Dipankar De Sarkar
Fans around the world celebrate Tintin's 80th birthday on Saturday just as a British politician-turned-columnist claims he knows things about the Belgian comic-book hero that the rest of us don't.
"A callow, androgynous blonde-quiffed youth in funny trousers and a scarf moving into the country mansion of his best friend, a middle-aged sailor? A sweet-faced lad devoted to a fluffy white toy terrier, whose other closest pals are an inseparable couple of detectives in bowler hats, and whose only serious female friend is an opera diva...
"... And you're telling me Tintin isn't gay?" said Matthew Parris, ex-Tory MP.
Parris, himself gay, is a well-known newspaper columnist who notoriously 'outed' Business Minister Lord Peter Mandelson in the middle of a television interview in 1998.
Now, Parris insists, the reporter whose adventures have sold more than 200 million copies and been translated into 50 languages, is gay and that fans are in a state of "denial".
In an article published in The Times on Wednesday, Parris said he comes to the conclusion from an examination of Tintin's life.
Tintin, who was born Jan 10, 1929, on the pages of a children's supplement to the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle, has an unknown background and origin, says Parris, adding: "This is common among young gay men, some of whom find it hard to believe that they really are their parents' child".
Tintin's journalism also raises Parris's suspicion: "Tintin's only recorded remark to his editor (on departing for Moscow) is 'I'll send you some postcards and vodka and caviar.' For a cub reporter on his first assignment, a curious remark."
In fact, Parris suspects Tintin may well have been a spy - "secret intelligence has always attracted gay men. I myself applied for and was offered a post in MI6."
He finds Tintin's world full of men. Of the complete list of 350 characters in Tintin books, Parris counts only eight women, and he doesn't find them attractive.
The best known of them, chain-smoking opera singer Bianca Castafiore, is a "diva fag-hag," while Peggy, the wife of a Latin American dictator, is a "curler-wearing virago".
"The butch, bitchy, bullying, cigar-smoking, hard-drinking, flame-haired wife of General Alcazar may well have been lesbian," Parris proclaims.
Snowy the loyal fox terrier is the only "unambiguously heterosexual male mammal in Tintin's entire universe," Parris says.
Fans reacted calmly. "Don't sexualise Tintin," wrote one on the Times website. "Leave him as the asexual hero I have always unconsciously assumed him to be."
Parris is not the first person to speculate on Tintin's sexuality. In 2001, Belgian police seized 600 copies of an unauthorised book titled Tintin in Thailand - which showed Tintin and his friends living it up in Thai gay bars.
However, Belgium-based Studios Herge reacted stoutly, with spokesman Marcel Wilmet declaring: "Tintin is not at all gay - he was very macho in fact. He has many friends who are boys but they are not boyfriends."