PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Finding a safe investment in crisis times may be tough, but just a year before Hollywood takes Tintin to the big screen, collectors are vying for rare memorabilia of the cub Belgian cartoon hero at a Paris auction.
The Tintin series -- created by Georges Remi under his pen name Herge -- has become one of the most popular comics in the world with translations in more than 50 languages and 200 million copies of the 24 books sold.
There is huge appetite for collectors of anything related to the diminutive investigative journalist and adventurer.
In 2008, the original cover of "Tintin in America" sold for about 750,000 euros ($931,200). Last year, a lot of almost 600 items, including hand-drawn original cartoon strips, raised nearly 1.2 million euros with buyers from as far away as China and Lebanon.
"There's been a huge explosion of strip cartoons over the last 10-15 years and with that a secondary market has developed," said Alexis Velliet, director of auctioneers Piasa. "This generation is now looking at original drawings ... the true creators and if we go back then Herge is one of them."
The Paris auction on May 29 includes 230 items from about 70 collectors that even Herge's foundation Moulinsart, a partner in the sale, never knew existed.
A Belgian museum owns about 80-85 percent of Herge's work, but the scale of pieces ranging from original sketches, antiques and first edition covers, has surprised potential investors.
The sale -- with articles worth from 3,000 euros to as much as 250,000 euros -- includes one of just four bronze statues in circulation depicting a bequiffed tintin with his trusted fox terrier sidekick Snowy valued at between 100,000-120,000 euros.
"What has created the biggest surprise is a gouache of Captain Haddock (known for his colorful curses such as "blistering barnacles!"), Tintin and Professor Calculus with sea shells of disproportionate sizes that nobody knew about," said Velliet. "It goes beyond the realm of the comic book ... it's a perfect drawing of Tintin, but yet a little surrealist."
The painting up for grabs for between 50,000-70,000 euros was offered to a friend of Herge who collected sea shells.
The auction is timely. A movie, "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn", directed by Stephen Spielberg will give a Hollywood spin to the intrepid reporter next year.
Likewise, a civil case in Belgium launched earlier in May against the publishers of "Tintin in Congo" over the portrayal of Africans in the book has kept the series in the media.
Despite the case, one of the items that has caught the eye of collectors is a "silent" version of the Congo book. Copies were made with speech bubbles left blank to convince publishers from other countries to take on the cartoon in their language.
"It's hard to find originals in a great state and these silent books are very rare ... maybe just tens of these were printed," said Velliet.
Tintin made his first appearance in 1929 heading to the Soviet Union in a supplement for the Roman Catholic Brussels weekly Le Petit Vingtieme and is still going strong. His travels took him from China to Latin America and even former French president Charles de Gaulle acknowledged Tintin's fame.
"Deep down, my only international rival is Tintin," he said.
Reporting by John Irish; editing by Paul Casciato