At the beginning of the redrawn version of Tintin in the Congo, in the very first panel, Hergé has inserted a caricature of himself along with Edgar P Jacobs and Jacques Van Melkebeke (who, by the way, among other things, helped with those plays I mentioned two days ago). Quicke and Flupke are also there.
After four years of politics, the Belgian Supreme Court has finally come to the conclusion that Tintin in the Congo is not to be banned. While the content in the book would certainly have been deemed racist had a cartoonist published a similar work today, the tribunal has said that the Belgian law against racism can not apply to Tintin in the Congo unless it is clearly shown in the work that the intent of the author was to discriminate. ”Taken in the context of the 1930s,”said advocate M L’Hedim,”it is clear that Hergé had no such intent.” Allen Berenboom represented Casterman and Moulinsart in the case. ”It’s a sound decision and common sense. A work must be taken in context and compared with the information and stereotypes of the time.”
Congo, the world and the way people think have changed a lot since Tintin in the Congo was published. If you’re new to Tintin, just know that this one adventure, only the second Hergé ever did, is filled with stereotypes from the time that show the Congolese people to be very, very simple people. But every adventure after this is better, especially after The Blue Lotus. I do not believe Hergé had any harsh feelings whatsoever towards the people in the Congo, and while Tintin bosses them around and teaches them very very basic stuff, he does take their side and help them solve their problems with a white gangster-type criminal and a tribal-type witch doctor. Don’t buy into any of these articles online written just to sound like big news that say Tintin is racist (and by the way, he’s not Nazi either…).
If you have a child who just HAS TO HAS TO HAS TO HAVE every Tintin book and you are still afraid it will have a negative influence on him (which I seriously doubt), just explain to your kid that Hergé, and people in Belgium back then, were very misinformed when it came to both what was going on in the Congo and what the people were like. Teach them, if they don’t already know it from TV or school of just the fact that they are good, normal kids, that every human being, regardless of skin color, is equally human and to be treated on an equal level. Maybe even go out and donate a kilo of rice (or a large sum of money) to a non-profit organization or missionary, or something like that. I know of a missionary family down there, and from what I’ve heard about what the Congo is like today, they really could use all the help they can get.
For those of you newbies to Tintin, he is such an icon that the Vatican’s official newspaper actually just recently wrote an article on him. Specifically, on the debate that’s been going on in court on whether or not to ban ”Tintin in the Congo” for racism. Now, one might think that just because of the Vatican’s very nature the article would certainly be defending those poor congolese people of the past that were portrayed far from accurately. But the author actually took the time to look at the facts of the article and has chosen to vigorously defend Tintin as his movie comes out around the world, stating that Tintin has been a good example of Catholic values throughout the ages. The article must be remembered and pulled out in the future to hopefully silence all of those foolish people that talk of Tintin being racist, gay, nazi,…you fill in the blank. The article is especially upset that Tintin in the congo has, in the UK, been ”wrapped up like a pornographic magazine and consigned to the adults-only section” of British book shops.
Like an excellent lawyer in Belgium at the moment arguing that the book is simply showing stereotypes from the time of Hergé, ”L’Observatore Romano” also holds to the obvious fact that ”Tintin in the Congo” is simply a reflection of its time, the fruit of a man who had never seen what Belgium was really doing there and only had false stereotypes to go on. We know how much effort Hergé put into researching his future albums, so it would be unfair to characterize hardly any of his other albums based on this one album. Furthermore, the African people, while certainly shown as unintelligent and naive people, are not even portrayed as villains in the story, but rather the gangsters Tintin deals with there. Tintin has nothing against these people and neither did Hergé. There is really nothing in the book that would lead anybody except the most sensitive of Congolese person to truly be offended by the book, and then that guy would probably just see how his people were drawn on the front and find some other comic to read (or take Moulinsart to court…). As the Vatican put it, ”The comic book was published in the 1930s, and for that reason expresses the values of the era – but can it really perturb young Britons of today, raised as they are on the Internet, video games and fish and chips?”
The Vatican praises Tintin’s character, calling him ”an angel” helping widows and orphans…Tintin is said to be driven by ”a sacred moral imperative – to save the innocent and conquer evil….Tintin is a Western knight of modern times, an unstained heart in an invulnerable body.” It’s great to see people still defending Tintin in the press. ”Le Soir” was a Catholic newspaper when Tintin was around, yet another reason that the Vatican would be pleased with kids reading Tintin. I myself am not catholic, but I certainly support kids reading about Tintin’s heroic virtues rather than all of the junk out there for them to read.
