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The Broken Ear: Cameo appearance by the Poldavian Consul?

jock123
Moderator
#1 · Posted: 1 Oct 2012 14:32 · Edited by: jock123
I’ve been working my way through the excellent Young Reader editions, and came upon a question of identity which I can’t remember encountering before, and it doesn’t seem to have been discussed here before…

Is the bearded gentleman, seen walking purposefully into the Ethnographic Museum in the first frame of page one of The Broken Ear, the same gent who identifies himself as being the Poldavian Consul on pages 54 and 55 of The Blue Lotus?

I’ve always sort of naïvely assumed that he (the bearded gent, whoever he is) was involved in the robbery, and might have been wearing a disguise, as when we actually “see” the burglar in frame 8, he’s only shown in shadows, and is wearing a mac and a hat. However, the thief could also be meant to be the gent hanging around the pillar on the portico, and seen on the steps as the attendant is locking the doors in frame 7 (unless the thief is Hergé, who is shown wearing a mac and carrying his hat in frame 2…).

It’s certainly not specified that the the thief we are shown is actually meant to be Ramón, although he is closer in looks to the man on the steps than Alonso, who is too short and stout. But could the bearded man be Alonso in disguise? Is the man on the steps just an innocent by-stander?

To further complicate things, I also find it hard to believe that the man to whom Ramón is talking about the robbery on page 7 is Alonso; although that person is hidden behind a newspaper, it could be the chap from the museum steps – he’s apparently quite tall (taller than Ramón), has a sleeve of the right colour, and is wearing a similar hat (conversely we only ever see Alonso wearing a cap).

My thought here is, were we originally going to have a mystery about who the thief was? Was it a ploy by Hergé to set up these figures (the Consul, the steps man, and the possible third chap behind the paper) as suspects, and to have the Poldavian once again humiliated by an attack on his person to show he was someone in disguise (perhaps by the Detectives)? In the event it wasn’t followed through, perhaps because Hergé decided to keep that kind of gag for the sequence on board ship, where the baddies try and fail to expose the various men as Tintin in disguise, but could it explain the reason for the mystery man behind the newspaper?
Mikael Uhlin
Member
#2 · Posted: 1 Oct 2012 17:24
Interesting post! First of all, yes, I think Hergé deliberately was a bit vague about the identity of the thief and others in the story. Partly this was because of how Tintin was published back then, i.e. with two pages a week in Petit Vingtiéme, but I also think that at times Hergé didn't know himself how his stories would end. He often included questions to the readers at the bottom of that week's pages - and in the case of The Broken Ear these questions were kept in the b&w-version of the book - and I bet Hergé sometimes adapted ideas found among the answers from his readers in the further development of the story.

However, regarding The Broken Ear I think Hergé decided quite early on what would happen, despite those false clues, and as far as I've understood the story, the thief is Rodrigo Tortilla, and he's the one who is visible behind the pillar in frame 1 and also seen in frames 7 and 8 on page 1. He is seen smoking a cigarette, which is a clue picked up by Tintin on page 4, and on page 12 (frame 6), Alonso says that Tortilla went to Europe to steal the Arumbaya idol.

As for the man behind the newspaper on page 7, it just have to be Alonso after all. Everything in the storyline points in that direction, and I guess Hergé just wanted to keep the tension a bit, similar to how the identity of Colonel Esponja isn't immediately revealed in Tintin and the Picaros.

As for the Poldavian consul, well....
It looks like him, but I think the man in Broken Ear is taller and heavier than the one in Blue Lotus. And why would a consul based in Shanghai suddenly show up in Brussels?

Another thing regarding The Broken Ear: Tortilla stole the idol from the museum (to get the diamond he had learned about, page 55), then payed Balthazar the carver to make a copy of the idol to put at the museum, then killed Balthazar so he wouldn't tell, but then what? Tortilla did NOT take the original idol back to San Theodoros (since Balthazar's brother found the idol among Balthazar's belongings as told on page 58), but ANOTHER copy (page 17). THAT is a possible plothole!
mct16
Member
#3 · Posted: 1 Oct 2012 18:02
I've always assumed that the thief (if he is ever seen) was the man in page 1, panel 5 who is staring hard at the idol (can we really not use the word "fetish" as in the book?). He has a nasty look on his face and his collar is turned up in a very shifty-looking way. Besides, the man next to the pillar is still outside when the museum is locked and the radio report on the theft suggests that the thief was still hidden inside the museum at the time.

As for the visitor in panel 1, well it could be the Poldavian consul: the huge black beard and sunglasses especially add to the similarities and Herge does include a Chinese vase in Tintin's flat on the same page so he was still thinking of the previous book.

