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RTTP: The Adventures of Tintin (products of their time)

Oct 25, 2017
13,469
#1
I went home to my parents house recently and picked up a couple of my old Tintin books to poke through them. After getting a lot more experience in comic panelling and drawing, composition etc, the old Herge stuff really blows my mind with how efficient and lovely it is. It really is a masterwork in comic creation, especially with how simple the linework is but that really suggests complexity, especially in a lot of the landscapes. He's also so good with posing characters in really expressive and clean ways, even without shading most of the time!


Red Rackam's Treasure (1943). Gorgeous!

That said, damn, it is so blatantly racist lol, but its really interesting seeing the exact forms the racism takes? Like when you start around Tintin in the Congo which is so racist it has a full on disclaimer at the beginning, then progressing to Tintin in America with the native americans treated more sympathetically but still being gullible and naive, then by Tintin and the Blue Lotus Herge has basically settled into I guess more like benign positive racism for the Chinese and still outright racism against the Japanese (admittedly the villains of the piece, but every single Japanese person has the buck teeth and squinty eyes thing going on)? Certainly as time goes by there's more and more interest in other cultures in their complexity, sympathetic storylines and characters and so on, but I was reading Tintin and the Prisoners of the Sun and even though it's got major south american characters on every side of the good-and-bad narrative it's still firmly in the 'gullible if noble natives' camp.


Tintin in the Congo, 1946 version, written 1931. It's never as bad as this again, but yikes


Tintin and the Prisoners of the Sun, written 1946-48. You can already sense a difference in attitude just between these two panels, though it's still ultimately a kind of paternalistic colonialist attitude of sorts.


Worth noting it usually only applies to non-European cultures too and seems to get worse the blacker you are, probably best exemplified by The Red Sea Sharks (1958) which visits Middle-Eastern, European and African cultures throughout and its only the African slaves who get treated with the 'we really have to take these children in hand and do whats best for them' brush while everybody else is largely afforded more independent actions.


Tintin and the Red Sea Sharks (1958). Herge and his team never do get past the lips thing for depictions of black people, I think.

That said, the amount of research and complexity of detail for the art and costuming and so on especially is super impressive, especially considering how difficult the research would have been in that timeframe. I mean, Herge didn't have wikipedia or google image search but all that stuff is still so evocative. It is kinda mindblowing how old Tintin is though - the first book, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is 1929-30 and even the most recent one I've been reading, Prisoners of the Sun, is still from bloody 1949. In that context the view of other cultures is so much more understandable and indeed progressive for its timeframe. Can't wait to reread Destination Moon and the Castiafore Affair and the more modern stuff as well which are across the 60s-80s. I think Tintin in Tibet was also really great, from memory. Props to the translators as well, of course, without whom I'd never have come across these classics.

Anyway this isn't really to relitigate how racist or not racist the books are, just to kind of meditate on the point that you can enjoy problematic things as long as you keep stuff in perspective and are aware of sometimes how benignly fucked things can be. They're still great stories! With caveats.
 
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Oct 25, 2017
9,311
NYC
#3
I read so many of these as a kid when I traveled the world with my parents. Despite being South Asian myself, I didn't mind the racist bits.

Still don't, as an adult. They are just too damn charming & fun.
 
Oct 25, 2017
13,134
#4
I read so many of these as a kid when I traveled the world with my parents. Despite being South Asian myself, I didn't mind the racist bits.

Still don't, as an adult. They are just too damn charming & fun.
The phrasing here makes it sound like the racist bits add to the charm, not that the charm outweighs the racism. Which is how I'd describe, say, Kinnikuman and the Ramenman spin off.
 
OP
OP
Jintor
Oct 25, 2017
13,469
#7
I think I have all of them except for Tintin in the Congo. Nah, fam. Fuck that one. As far as I'm concerned, my collection is complete.
I've read all of them, but I only own like 5 or so. I might try and get one every two months or so and finish up my collection. Undecided on Tintin and the Congo, lol.
 