Interestingly enough, while the Vatican sings Tintin’s praises, one zealous worker in Lebanon tried to cover up Spielberg’s name from a Tintin poster. Circuit Empire, in charge of cinemas in Lebanon, commented that ”He knew that Spielberg was blacklisted and he took it upon himself to black out his name,” pointing out that this was not some movement of several men but just one worker. The name was quickly uncovered and the posters are still seen today. Of course this was nothing against Tintin, but it’s funny to watch how different countries react to big American films like this and how it affects Tintin’s release. I found it interesting they also commented that technically according to the strict laws in Lebanon Tintin should be banned, but due to the popular black market selling films the law would be impossible to implement and people are allowed to see it on the big screens. There’s a unique piece of Tintin trivia you can remember and tell other Tintin friends in the future…
By popular demand, the highly praised Travels of a Boy Reporter has returned. This map tracks the journey of Tintin in his 23 adventures across the world.
Download & Print
The map is available as a download for just £10. Once you’ve downloaded it you are free to use it how you wish (non-commercially only). Print it out, have t-shirts made, use it as your computer’s desktop. You are free to use it however you want.
It comes in a variety of sizes ranging from the small 480×320 pixels, suitable for an iPhone, to the huge 6679×4722 pixels, suitable for an A1 poster.
Find out more about the map or skip to chase and buy it now.
High resolution graphics with license to print and use the map for any non-commercial purpose.
Poor Tintin. His misinformed author made him racist during his visit to the Congo and the world still never forgave him 80 years later. Well,at least Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo hasn’t. Many of you knew this already,but for those of you new to the story, this Congolese citizen has been pushing that something be done about ”Tintin in the Congo” . What many of you may not have known is that his case against the book,which for months know has seemed to have been forgotten, has been reopened. Belgium’s government has accepted the case,and if Bienvenu get’s his way, the book will only be published with a warning to the reader on the front about it’s racial context and an article about the historical context of colonial Congo. Moulinsart,of course,will be fighting hard to be able to continue selling the book as they are. Ironic isn’t it? Moulinsart has been a nightmare to so many people over copyright laws, and now they have their own nightmare to deal with.
This isn’t the first time Tintin in the Congo has gone through something like this. The book has already been banned from libraries in the UK and in America. The book has been accused of all sorts of things, and people want it banned not only because of it’s allegedly racist content,but also for it’s diverse sections containing cruelty to animals. However, I think anybody who has read the book will have to agree that the accusations are true. They have simply gone a bit overboard. The book does show the black people as way way inferior people than Tintin,and I personally dislike the part where Tintin indirectly makes a train fall of the tracks and then forces the Congolese people to put it back up. As far as violence goes, Tintin kills all kinds of animals from snakes to lions, and in the original version even blew up a rhinoceros with a stick of dynamite! Yes, he really did. Hergé later redrew that part so that Tintin just makes the rhino run away from a camera flash.
But the racist side of the book simply represents Hergé’s stereotype about Congolese people. He couldn’t go to the Congo so he based his info off of what he saw and read. And so he had some very wrong ideas. It wasn’t just him though! All of Europe had a completely different view of black people in the 1930’s! The book was not a conscious effort to make the people of the Congo look bad. Nor is it filled with inappropriate jokes towards the black people by Tintin or anybody else. The book just portrays the world of the Congo as Hergé honestly thought Tintin would see it. Sure he was wrong…but should the book be against the law? Nobody is reading the book and honestly thinking it’s like that today,and I doubt many believe it was ever like that at all.
And to those who fight against the cruelty to animals part of the book, I ask them why on Earth it is such a big deal in the first place. I have yet to find people so devoted to ban or put a warning label on some of our culture’s latest video games that have got to have much more influence and certainly more people influenced by them than those who read Tintin in the Congo concerning violence…toward humans. Why aren’t we letting our kid’s read Tintin in the Congo because they kill animals but we tell them it’s OK to let them slit the throats of all kinds of people in Assassin’s Creed and other video games filled with blood and gore? Hunting big game was normal when the book was written,and the killing’s in the book actually remind me more of the Looney tunes. Again,I don’t believe anybody is going to want to go out and shoot a lion after reading the book. But hey,if it offend’s you, it IS pretty cruel. But is it bad enough to ban the book? Worse stuff is practically shown on Cartoon Network…
So if you do buy the book before the trial is over,or have a copy already, enjoy the ”original” publication and make sure you understand what it is you are reading. Tintin in the Congo is one of Hergé’s primitive works based on erroneous information. He was sorry he wrote it later on, and didn’t mean to hurt anybody’s feelings. He tried to make up for it later. Nobody remembers the gypsy protecting Tintin with the peace sign on his motorcycle helmet, or the one that risked his life in Tibet to save a Japanese boy. These books, and many others, are the one’s Hergé would have liked us to remember most.
