I’m rereading Tintin and the Picaros and it is amazing how many little things I did not notice before.
Tintin for Nuclear Disarmament
Written in the mid-70s, Tintin and the Picaros saw Tintin updated for a new generation. Gone are the trademark plus-fours and Tintin appears more mature, less innocent about the world. This signs are subtle, such as the CND sticker on Tintin’s helmet on page 1, but whether this is a deliberate attempt to modernise the character or a reflection on Herge’s growing weariness of Tintin’s naivety it is impossible to tell.
Haddock and Whisky
Herge’s relationship with alcohol through all the books is interesting but in Tintin and the Picaros we see it develop. The undoubtedly alcoholic Haddock was always a strange companion for the T-Total Tintin. Alcohol is certainly presented as a negative influence and numerous times it gets Captain Haddock, Snowy and very occasionally Tintin into trouble. In Picaros, we see Haddock cured of his taste for whisky (unknowingly) with a pill that is a remarkably like a super-strong version of Disulfiram.
One interesting take on alcohol in Tintin and the Picaros are these two panels from page 8. The text reads “Are you depressed? Does the day seem long? We have the answer. Loch Lomand”. A typically Herge ironic attack on advertising and alcohol. Totally unconnected with this, on the same page (panel 8) Captain Haddock uses the word pachyrhizus about General Tapioca. Pachyrhizus is a small genus of five or six species of tropical and subtropical plants, mostly found in Bolivia.
Later on in the book we see Loch Lomand whisky being responsible for drunkenness amongst the native Arumbayas and the Picaros rebels under General Alcazar.
Tintin Monkeys Around
On of the questions about Tintin and the Picaros (and Tintin and the Broken Ear) is where the country of San Theodoros is located. There are several contradictory clues. On page 28, whist Tintin seems to be back into his normal adventuring style despite his uncharacteristic unwillingness to get involved early on the book, a monkey saves Tintin’s life. The monkey looks like a Titi monkey, common in Colombia to Brazil, Peru and north Paraguay. This puts San Theodoros more in a more southerly location than previously assumed.
Further wildlife clues can be found on page 37 of Tintin and the Picaros. A cayman crocodile, an adaconda and an electric eel (Gymnotus) all make an appearance. There are several varieties of cayman crocodiles but the largest (and most likely to attack a human) is Spectacled Caiman and is common in Venezuela but can be found as far north as El Salvador. The largest and most common of the anaconda family is the Eunectes murinus that can grow us to 25 feet (7.6 m) in length. The species is found in Colombia, Venezuela, the Guianas, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. The gymnotus or electric knifefish can be found all over the south and central americas, from southern Mexico to Argentina.
Herge’s Ambivalence to the Picaros
One of the striking things about Tintin and the Picaros is how little Tintin cares about the country of San Theodoros. In earlier books, Tintin would be leading the revolution for the sake of the people. In this book, Tintin is lax in coming to his friends help early on in the book. Later on, he almost walks away from helping Alcazar with the revolution.
The most telling of aspect of the book are the comparison between page 11 (panel 9) and page 62 (panel 11). Both are images of the slums of the capital. In both, there are shanty town houses and rubbish strewed streets. The only difference is the name of the capital has been changed. With this, is Herge indicating his own disillusion with the world? Rejecting the idea that one man, no matter how good or brave, can save so many poor and downtrodden people. If so, Tintin and the Picaros represent a low point for Tintin and Herge.
Tintin and the Picaros, like the best of Herge’s work, leaves us with more questions about Herge than it answers.