Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Adventures of Tintin: Tintin Turns 80 years old

Tintin, one of the most famous fictional character, turns 80 years old today. The adventures of Tintin have captured the imagination of generations of children across the world for decades.Even today, it is hard to tear me away from the The Adventures of Tintin reruns on Ghana television .

Alas, behind the youthful looks, the ever-present brown trousers and blue sweater, there is a darker side to Tintin. Sorry to disappoint you; I'm not about to reveal that Tintin had a soft-spot for strip-clubs and binge-drinking!
When I was a child, I came across the Dutch version of Tintin in the Congo which was originally published in 1930. It had never been translated into English at the time and I was shocked by images of thick-lipped, child-like Africans who Tintin (clad in colonial white attire) comes to save from a life of human sacrifice and ignorance. It was only during my undergraduate days when I was doing research for an anthropology paper on Tintin and popular culture that I finally got to know my hero better.
The fact is that even though Tintin is now known as a children's comic book character, he first emerged in a Belgian newspaper Le Vingtieme Siecle in 1929 and basically reflected the popular views as well as stereotypes people held at the time. Well, people in the the Euro-centric western colonial world that is.
Tintin in the Congo probably served to justify Belgium's atrocious colonial record particularly in the 1930s.

I still find this particular adventure patronising and irrelevant for a post-colonial world but apparently it is still popular. I read somewhere that defenders of this adventure claim that Congolese children are quite proud that their country features in one of Tintin's adventure. Say wha??? They probably did a poll of 3 Congolese children all under the age of 5! Africa is not the only place stereotyped.

Tintin in America published in 1931/1932 is like one non-stop western with Native Americans portrayed as if the year is 1831.

Although Tintin in the Congo and Tintin in America have basically remained the same,
there are other adventures that changed when translated or were revised for later editions. Tintin in the Land of Black Gold as it was originally run between 1948 and 1950 was set in the Middle East in the British mandate of Palestine and showed Tintin caught in the conflict between Jews, Arabs and the British. In the later versions, the adventure takes place in a fictional Arab country and the Jewish and British characters have been omitted. But that is not to say that Tintin's creator Herge had particular sympathies in the Arab-Israeli conflict; he was also accused of anti-semitic representation of Jewish people in Tintin adventures during World-World II.

Another feature of Tintin comics, is the quizzical omission of a single (likable) female character in all adventures. Mmmm!

Anyway, the Adventures of Tintin series is a clear case of the less you know, the better! May (some of) Tintin's adventures continue to delight children young and old across the globe.


Ki said...

Never been a big fan of Tin Tin but now that you have shed light on the him I can definitely say that he’s not the only that is guilty. Do you recall Brer Rabbit? Warner Brothers Merrie Melodies? Bugs Bunny, Daffy, Porky Pig? They were guilty too! In 1942 they had a very offensive cartoon called, Coal Black and de Sebben dwarfs. (s'posed to be: Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs)Take a look.
It was eventually banned but the stereotypes still exist even in 2009. Sadly, we are guilty of portraying demeaning images of ourselves to the world through lyrics, reality tv, and so on.
This are another great post by you!

Abena said...

Hey Ki, Thanks for the input and the youtube is ghastly!! Could not watch it all. I was reading some of the comments posted on youtube and found it sad that people are insisting that it is not racist and that those who find it offensive should lighten up because it is "only a cartoon"....*Yikes*
You are also soooo right that as black people we are equally guilty of continuing to perpetuate negative stereotypes of ourselves. Something has got to change!

Nana Yaw Asiedu said...

Abena, this is spot on. Even as an infant, I was shocked by the bright-eyed, thick-and-red lipped and charcoal-faced blacks in Tintin. I realised, even then, that it was racial stereotyping. I didn't let it all get in the way of my enjoying Tintin. Now you mention the absence of likeable women, I realise you're right on that score too. It's a white man's world, no? I would like my kids (if I ever have any) to read Tintin, but I now know that I will have a 'discussion' with them afterwards.

Abena said...

Thanks Nana Yaw! I'm impressed (but not too surprised) that you were so discerning from such a young age. If only more Congolese kids were like you when they polled them on Tintin! On a more serious note, I still enjoy the vast majority of Tintin adventures yet I'm still very wary.

Emmanuel.K.Bensah II said...

I first started reading Tintin in French when I went to school in Belgium; Snowy was my favourite--Milou--as he was called in French...

I, too, disliked the golliwog even at that tender age, but I have to say that Tintin's adventures rocked! I miss it so much! Would be great to get hold of a copy!!

Abena, another thing: I do have TWO ghana blogs; the second is on, which I started writing in March 2005. Could you kindly add it to your blogroll?


Abena said...

Hi Emmanuel! That is so cool that you were reading Tintins in the place it all began...I hear that there is a giant Tintin statue somewhere in Belgium..
If you are interested in Tintins then try the EPP bookstore opposite the Trade Fair. They had some a couple of years back.
*Wow* Another blog?! I'm impressed. I'm most definately adding it!

Emmanuel.K.Bensah II said...

Hi Abena, don't re-call ever seeing that Tintin statue, but I don't doubt it would exist--probably in Hergé's hometown or something.

As regards the EPP link, many thanks! Will check it out...

The second blog? In fact, that was my FIRST ghana blog, but seems to have been eclipsed by the Accra Daily Photo which has been "alive" since 2005;-)) Thx!

Abena said...

Hi Emmanuel,
Mmmm.... Can't find that reference for the Tintin statue...wondering where exactly I read it. It was definately on the internet back in the day when altavista and Netscape Communicator were still hip! I thought it was near a train station but apparently there is a statue of Tintin and Milou in a park in a town called Uccle....maybe that is the one I read about!