Hergé had stated that he wished The Adventures of Tintin to die with him and it's a request that his heirs have upheld, to the point that Tintin and Alph-Art was never officially completed by the Studios Hergé (although they did carry on with a few more volumes of Quick & Flupke before closing). Although there have been some fan produced completions, the official version remains the unfinished sketches which have been released in a couple of formats with the current version being a 62-page album that appears to only be available in hardback from Egmont. (The American publishers, Little Brown, have, however, published it in paperback.) The bulk of the album is taken up with forty plus pages of thumbnail sketches on which Hergé had drafted the first two-thirds of the story, with the text and some directions transcribed, plus some additional pages of notes at the end that show some of his ideas during the development of the story, some of which were abandoned on the way and others may also have fallen aside.
Because this is only a partial draft it's not certain that it would have followed this structure exactly had Hergé lived. Notably it's not until page 31 (on Hergé's notes, this is page 40 in the album) that Tintin, Snowy and Haddock travel to Ischia and this might have been brought forward in the finished version, perhaps by trimming down some of the scenes in and around Brussels. Indeed, the notes suggest the scene with Mrs Laijot the book-keeper on an additional page 20 (album pages 26-27) was to be cut and the numbering indicates another page around this point on the book would have been either dropped or merged into a neighbour. It's also unclear who Endaddine Akass was intended to be - Tintin recognises his voice but his identity is not revealed in the sketches. Notes at the end suggest he was going to be revealed as Rastapopoulos but as they contain other ideas not present in the sketches, such as drug smuggling and Haddock having a total lifestyle makeover, it's questionable whether this was still Hergé's plan.
The story itself is a relatively traditional style of plot for a Tintin adventure, although notably it's Captain Haddock who first gets drawn into the plot when he steps into an art gallery in the hope of hiding from Bianca Castafiore. The result is a trail of crime in Brussels, with the man who seemingly knows what is going on murdered and Tintin himself subject to attacks, before Tintin and Haddock decide to follow the clues to the source and travel to another place, in this case an island off Italy. There Tintin discovers the full nature of the crimes but is captured and taken away to be disposed of... The elements are familiar, although it's notable that the travel keeps Tintin within continental western Europe whereas most previous stories have taken him further afield. There's also a more restrained use of returning characters outside the regulars than in previous albums, though a number appear in various group settings, no doubt to provide multiple suspects for the identity of Endaddine Akass. Also notably on display is a high degree of topicality for the time, drawing heavily on the modern art of the era and the fad for religious sects with charismatic leaders. Though there are still holes on the story, particularly the coincidence of Fourcart suddenly wanting to talk to Tintin when Haddock is in the gallery, these could well have been tightened up by a full final version.
One character in the story has been the subject of much speculation and that is Martine Vandezande, Mr Fourcart's assistant. Tintin talks with her four times in relatively rapid succession, even walking her home after a meeting of Akass's followers albeit with Haddock accompanying them as well. Although some of the scenes do help to advance the plot, particularly when Tintin tries to set up a trap through the bug, they are somewhat drawn out, leading many to speculate that Hergé was building up a romantic interest for Tintin. There's certainly a liking between them but it's all up in the air at this stage, leaving it very much open to speculation as to what would have happened. Given the traditional boy's own adventure nature of the Adventures, a romantic interest would have certainly changed them but change was already in the air. Alternatively, could this have been a sign of Hergé seeing this as the likely final story and opting to change the hero's circumstances as part of the ending? The beauty of this incomplete collection is that so much is left to the imagination and we can only speculate on just what was intended.
Did Hergé intend to kill off Tintin? The last sketched panel shows Tintin being marched off to be encased in liquid plastic, leading to suggestions that his creator had grown tired of him and was intending to dispose of him this way. But this is midway on what is numbered as page 42 (album pages 54-55), with a good third of the story still to come. It's not an unfinished cliffhanger at the end of a page, nor does it have any hint of being conclusive. And although Hergé appears to have done little work on the story in the very years of his life, this may just indicate writers' block and distractions rather than some grand plan to give up at a point where the hero is going to his death. Had it been intentional to stop here, it would have been more natural to have abandoned the story with the liquid plastic itself? Quite simply it feels like a pause in thought, perhaps to think through the depiction of the actual apparatus and how Tintin would get out of this situation, with that pause becoming permanent.
Being an unfinished outline, this album is invariably of interest primarily to collectors only. But from the material contained here it seems there was quite a strong story being developed that would have been a definite step up from some of the last Adventures. The plot may at times be as rough as the thumbnails and absent final third means there's a lot to speculate about, but as an unfinished work in progress it holds up very well. Although this inconclusive ending is unfortunate, it is well that Tintin has remained confined to the Adventures created by Hergé, forming a definitive canon of work that has not been diminished by lesser successors.