Herge, Moulinsart, Tintin, Tintin in the Congo

When Do Tintin’s Congo Worries End?

This week it was a Congolese accountant suing Moulinsart over the racist images in Tintin in the Congo. Last week it was Brooklyn Library’s decision to lock the book up. Before that is was the British Commission for Racial Equality who attacked the book.

With a high profile film on the way, Moulinsart must be wondering what to do about this never ending stream of bad publicity. There is a very real danger that Herge’s name and reputation will become tarnished by this 80 year old comic but their options are limited and none of them are ideal.

Publish and be Dammed

Ignoring the fuss and sticking to the line that Tintin Au Congo is a work of a young writer living in a very different time is certainly the most honest and intellectually sound idea but it all to easily could look like they are condoning racism.

The investors in the movie will be nervous about how this will play in America. At the moment, Tintin is almost unknown so no one really cares but in 18 months time, it will be a different story. Images of black protestors outside of cinemas would critically damage the film in the race conscious USA. With a reported $130 million invested we can be sure that the studios executives will be on the phone to the head of Moulinsart, Nick Rodwell, demanding that something is done.

Bury It

The simplest option is for Moulinsart to make an announcement saying that the book is out-dated and to stop publishing the book, removing all traces of it from their product line. Rather like the victim of a Stalinist purge, Tintin Au Congo will be airbrushed out of the official history, leaving behind an idealised image of Herge and his creation for public consumption. Certainly, real Tintin fans would know about the book and rumours would circulate in the general public but the charges of racism would be effectively blunted.

To an extent this has been done already, with its withdrawal from the US market but in order silence the critics, they need to withdraw it all languages and all editions, including the facsimile editions. This approach is the easiest option and will cost the company relatively little in lost sales.

The Sacred Cow

Herge left strict instructions that no one else should write or draw Tintin after his death and Moulinsart have devoutly stuck to this. The temptation of the millions a new Tintin book could make has been suppressed by the overwhelming desire to protect Herge’s legacy and honour his life work. But can this commitment stand up to the pressure of public opinion and the demands of studio executives? Would Moulinsart release a modified, updated version of Tintin in the Congo?

This would be a major step for Moulinsart and one that may open the floodgates to new Tintin material but it would have a number of advantages. It tackles the accusation of racism without creating the skeleton in the closet that simply burying the book might create. It would be profitable as well as millions of Tintin fans buy the new edition and it generates a huge amount of positive publicity.

No Right Answer

Each of these potential solutions create their own problems and picking between them is no easy task but it seem unlikely that doing nothing is a viable option. A constant stream of Tintin is Racist headlines will damage Herge’s reputation and the prospects for the film.

Personally I think they should publish and be dammed. Herge’ life story is complex but overall it is a positive one. Trying to hide or deny Europe’s colonial and racist past helps nobody in the long run. Tintin exemplified the boy scout idea of being honest and doing the right thing. Let’s be honest about Tintin’s past.

6 Comments

  1. In the British attack on Tintin au Congo was more about how “white” people were presented in comic. Albums coloured version was published in english first time 2005. Brits have long history with colonization, and earlier was thought that Tintin in Congo remainded too much how “white” were acting in that era.

    I recommend to read Nancy Rose Hunt’s “Tintin and the Interruptions of Congolese Comics” in Landau & Kaspin (eds.). Images and Empires. University of California Press, 2002, 90-123. Hunt writes about how congolese have taken the album, and some western reactions on that. Part of text can be found on Google Books.

  2. I don’t think Bury It is a viable option these days. The Internet has changed the game significantly–once something is made digital, it never truly goes out of circulation. There are enough printed copies in existence that it won’t take long for someone … scratch that, I just ran a search and you can find the complete Tintin collection as an illegal download from multiple sources. Once the movie comes to wide attention, and rumors of Congo’s existence start to get around more, people will hop online to find it. And find it, they shall.

    There isn’t a right answer here, but I think attempts to bury Congo will ultimately do more harm than good.

  3. Pe-ads

    In the Borders near me, they have merely placed Tintin in the Congo in the adult comic section. To me, this is the best answer. I mean, a lot of the comics in there have nudes and violence and stuff, so why not just class this as an ‘adult’ book, and sell it in a different section?

    Pe-ads

  4. Matt Harnick

    The saddest thing about this debate is that nobody recognizes that as the series progressed, Sam Remi became more aware of the plights of the people aroud the world. Tintin’s circle of friends, though it might not have included anyone of African descent, still had Arabs (Prince Abdullah), Chinese (the young boy Chang) and others. Also, no one seems that upset about Tintin En Amérique, which portrayed Americans as either gangsters or tycoons (another kind of gangster). Also, it had a fairly stereotypical view of Native Americans, though a very sympathetic one. Is anyone complaining about this story?
    There is also the fact that, starting with Cigars of the Pharaoh, Tintin actually fought against slavery and racism (I reference the scene in The Blue Lotus where he defends an abused rickshaw boy from a couple of ugly Americans). Such scenes are common in all the books which came after. If anything, the prejudice is against Americans. And in many cases it was the very real truth at the time.
    To me is seems sad that we have to have this debate at all. Smart parents would use a book like ‘Tintin au Congo’ as a teaching moment. It’s certainly completely wrong to bury anything which is a part of history. The truth is that there is no easy answer.

  5. Charlie Chan

    The Blue Lotus (Le Lotus bleu) should be banned in Japan.
    Tintin in America should be banned in the Us. etc etc…
    The Shooting Star – (L’etoile mysterieuse) 1942 edition, Bad guys in it where “jews” and Americans. (this book like many others was rewrited in the 50’s
    Herge was a fervent catholic, anti- communist and anti-nazi before the war, collaborationist (opportunist?) during the war, to end as a “gauchiste” (not like Obama but more like Mao) during the 70’s. Herge was just following the change of the belgian society in the 20th century.
    “adult comic section” is a good idea, next to Mein kampf, Das Kapital and
    the Bible.

Comments are closed.