Of all the places Tintin visited, the one that has faired worst is the Congo, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Ever since the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, the DRC has been turmoil, facing invasion and civil war. As ever in these situations, it is the ordinary people who suffer the most.
© Dominic Nahr / Oeil Public – October 2008. People carrying their belongings as they flee one of the refugee camps due to fighting.
The DRC is a huge country with a population of over 65 million, about the same as the UK. It has substantial mineral deposits and has fertile land but it is a victim of its brutal colonial past, of its geography and its troubled neighbors. Despite repeated international efforts, the civil war continues and millions are suffering, particularly in the eastern part of the country.
But there is hope.
© Ryo Kameyama – May 2008, Kisangani. A child receiving treatment at the MSF mobile clinic in Kitchanga.
With wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is easy to forget the plight of a troubled African country. You can help by raising awareness of this terrible situation. Email your friends about Condition Critical, update your Facebook status or tweet about the amazing work Médecins Sans Frontières are doing in this forgotten conflict.
Don’t let the deaths and suffering of millions of people go unnoticed.
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.
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.
Why is it that comics and children’s books incite such stupidity?
The Brooklyn Public Library has moved Tintin in the Congo from its public shelves and placed it under lock-and-key as part of “a special collection of historic children’s literature that is available for viewing by appointment only”. This censorship was done after the library received just a single complaint. Yet, the library has received over two dozen complaints about other works in the last few years and not one other book has been moved off the shelves.
There is no denying the racist elements of Tintin in the Congo, a work by a naive and unenlightened creator but the nature of public libraries is that they will contain material that is offense to some, or indeed many, people. Obvious examples include Hitler’s anti-sematic Mein Kampf ( Brooklyn Library’s has 10 copies) and Vladimir Nabokov exploration of child sex Lolita (seven copies). So why has this one work been singled out?
The answer lies in the medium and the audience – Comics and Children.
Comics in America have always been seen as something only suitable for children and worthy of special treatment regardless of 1st Amendment Rights. In the 1950’s, the Comics Code Authority (CCA) was formed to regulate the content of comics. Though it had no legal authority, its used public opinion and panics over of juvenile delinquency to force major publishers to either go along with the code or go bankrupt. The strict rules the CCA imposed restricted the growth and development of the comics medium in the US and to a lesser extent in the UK. In Europe and Japan, where no such rules existed, the medium flourished and explored a wide range of themes for a wide range of age groups.
However it cannot be ignored that Tintin in the Congo is a children’s book and that the stereotype’s children are exposed to can have significant impact. Herge himself is a great example of this. The images he drew in Tintin in the Congo reflect the images of black people that he grew up with. There is a real case to be made that Herge’s first two books should not be in a children’s section or at least come with some sort of warning for parents but that is along way from locking a book up away from public view.
The debate about Tintin in the Congo is not an abstract discussion about censorship and civil liberties. It is a real problem having real impacts. Already, white supremacists are using the book as a rallying point for their vitriol (see Tintin on the Front Line of Racism).
By focusing on one aspect of Herge’s work we are losing the sight of how Herge’s life exemplifies the battle against racism. His is a story about how one man overcame his prejudices to become an ambassador for peace and understanding across cultures but to understand this story we must be able to read all of it.
This redrawing of the cover from Tintin in the Congo was found in the Congo by Nuala Sawyer, a photographer working with on location with a film crew. As Nuala notes “The funny thing is that the Congolese seem to embrace Tintin—I think that interpretations of racism are incredibly different in the Congo than the USA.”. More photos at Photokapi
Thanks to The Tintin Blog for spotting this.
Hundreds of photographs taken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the early 20th century, about twenty years before Herge drew Tintin in the Congo, are online. They show a fascinating glimpse of life around that time and are a million miles from the images of colonial propaganda Herge produced in his book.
Mural Decorated Hut
These photos come from Photographs from Lang-Chapin Congo Expedition (1909-1915). Whilst these photos capture some of the beauty of the Congo and its people, they only tell half the story. The photo below is of rubber plantation workers, punished for failing to meet quotas by having their hands cut off (Belgian Congo Free State, 1905).
More striking and disturbing images can be found on the blog Constant Siege.