Morrigan

Armoring
Moderator
Oct 24, 2017
9,631
#8
I think I have all of them except for Tintin in the Congo. Nah, fam. Fuck that one. As far as I'm concerned, my collection is complete.
LOL same. I never bothered re-buying that one (my family had the whole collection but when I moved out, I re-bought most of the issues). There's still colonialism-tinged, paternalistic, condescending racism in later books, as OP said, but it's not as breathtakingly offensive as the first book. Even as a kid I thought it was fucked up, without really grasping why. I do think Hergé would have improved continued his views with time, though.

As for the books themselves, they are fun adventure stories. I would recommend skipping the first two, Tintin en Amérique is pretty bad too, to be honest (racism or otherwise; the plot isn't great and there's a lot of goofy, nonsensical stuff). The 3rd issue and onwards are much better, and the writing dramatically improves with time. Comparing the early books to the moon mission issues, for example, really highlights how much the writing, characterization, research, attention to detail, world-building, etc. has improved. It's night and day.

(That said I was always more of an Astérix person... ^^)
 
Oct 27, 2017
536
#9
I've read all of them, but I only own like 5 or so. I might try and get one every two months or so and finish up my collection. Undecided on Tintin and the Congo, lol.
Honestly, I wouldn't begrudge anyone owning it, lol. It's mostly the thought of Hergé being Belgian and the history with the Congo that bothers me. I can't help but wonder how works like that contributed to people's perceptions at the time.
 
Aug 18, 2018
324
#10
I only started reading Tintin as an adult, so I came at them from more of an anthropological standpoint. Amazing pieces of illustrated storytelling, of course having to take into consideration the blatant racial and ethnic shortcomings of the early stories. One of the culturally interesting things to me is why Tintin is still so , deservedly, in my mind, dogged by its racist past while more modern American comic characters largely are allowed to skate by their blatant racist histories.
 
OP
OP
Jintor
Oct 25, 2017
13,469
#14
I only started reading Tintin as an adult, so I came at them from more of an anthropological standpoint. Amazing pieces of illustrated storytelling, of course having to take into consideration the blatant racial and ethnic shortcomings of the early stories. One of the culturally interesting things to me is why Tintin is still so , deservedly, in my mind, dogged by its racist past while more modern American comic characters largely are allowed to skate by their blatant racist histories.
Which American comic characters are you thinking of? I feel like Looney Tunes and stuff often gets the WWII stuff brought up a bunch because they head-on confronted it by saying "Yeah we were super racist at that time". Superhero stuff I think might escape it just because continuity is so snarled for those characters as well, in a weird way (there still is the occasionally thing over the Mandarin and stuff, or Superfriends? and then maybe it just gets caught in more modern racism stuff with more modern stories, like with the Great 10 during whatever the hell DC even that was, or whatever).

Tintin obviously is standalone from comic to comic but it straddles a good line for 'realism' and a single ongoing (sort of) continuity that maybe makes it more of a target?
 
Oct 25, 2017
2,490
#16
What's the best edition or collection or whatever that I should be looking at if I'm interested in starting to buy some of these? I'd like to get the best editions possible.

I've only ever seen the recent movie, and I love the hell out of it. It's my only exposure to the property and I've always been meaning to start in on the actual comics.
 
Oct 25, 2017
533
#18
LOL same. I never bothered re-buying that one (my family had the whole collection but when I moved out, I re-bought most of the issues). There's still colonialism-tinged, paternalistic, condescending racism in later books, as OP said, but it's not as breathtakingly offensive as the first book. Even as a kid I thought it was fucked up, without really grasping why. I do think Hergé would have improved continued his views with time, though.

As for the books themselves, they are fun adventure stories. I would recommend skipping the first two, Tintin en Amérique is pretty bad too, to be honest (racism or otherwise; the plot isn't great and there's a lot of goofy, nonsensical stuff). The 3rd issue and onwards are much better, and the writing dramatically improves with time. Comparing the early books to the moon mission issues, for example, really highlights how much the writing, characterization, research, attention to detail, world-building, etc. has improved. It's night and day.

