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.