Every morning before school, I sat on the floor with a bowl of cereal to watch The Adventures of Tintin on my family's thirteen inch tv. I'm still not quite sure why I liked this show about a boyish reporter and his dog, but I suspect it had something to do with the ritual of it all. Every morning the same cereal, in the same bowl, with the same tv shows, before I walked the same way to school. Tintin is like this too, routined, formulaic. Always a call to a different city, but every Tintin adventure involves the summons to duty, the journey, the slapstick humour of Thomson and Thompson, the inventiveness of Tintin, the untangling of plot, and the all important and satisfying resolution. Crime identified and criminals captured. Tintin, along with the viewers and readers, can rest until the next call to duty, which is, of course, inevitable. So I think I enjoyed The Adventures of Tintin because there were no surprises, just the pleasure of an ever resolving narrative.
Hergé (his real name was Georges Remi) was a gifted illustrator working for a Belgian newspaper, when he was asked to contribute to a weekly supplement for children. Influenced by trends in America, he set to work on a cartoon strip and Tintin debuted in 1929 to chase after Bolsheviks in Moscow. Of course, Tintin's early years were in black and white; but as Hergé grew as an illustrator, the Adventures of Tintin became increasingly complex and hopelessly devoted to realism. But some of the most interesting adventures deal with the unknown: Hergé read and researched widely, but he never really travelled which meant that many of Tintin's adventures reflect widespread assumptions about the "new world." As such, Hergé and Tintin have received accusations of racism, but it is perhaps more accurate to say that Tintin reveals the Western cultural assumptions about the newly discovered world. Here are some of the images that Hergé has been criticized for:
Despite accusations of cultural insensitivity, Hergé's Tintin is popular all over the world and the cartoon strip has been adapted for film, radio, television, and theatre. Nowhere is the popularity of Tintin more surprising than in Black Africa. On the cover of Graham Huggan's book, The Postcolonial Exotic, stands a Tintin look alike. His skin is darkened, but he wears the ubiquitous Tintin suit and sports the ubiquitous Tintin flip of blonde hair.
Huggan reports that doll-sized fake Tintins like the one pictured above are available all across Black Africa, which as symbols of continued imperialism seem to contradict the post in postcolonial. But, as Huggan points out, if we look closely at these fake Tintins from around the world; it is clear that the image of Tintin as a white colonialist is being subtly undercut as he comes to reflect the image of those who made him. The different likenesses of Tintin perhaps point not to the endurance of colonialism, but to the flexibility of iconic images and to the pleasure of re-making colonial images to reflect different worlds.
Stay tuned for my quick review of Frederic Tuten's Tintin in the New World: A Romance, which is a strange novel that forces Tintin to grow up.