The Adventures of Tintin first appeared in French on this date in 1929 in Le Petit Vingtième, a youth supplement to the Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle. The Adventures of Tintin (Les Aventures de Tintin) is a series of comic albums created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi (1907–1983), who wrote under the pen name Hergé. The series was one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century. By the time of the centenary of Hergé’s birth in 2007, Tintin had been published in more than 70 languages with sales of more than 200 million copies.
The series is set during a largely realistic 20th century. Its hero is Tintin, a young Belgian reporter and adventurer. He is aided by his faithful fox terrier dog Snowy (Milou in the original French edition). Later, popular additions to the cast included the brash and cynical Captain Haddock, the highly intelligent but hearing-impaired Professor Calculus (Professeur Tournesol), and other supporting characters such as the incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson (Dupont et Dupond) and the opera diva Bianca Castafiore.
The series has been admired for its clean, expressive drawings in Hergé’s signature ligne claire (“clear line”) style. Its plots straddle a variety of genres: swashbuckling adventures with elements of fantasy, mysteries, political thrillers, and science fiction. The stories feature slapstick humor, offset by dashes of sophisticated satire and political or cultural commentary.
I’m not a big fan of Tintin for a variety of reasons. The cartoons of the 1930s and ‘40s are awash in ethnocentric cultural stereotypes which are supposed to be amusing, but which I just find offensive. Admittedly things got better over time, particularly as the series was translated into other languages. But therein lies another problem. Tintin, like my Franco-Belgian favorite, Asterix (https://www.bookofdaystales.com/asterix-gaul/) struggles in translation because a lot of the humor is verbal. I can read French reasonably well, so this does not bother me unduly. But in the English-speaking world it can be difficult to find Tintin in the original.
The earliest stories in The Adventures of Tintin have been criticized for displaying racial stereotypes, animal cruelty, colonialist, violent, and even fascist leanings, including ethnocentric caricatured portrayals of non-Europeans. While the Hergé Foundation has presented such criticism as naïveté and scholars of Hergé such as Harry Thompson have said that “Hergé did what he was told by the Abbé Wallez,” Hergé himself felt that his background made it impossible to avoid prejudice, stating, “I was fed the prejudices of the bourgeois society that surrounded me.” Cop out.
In Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, the Bolsheviks were presented as villains. Hergé drew on Moscow Unveiled, a work given to him by Wallez and written by Joseph Douillet, the former Belgian consul in Russia, that is highly critical of the Soviet regime, although Hergé contextualised this by noting that in Belgium, at the time a reasonably devout Catholic nation, “Anything Bolshevik was atheist.” In the story, Bolshevik leaders are motivated by personal greed and a desire to deceive the world. Tintin discovers, buried, “the hideout where Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin have collected together wealth stolen from the people.” Hergé later dismissed the failings of this first story as “a transgression of my youth.” By 1999, even while Tintin’s politics was the subject of a debate in the French parliament, part of this presentation was noted as far more reasonable, with British weekly newspaper The Economist declaring, “In retrospect, however, the land of hunger and tyranny painted by Hergé was uncannily accurate.”
Tintin in the Congo has been criticized as presenting the Africans as naïve and primitive. In the original work, Tintin is shown at a blackboard addressing a class of African children. “My dear friends,” he says, “I am going to talk to you today about your fatherland: Belgium.” Hergé redrew this in 1946 to show a lesson in mathematics. Hergé later admitted the flaws in the original story, excusing it saying, “I portrayed these Africans according to … this purely paternalistic spirit of the time.”
Drawing on André Maurois’ Les Silences du colonel Bramble, Hergé presents Tintin as a big-game hunter, accidentally killing fifteen antelope as opposed to the one needed for the evening meal. However, concerns over the number of dead animals led Tintin ’s Scandinavian publishers to request changes. A page of Tintin killing a rhinoceros by drilling a hole in its back and inserting a stick of dynamite was deemed excessive; Hergé replaced the page with one in which the rhino accidentally discharges Tintin’s rifle while he sleeps under a tree. In 2007, the UK’s Commission for Racial Equality called for the book to be pulled from shelves after a complaint, stating, “It beggars belief that in this day and age that any shop would think it acceptable to sell and display Tintin in the Congo.” In August 2007, a Congolese student filed a complaint in Brussels that the book was an insult to the Congolese people. Public prosecutors investigated, and a criminal case was initiated, although the matter was transferred to a civil court. Belgium’s Centre for Equal Opportunities warned against “over-reaction and hyper political correctness.” Sorry, this constant defense of “political correctness” does not wash with me. Objections to racist portrayals of colonized peoples are perfectly legitimate.
