Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is our hero’s first appearance and he is barley recognisable in the early part of the book. It is hard to imagine that this crude artwork is by the same man who put such loving detail into his books from The Blue Lotus onwards.
Tintin the Reporter
Though Tintin is always referred to as a reporter in the books, we never see him doing any actual reporting. Such as filing copy or talking to his editor. The only time we see Tintin doing anything like work is at the start of Tintin in the Land of Soviets when what we see Tintin writing copy for his editor. Clearly Herge decided that his readers are not be interested in such mundane things and never featured Tintin’s work again.
Herge, the Hater of Communists?
It is clear from the very start of the Tintin in the Land of the Soviets that this book will be full of a negative images of Russia. In panel 4 of page 1, Snowy is worried that there will be fleas. By page 2, a communist agent is plotting to kill Tintin because he might report the truth about the Soviet Union.
Herge’s attitude to the communist Soviets came about because of his conservative upbringing that involved church schools and partaking in the scouting movement. In 1925 Herge started working for a the Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siècle under the editor Norbert Wallez, a Catholic abbot who kept a photograph of Mussolini in his office.
By 1929, the Communist Government in Russia had been in power for over ten years. In the meantime, Belgium’s neighbour Germany was in a state of near anarchy as the fascists under Adolf Hitler fought the communist for control. In all the major european countries, socialist parties were attracting a lot of support. The idea that communism could spread across the whole of europe was seen as a very real threat. Against this backdrop, Herge’s youthful ignorance was focused into an anti-communist comic for children by Norbert Wallez and Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is the result.
Signposts to the Future
Whilst the artwork is crude and the storyline chaotic, even by Tintin’s standards, there are clear indications in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets of what Tintin would become. There is plenty of slapstick humour with people running into things and falling down stairs. As is Tintin’s ability to beat armed enemies with a few simple punches. Snowy’s roll as occasional saviour of Tintin and supplier of sarcastic remarks is firmly established.
The first signs of Herge’s love of the accuracy can be seen. On page 53, Tintin is being chased in a speedboat. The boats and the machine gun his pursuers are armed with are well drawn and accurate (if simple) depictions of those in use at the time. These hints in Tintin in the Land of the Soviets would become full blown obsessions in later books where Herge would create models of boats and follow the latest scientific develops in an attempt to be as realistic as possible.
One aspect of Tintin’s personality hasn’t yet become fixed. Towards the end of the book (page 121) we see Tintin get drunk. Though Tintin does occasionally get drunk in the latest books, it is normally the result of an accident. In Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, Tintin chooses to drink and wakes up with a hangover.
Returning from the Land of the Soviets
After a long sequence where Tintin appears to travels around unnamed parts of Russia, Tintin ends up in control of a plane. By luck, he finds himself in Tempelhof, Germany and from there he starts his return journey. Though this being Tintin, the return leg of the journey it is not without its own adventures.
As he rides the train in the final stage of the journey, Herge once again starts providing exact details of our hero’s location as he identifies the towns the train passes through. It is possible that the nature of how Tintin in the Land of the Soviets was written dictated this sequence. Herge supplied two pages every week but never had an overall plan. Each week’s adventure would go wherever Herge felt like at the time. But having decided to finish the adventure, Herge had to pace the story out over the final pages. Tintin’s identification of the towns and Snowy’s comment on the sugar producing region of Tienen might just be there to fill up space.
Tintin, The Beginning
Unlike all his other works, including the heavily criticised Tintin in the Congo, Herge never redrew Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. Why? Was he embarrassed by the anti-communist, stereotypes he portrayed in the book? Or was it just that the story was so weak that it was not worth revisiting? Herge would of have had to rewrite and redraw the whole book. Moving on and doing something new would of been far more attractive.
Reading Tintin in the Land of the Soviets for the first time has been an interesting experience. I’ve been reading Tintin for over thirty years and I’m now about twice the age of Herge when he start the book. Before starting it I was worried it would be too crude and too anti-communist to be a proper Tintin book but I have been surprised. Whilst flawed and primitive, it is certainly a Tintin book. The same humour and attention to detail can be seen whilst the adventures are as wild and exciting as any later books.