(That said I was always more of an Astérix person... ^^)
Holy crap, are you me? All of this resonates with me so much. I loved Tintin as a kid, but Asterix was just on another level. Kinda wanna revisit them now.

Personal favourites are the Moon and Unicorn series.
 

Morrigan

Armoring
Moderator
Oct 24, 2017
9,631
#19
Holy crap, are you me? All of this resonates with me so much. I loved Tintin as a kid, but Asterix was just on another level. Kinda wanna revisit them now.

Personal favourites are the Moon and Unicorn series.
Those are my favourites too :) L'Affaire Tournesol (The Calculus Affair) is one of my favourites too.

Now I feel like re-reading all of those...
 
Aug 18, 2018
324
#22
Which American comic characters are you thinking of? I feel like Looney Tunes and stuff often gets the WWII stuff brought up a bunch because they head-on confronted it by saying "Yeah we were super racist at that time". Superhero stuff I think might escape it just because continuity is so snarled for those characters as well, in a weird way (there still is the occasionally thing over the Mandarin and stuff, or Superfriends? and then maybe it just gets caught in more modern racism stuff with more modern stories, like with the Great 10 during whatever the hell DC even that was, or whatever).

Tintin obviously is standalone from comic to comic but it straddles a good line for 'realism' and a single ongoing (sort of) continuity that maybe makes it more of a target?
I guess I'm thinking in terms of American Superhero comics specifically. Like, Superman is a goddamn cultural institution, but no one outside of the hardcore audience remembers when he encouraged people to physically assault Japanese people. Yet you can't have a conversation about Tintin without having to tackle its admittedly terrible racial issues. Is this simply because Tintin is the work of one, singular creator, as opposed to a character like Superman, who at the time was the culmination of many artists and writers? I just find it an interesting cultural phenomenon.
 
OP
OP
Jintor
Oct 25, 2017
13,469
#24
I guess I'm thinking in terms of American Superhero comics specifically. Like, Superman is a goddamn cultural institution, but no one outside of the hardcore audience remembers when he encouraged people to physically assault Japanese people. Yet you can't have a conversation about Tintin without having to tackle its admittedly terrible racial issues. Is this simply because Tintin is the work of one, singular creator, as opposed to a character like Superman, who at the time was the culmination of many artists and writers? I just find it an interesting cultural phenomenon.
Honestly I think it's probably because when you're introduced to Superman it's probably through more modern stories written by more modern writers, but when you're introduced to Tintin, it's still through the stories written during that older timeframe.
 
Aug 18, 2018
324
#26
Honestly I think it's probably because when you're introduced to Superman it's probably through more modern stories written by more modern writers, but when you're introduced to Tintin, it's still through the stories written during that older timeframe.
Yeah, your probably right. The oversaturation of material for a character like Superman means its easier to filter out the earlier problematic stuff, while Tintin is a much more controlled, singular creative vision.
 
Oct 25, 2017
2,490
#31
Of course not. Im not a tintin nerd anyway, and the movie was good. I just think the cg style wasn't appropriate.
I think it was a perfect mix, personally. Cartoonish enough to make the characters evocative of the comic design, while being realistic enough to where it made intuitive sense that they were occupying an ultra-realistic world.
 
Aug 18, 2018
324
#32
I think it was a perfect mix, personally. Cartoonish enough to make the characters evocative of the comic design, while being realistic enough to where it made intuitive sense that they were occupying an ultra-realistic world.
Yeah, I remember feeling this real sense of struggle from a design standpoint while watching the movie, where the filmmakers clearly wanted to stay true to Herge's visual design while also giving these characters a sense of weight and realism.
 
Oct 25, 2017
533
#33
Speaking of the movies...

Surely, in a post-spiderverse world, we can agree that this is not the optimal way to adapt the art-style for cinema?

lol
Felt uncanny valley at first but I think the style grew on me. Plus it was animated nicely, which I didn't expect to look all that natural, the slap stick stuff in particular.