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Tintin Season: Tintin in the Congo

January 21, 2010

It’s been a fair while since I wrote about Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. I wasn’t sure I was going to continue with my endeavour but I suddenly have an hankering for all things Tintin. I’m going to write this one quickly…I’ll try to be more in-depth in later editions.

As I wrote previously, Tintin had some teething problems in his inauspicious début and the same applies here. It is perhaps, infamous (at least in Britain and North America) as the book that put Tintin back in the spotlight but for all the wrong reasons. I’ll make my views clear, Tintin in the Congo is racist and does show dated colonialisms but it is also presented in such a ridiculous way it’s hard to take seriously. I’m not making excuses and I’m not trying to exempt the work from any criticism because even without the slapped-on racism and animal cruelty on display, it is terrible as a piece of narrative art.

It has a coherency in structure lacking in the haphazard, two-pages-at-a-time presentation of Land of the Soviets. We also see the beginnings of Herge’s ligne claire style, which would become a defining feature of Tintin. Yet, it has more in common with the ugly, both aesthetically and in the plot, of Land of the Soviets. They both portray Tintin as a boorish character, his “help” consists of ordering the Congolese into fixing his mistake, killing a snake and wearing the hide of a monkey. It is fascinating to read and see how easily Tintin can fall into being a prat because of his need to help. In later adventures, his “boy-scout” attitude and spirit seems endearing and something to strive for. In LotS and TitC, these same attributes turn him into a fascist.

Tintin as a character doesn’t quite work without a strong cast of characters, he’s the perpetual “man-child” but he is also the perpetual “straight-man”. In the early adventures Snowy acts as the comedic foil to Tintin’s diligence until Captain Haddock is introduced. Without this element, Tintin can often seem dull in comparison.

In the end, TitC should really be looked at in a historical context, by that I mean in the context of other Tintin adventures. As a piece of art, it doesn’t work but as a gestation and as a look into the beginnings of a much-loved character it is invaluable.


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