Book Reviews, Graphic Novels, YA

The dumb racism of Tintin — Tintin in the Congo and Tintin in America (1930 – 1932)

Tintin in the Congo (1930 – 1931)

Even the best Tintin stories are, to me, speeding towards irrelevance. Hergé’s writing is confusing — despite being geared primarily towards children, his plots are propelled forward by excessive expository dialogue describing everything happening in the artwork, with overly-political plotlines and a vocabulary far beyond the target grade level. I liked following the art when I was a youngster, but most of the stories bored me and still bore me.

Tintin in the Congo is as ridiculous as its reputation. After his earliest exploits in the Soviet Union circa 1929, Tintin lands on Africa’s shores to unanimous acclaim from every 1930s racist caricature imaginable. His adventures there follow the attitude of this uncomfortable encounter:

Tintin wanders what I presume is the modern DRC killing every animal in his path and acting out the white savior to every African. He and his dog are made chiefs of two different tribes in one day. His English car gets hit by an African-made train, and the train simply collapses from how poorly-built it is. All the Africans in said train are lazy and refuse to help clean up the mess because Africans are lazy. He kills an elephant for its tusks. He kills an entire family of gazelle for a gag. He wows a tribe with white innovations like moving pictures and audio recordings. He stops American criminals from turning Africa into another Chicago.

It’s ridiculous.

It’s also a fast read, and utterly fascinating for how terribly antiquated it is. If you’re an older fan of Tintin and feeling the curious itch I felt, I think I’d actually recommend it for curiosity’s sake.



Tintin in America (1931 – 1932)

herge_tintinamerica_covThe previous Tintin yarn, Tintin in the Congo, is unanimously reviled for its racist portrayal of the African continent. Because of this, it, and the obscure Tintin yarn before it, are left out of modern printings of the complete Tintin library.

Tintin in America is just as ignorant and vile in its portrayal of Native Americans as …Congo was of Africans. Shallow commentary on the American government and mobsters aside, it’s nuts that Hergé’s portrayal of Native Americans gets a more dismissive free pass because people don’t really care about Native American issues.

Like the previous book, Tintin’s third adventure is a random string of gags and unrelated events. Tintin bounces from one encounter to the next, each playing off of a different, antiquated stereotype of something American. In the end, they all tie in some way to a bizarre mob plot to stop Tintin before he accidentally stops them from doing mob stuff. It was originally serialized in small segments, so its intent was gags rather than telling a story. Still, it’s hard to argue it deserves a place anywhere near the later, more fleshed-out Tintin adventures.


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