The Adventures of Tintin is a world-famous comic series created by Belgian cartoonist Hergé, whose real name was Georges Remi, beginning in 1929. (1907-1983). The series consists of 24 albums, beginning with Tintin in the Land of the Soviets in 1930 and ending with Tintin and the Alph-Art (unfinished album). Tintin’s Adventures has captivated children and adults in over 100 countries. The adventures of Belgian journalist Tintin have been translated into almost 60 languages from the original French. Hergé, on the other hand, has frequently been accused of fostering racism via his art.
Major non-white characters are few and far between in a comic book series that has one-third of its plots set in areas that are not mostly populated by White people. Only four of them appear in multiple comics: Chang Chong-Chen, a young Chinese guy, Sheik Mohammed Bin Khalish Ahmed and his son Abdullah, and the Maharaja of Gaipajama. Despite the presence of various characters, Tintin is the white male hero.
Chang, for example, is saved by Tintin twice: first from drowning in The Blue Lotus, and once from the Himalayas after going lost after an aviation crash in Tintin in Tibet. Tintin protects Abdullah, Sheik Mohammed’s son, in The Land of Black Gold. Tintin saves the Maharaja of Gaipajama when the opium trade mafia attempts to kill the monarch of the fake country of Gaipajama in India who is opposed to them.
Herge’s portrayal of non-white characters is frequently based on biases and preconceptions. Chang is the honest son of impoverished (and presumably deceased) Chinese parents who is adopted by a wealthy man, whereas Abdullah is spoiled by the excesses of his affluent Arab father. Neither of them has the distinguishing personalities that Tintin’s white counterparts, such as Professor Calculus and Captain Haddock, possess.
Stereotypes around the non-whites
The contrasts in portrayal are also visible in the manner in which the characters are drawn. The white characters are the only ones that have distinct clothes and characteristics. The attention taken to the clothes is clear, from Haddock’s marine costume to Calculus’ overcoat, from Tintin’s own distinctive shirts to Thomson and Thompson’s bowler hats, not to mention opera diva Bianca Castafiore’s garish outfits.
Non-Whites, on the other hand, frequently have generic looks and clothing. The Black figures have exceptionally dark complexion, almost as though they’re wearing blackface make-up. Turbans are worn by the Indian characters, whereas the majority of the West Asians wear the customary thawb or tunic. All of the Chinese characters have long pointed noses and white “Chinese” collar shirts.
Promoting primitive culture patterns in non-western world
The ship, train, automobile, camera, and cannon are the only mechanised things in Tintin in Congo, all of which were introduced by colonisers. They are also solely employed by White characters, most notably Tintin. He even repairs a whole railway system that the “natives” are unable to repair due to their lack of knowledge.
Cigars of the Pharaoh is richly illustrated with pictures of mummies and pyramids, evoking an ancient civilisation that has fallen behind the times. Indeed, the landscape of non-White regions is often seen to be underdeveloped. Tintin ultimately steals a jet and lands in India, in a forest, where he rides an elephant.
Tintin walks a lot more in The Blue Lotus, which is set in China, than he does in a Western comic. The city of Shanghai, which was mostly governed by Europeans, is the only developed metropolitan setting seen in these two cartoons. Even the weapons used to harm and kill are archaic in comparison to those employed in the West, such as poison and hanging. The change is evident in The Red Sea Sharks, where camels and dirt trails appear as soon as the story moves from the West to Asia.
Excerpts from Tintin series lauding racism
The Jewish community is portrayed similarly to everything else in the media at the time: huge noses, thick lips, physically unfit (glasses, overweight), plotting, moneylending, and so on. This is only one example of how the strip reflects the mission statement of Tintin’s first adventure: Soviets are terrible. Here, lousy soviets equal no freedom of choice, no freedom of speech, and tremendous tyranny. On the other hand the communist people, poor things, endure the weight of their tyranny, are slumped over and unhappy, and are continually looking down. Tintin does not travel to the Congo as a reporter. He travels there to hunt wildlife, humiliate people, and be worshipped as a divinity. He travels as a colonialist, also known as a missionary.
“Marvelous,” he adds of the structures and the invasion of Belgian culture and lifestyle on Congolese territory. Snowy concurs, but he’s full of feeling. Le Petit Vingtième was a Catholic journal, this is hardly surprising. In one of the excerpts, the black guy asks the white man for knowledge, as if asking him to encroach. The second instance is on a symbolic level, when the people are denied the freedom to identify their territory as autonomous in any way. He contributes to the normalisation of colonialism and racism in general.
The public unrest against Tintin and the #tintingate
The whole issue blew up when a major newspaper reported on the creative director of a youth culture centre transferring the Tintin volumes to an adult area, prompting harsh Twitter replies almost instantly. Some were against it, claiming it constituted censorship. Others said that it was counterproductive because Tintin was not racist. And, of course, there was a third, unimportant but vociferous minority that was merely irritated by the fact that a Swede of Iranian heritage was permitted into the media limelight at all. On the other hand, anti-racists in general defended the cause claiming to discover troubling elements in the Tintin stories.
On May 31, a Brussels court will determine whether to ban a Tintin comic book for being racist. A Congolese man is suing the book’s publishers, claiming that “it gives people the impression that blacks have not progressed.” Tintin’s adventures in the former Belgian colony are chronicled in the book, which includes confrontations with diamond smugglers, big game hunters, and wild creatures. A Belgian court has rejected an appeal to prohibit a contentious Tintin book on the grounds that it violates anti-racism rules. Tintin in the Congo has always received criticism, and Herge subsequently stated that he was dissatisfied with the work. According to the Belgian court, it was established during a period when colonial ideologies were widespread and doesn’t necessarily promote racism.
Everyone read Tintin when we were kids because Belgian missionaries left so many volumes behind in libraries. We didn’t think much of it at the time: we viewed their pictures of Africans with pitch-black complexion, big lips, and unable to say ‘monsieur’ but ‘misier’ as nothing more than exaggerated caricatures.
However, one cannot object that the text is extremely racist toward black people. There are arguments where Hergé was not considered a racist; rather a white man who just represented the Western world’s vision of the Congo and Africa during those years, as well as Belgian imperial aspirations. In this way, the novel is like Proust’s “madeleine incident” for us: it reminds us of our colonial past. Many of the Congolese people who support the lawsuit are not necessarily trying to get Tintin banned: they see it as a good opportunity to raise awareness of the whole issue and ask for an official recognition from Belgium of the atrocities that took place during colonial times.
About the author ….
I am currently pursuing my final year masters in Politics with specialization in International Relations from Jamia Millia Islamia. I graduated from the University of Delhi with political science honors affiliated to Gargi college. I have a keen interest on various foreign policies of different countries and on the issues of migration, refugee crisis, border conflicts, sustainable development, global warming, maritime security and many more. I am an aspiring academician and preparing for a doctoral degree in International relations in the coming years.