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Saturday, May 20, 2023 

Nearly a century after creation, Tintin remains "beloved" despite questionable content

Radio France International raised the issue of Belgian cartoonist George Remy's adventuring reporter with a mascot dog, who still remains a famous creation despite questionable content:
The comic book adventures of Tintin, an intrepid young reporter who travels the world, contain racist stereotypes, lack fleshed-out female characters and can be read as products of a bygone era. But nearly a century after he was first created by Belgian cartoonist Hergé, Tintin remains one of France’s favourite characters. Why?
First, they're right in a sense there were no well fleshed-out female cast members: the only standout was opera singer Madame Castafiore, a play on the old figure of speech, "it ain't over till the fat lady sings", because she was portrayed with an otherwise insufferable singing voice. Next, one of the historians interviewed says:
And yet, Nattiez agrees the 24 albums featuring the young Belgian reporter with a distinctive lock of sticking-up hair and faithful dog Snowy have their problems.

“There is criticism from all sides,” he says, pointing to leftist critiques in the 1970s that called Tintin a reactionary, and more recent concerns about anti-Semitism and racist stereotypes.
Even from a European perspective, it is surprising if leftists would take issue, seeing how the franchise later wound up being soft on communist metaphors, most notably in the last official tale, Tintin and the Picaros, where he and Capt. Haddock take part in overthrowing a Latin American despot, only to replace him with General Alcazar, first seen in The Broken Ear, who remained an autocrat, and they leave the country at the end, in no better shape than before. Not to mention that with all the antisemitism rampant these days, it's uncertain the far-left who called Tintin reactionary years before is really concerned about antisemitism today.
Nattiez’s latest book, Faut-il brûler Tintin? (Should we burn Tintin?) addresses the critiques, and explores “why, despite all these problems, we in the 21st century still remain fascinated by Tintin”.

“I did not want to write an adulation of Tintin – something unconditional that refuses to see what can be criticised,” he says, pointing to Tintin in the Congo as an example.

In the 1931 story, the second in the series, Tintin travels to what was then a Belgian colony, and Hergé drew people with big lips and no hair, speaking broken French, who look to Tintin as a kind of white saviour.

“Tintin in the Congo is often presented as rather colonialist, even racist, and I think that even if the criticism is justified, the book needs to be put into context,” says Nattiez.
Well what was troubling in that tale was how black African engineers were depicted as incompetent, and Tintin, overseeing a project, did little more than berate and put them down for any missteps they made (if it matters, there was a scene in the aforementioned Broken Ear where Tintin dressed in blackface. At least there, it was for the sake of trying to catch 2 criminals). That's what actually sours the milk in this tale, and even if it wasn't the worst example of its time, that's still pretty dismaying. No doubt, what'll also raise eyebrows is the following:
Georges Remi – who later took the pen name Hergé – had created Tintin as a serialised comic strip in the Petit Vingtième, the weekly youth supplement of a conservative daily paper, Le Vingtième Siècle, that was managed by a right-wing Catholic priest, Norbert Wallez.

After the success of the first story, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, published in 1929, Wallez asked Remi to send Tintin to Belgian Congo – a colony since 1908 – to introduce colonialism to the paper’s young readers.

Hergé later said he was not enthusiastic about writing the story; he would have preferred to send Tintin to the United States, as a counterweight to the USSR. In a 1979 interview with Belgian public radio, he said that if he were to redo it, Tintin in the Congo would be very different.

Hergé, who died in 1983, made 24 Tintin albums, and Nattiez says that his work evolved. He gives the example of The Castafiore Emerald, published in 1963, in which Tintin and his sidekick Captain Haddock take the defence of the Romani community, who were victims of racism and exclusion.
I guess this does indicate Herge was trying to compensate for mistakes he made, even though he didn't exactly compensate for watering down the seriousness of autocracies, which conflicts with any negative stance he originally took against Soviets in the 1st story from 1929. No doubt though, it is surprising in a sense if a right-wing publication wouldn't have a problem with the story presented in the 2nd book. If there's anything to be appalled at, no doubt, it's that a reportedly conservative source would be so irresponsible, even though this was norm for practically anybody to lack common sense about how to regard other races and ethnicities, which should be by personality, not by skin color. But what's really appalling is that many leftists would undoubtably use that as ammunition for attacking conservatives while doing nothing to mend their own mistakes.

Not mentioned here is that Herge did turn out a story where Tintin visited the USA (Tintin in America), where, depending how you see it, Indians on the one hand are depicted willing to employ deadly force, and on the other hand, the military was willing to drive them off their residential lands. I vaguely recall reading another of Herge's creations, the Adventures of Jo, Zette and Jocko, and in one of the 5 books published, an American is depicted as a slimy crook, and one could argue he didn't seem to have much respect for USA citizens there either.
Unlike other comics such as Asterix, which have continued producing albums with new writers and illustrators, Tintin is static – Hergé never wanted anyone else to add to his series.

His heirs have respected his wish, until now, though there are questions of what will happen when Tintin enters the public domain at the end of 2053, 70 years after his creator's death.

“I would say that to some extent, the fact that there is no new Tintin is perhaps an advantage,” says Nattiez, who would not welcome a new installment.

“Maybe the fact that there are no new Tintin books incites people to write about him – maybe to exorcise his death.”
They might even want to complete what was the last planned storyboard, Alpha-Art, which had been written up around 1983 at the time Herge passed away, but because of his demise, was left undone. However, because of all the questionable content that renders it truly a product of its time, that's why it would be for the best if it remained un-continued. Because what are the chances far-leftists would exploit Tintin for the sake of reflecting wokeness? And they'd probably depict women even more negatively than Herge himself ever did. That's why, if there's been no new Tintin stories till now, it's for the best, but there's no telling what the future will hold.

If Tintin still retains popularity, it's bound to be since the adventure themes satisfy certain segments of the public, and because they believe the racial stereotypes are easy enough to overlook. But despite having once been the subject of a Steven Spielberg-produced movie, there's little chance it'd catch on as a comic in the USA, any more than various other European comics that have yet to make it outside the continent.

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