Hergé altered some of the early albums in subsequent editions, usually at the demand of publishers. For example, at the instigation of his U.S. publishers, many of the African-American characters in Tintin in America were re-colored to make their race ambiguous. The Shooting Star originally had an American villain with the Jewish surname of “Blumenstein”. This proved controversial, as the character exhibited exaggerated, stereotypically Jewish characteristics. “Blumenstein” was changed to an American with a less ethnically specific name, Mr. Bohlwinkel, in later editions and subsequently to a South American of a fictional country—São Rico.
Tintin has also been the subject of analysis by literary critics, primarily in French-speaking Europe. Their dense, tortured prose is generally overwrought, and unreadable at times. But their admiration is clear. In 1984, Jean-Marie Apostolidès published his study of the Adventures of Tintin from a more “adult” perspective as Les Métamorphoses de Tintin, published in English as The Metamorphoses of Tintin, or Tintin for Adults in 2010. In reviewing this book, Nathan Perl-Rosenthal of The New Republic thought that it was “not for the faint of heart: it is densely-packed with close textual analysis and laden with psychological jargon.”
The first English-language work of literary criticism devoted to the series was Tintin and the Secret of Literature, by the novelist Tom McCarthy and published in 2006. McCarthy compares Hergé’s work with that of Aeschylus, Honoré de Balzac, Joseph Conrad, and Henry James and argues that the series contains the key to understanding literature itself. McCarthy considers the Adventures of Tintin to be “stupendously rich,” containing “a mastery of plot and symbol, theme and sub-text” which, influenced by psychoanalytical readings of the work, he believed could be deciphered to reveal a series of recurring themes, ranging from bartering to implicit sexual intercourse that Hergé had featured throughout the series. Reviewing the book in The Telegraph, Toby Clements argued however that McCarthy’s work, and literary criticism of Hergé’s comic strips in general, cut “perilously close” to simply feeding “the appetite of those willing to cross the line between enthusiast and obsessive.” There you have it.
To honor Hergé and Tintin I’ve chosen stoemp, a popular dish that is simple to make and enjoys wide appeal in Belgium. It is a dish of mashed potatoes in cream sauce with one or more vegetables, such as onions, carrots, leeks, spinach, green peas or cabbage, and seasoned with garlic, thyme or bay. Strictly speaking there is no definitive recipe. The basic idea is to make mashed potato rich with butter and cream plus a vegetable of choice. I like it with spinach, but here is a recipe using leeks, because I love the combination of potato and leeks, and am reveling in “leeks with everything” right now after 5 years of leek deprivation in Argentina and China. Seasonings are also cook’s choice. I use nutmeg, but you can also use thyme or sage if you prefer, or simply salt and pepper.
Stoemp is traditionally featured alongside fried boudin, fried braadworst, grilled bacon, fried ground beef or fried eggs, but it can work as a side dish with anything you like.
5 large potatoes, peeled and diced
4 tbsp butter
¾ cup cream (single or double)
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
4 medium leeks, washed and finely sliced
light stock (chicken or vegetable)
salt and pepper
ground nutmeg (optional)
Simmer the potatoes in stock until they are soft. Drain them and reserve the liquid. Mash them in whatever fashion suits you. I’ve used a potato masher plus whisk for years, because I like my potatoes a little lumpy.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, onions, and leeks and sauté until soft but not browned. Add the cream and ½ cup of stock and simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Scoop out the vegetables with a slotted spoon, and reduce the liquid by half over high heat. Add back the leek mix and mashed potatoes, lower the heat to medium, and stir everything until everything is well combined. Season to taste.