".[41]


In 1957, the animation company Belvision Studios produced a string of colour adaptations based on Hergé's original comics, adapting eight of the Adventures into a series of daily five-minute episodes. Explorers on the Moon was the second to be adapted in the second animated series; it was directed by Ray Goossens and written by Greg, a well-known cartoonist who was to become editor-in-chief of Tintin magazine.[42]

In 1991, a second animated series based upon The Adventures of Tintin was produced, this time as a collaboration between the French studio Ellipse and the Canadian animation company Nelvana. Explorers on the Moon was the fifteenth story to be adapted and was divided into two twenty-minute episodes. Directed by Stéphane Bernasconi, the series has been praised for being "generally faithful" to the original comics, to the extent that the animation was directly adopted from Hergé's original panels.[43]



  1. ^ a b Farr 2001, p. 135.
  2. ^ a b Peeters 2012, p. 218.
  3. ^ Goddin 2009, p. 189.
  4. ^ Thompson 1991, pp. 138–139; Farr 2001, p. 138; Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 65; Peeters 2012, p. 218.
  5. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 139; Thompson 1991; Peeters 2012, p. 218.
  6. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 139; Peeters 2012, pp. 220–221.
  7. ^ a b Assouline 2009, p. 172.
  8. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 94; Farr 2001, p. 135.
  9. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 94.
  10. ^ a b c Farr 2001, p. 136.
  11. ^ Assouline 2009, p. 172; Peeters 2012, p. 222.
  12. ^ Assouline 2009, p. 170.
  13. ^ Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 65; Goddin 2011, p. 8.
  14. ^ Peeters 2012, p. 225.
  15. ^ Assouline 2009, pp. 170–171; Peeters 2012, p. 225.
  16. ^ a b Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 65.
  17. ^ Goddin 2011, p. 10.
  18. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 143.
  19. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 95; Thompson 1991, pp. 142–143; Farr 2001, p. 136; Assouline 2009, p. 171; Peeters 2012, p. 227.
  20. ^ Goddin 2011, p. p22.
  21. ^ a b c Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 64.
  22. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 146; Farr 2001, p. 138.
  23. ^ Peeters 2012, p. 227; Goddin 2011, p. 13.
  24. ^ Peeters 2012, pp. 227–228.
  25. ^ a b Peeters 2012, p. 230.
  26. ^ Goddin 2011, p. 17.
  27. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 149; Farr 2001, p. 141.
  28. ^ Peeters 2012, p. 232.
  29. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 97; Thompson 1991, p. 148; Assouline 2009, p. 74.
  30. ^ Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 63.
  31. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 149.
  32. ^ a b Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 66.
  33. ^ Peeters 2012, p. 97.
  34. ^ Assouline 2009, p. 174.
  35. ^ a b c Peeters 1989, p. 97.
  36. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 144.
  37. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 138.
  38. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 146.
  39. ^ Thompson 1991, pp. 146–147.
  40. ^ Goddin 2011, p. 29.
  41. ^ Goddin 2011, p. 36.
  42. ^ Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, pp. 87–88.
  43. ^ Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 90.


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