After his experience in Shanghai in "Blue Lotus" who could blame the poor fellow if he requested a transfer to another embassy? and there are diplomats who also have an interest in history, archaeology and ethnography - take Lord Elgin of the Elgin Marbles for instance.

Mikael Uhlin:
Tortilla did NOT take the original idol back to San Theodoros (since Balthazar's brother found the idol among Balthazar's belongings as told on page 58), but ANOTHER copy (page 17). THAT is a possible plothole!

I'm thinking that Balthazar may have carved a copy of the idol innocently unaware of its origins or the fact that it was stolen. He may have decided that it would be something worth marketing (as his brother does) and then made another copy.

He then put the original away in order to keep it safe (as one would do with a valuable model) and Tortilla, unaware of this, killed Balthazar and took the copy, not realising that it was a fake. He then set off for South America. He may have known someone in San Theodoros who could open the idol and retrieve the diamond without damaging it. Then Tortilla could earn some extra cash by selling the idol to a collector, as the manager suggests after the theft.
jock123
Moderator
#4 · Posted: 1 Oct 2012 21:06
Mikael Uhlin:
He often included questions to the readers at the bottom of that week's pages - and in the case of The Broken Ear these questions were kept in the b&w-version of the book - and I bet Hergé sometimes adapted ideas found among the answers from his readers in the further development of the story.

Ah, interesting - don’t think I knew that, and it might explain a lot about the haphazard nature of the plot!
Mikael Uhlin:
as far as I've understood the story, the thief is Rodrigo Tortilla, and he's the one who is visible behind the pillar in frame 1

I must confess that I’d completely forgotten his name! However, I don’t think the assumption that it is Tortilla on the steps can be readily confirmed: Ramón is shown smoking too. Also, we have the further confusion that along with the cigarette end Tintin discovers a scrap of grey flannel fabric; the column lurking man is in blue trousers, with not a sign of grey flannel about him. So where did that come from? And as it turns out, does it ever matter? I can imagine that there might have been an intention by Hergé to send Tintin to the Hotel Liberty, or for him to examine the contents of Tortilla’s cabin, and use it as a clue, but it seems to come to nothing. Another one of the unfollowed story paths…
Mikael Uhlin:
As for the man behind the newspaper on page 7, it just have to be Alonso after all. Everything in the storyline points in that direction, and I guess Hergé just wanted to keep the tension a bit

I take on board what you say, but the fact is it can’t really be expected to raise tension if we don’t know what either the thief or Alonso look like. I agree that, in the context of the story as it stands he’s the only person that Ramón would be talking to; however, I’m still not certain that Hergé wasn’t perhaps thinking of making Tortilla into a character that we might meet elsewhere in the story, in a different guise, and who might in fact have been known to the crooks as someone else… Speculation, of course, but it might make a bit of sense out of all the strands of people we assume to be other people, or never actually see.
Mikael Uhlin:
THAT is a possible plothole!

That’s just what we need at this stage, Mikael - further confusion… ;-)

mct16:
I've always assumed that the thief (if he is ever seen) was the man in page 1, panel 5 who is staring hard at the idol

Hmmm… I take your point, but he’s drawn diffrently to the figure in the shadows, who is in a fedora, whilst the staring man is a bowler-wearer… Still, he’s as good a candidate as any really, without further information.
mct16:
the idol (can we really not use the word "fetish" as in the book?)

But a fetish and an idol are two different things, and the fetish in the book is definitely a fetish if it is like it’s real-world counterpart. An idol is but a representation of a deity; a fetish is thought to have magical powers or embody the spirit being worshipped.

mct16:
the radio report on the theft suggests that the thief was still hidden inside the museum at the time.

Fair point; another indicator that the bearded man, the staring man and Hergé are all still in the frame for the theft…
mct16:
who could blame the poor fellow if he requested a transfer to another embassy?

I think that’s definitely a possibility, and as I said, I could see Hergé finding it funny to inflict a further heap of indignities upon him.
mct16
Member
#5 · Posted: 1 Oct 2012 23:25 · Edited by: mct16
Jock123
I'm a bit surprised by some of your speculations: you appear to assume that Alonso and Ramon were involved in the theft of the idol from the museum. In fact their role in the story only begins when Alonso buys the parrot and loses it because of the fat man who assaults him over the "great greedy guts" incident.

I don't think that Herge ever intended to have them being involved in the museum robbery even when it started to be published in the "Petit Vingtieme" in 1935.

They, like Tintin, are trying to track down the thief (Tortilla), the idol and the diamond by following the same clues but employing more ruthless methods. In fact if they were honest then they and Tintin could have joined forces and found the real idol more quickly instead of wasting time outwitting each other. In a way they are what you could call anti-Thompsons - gangster-detectives as opposed to policemen.

jock123:
Ramón is shown smoking too. Also, we have the further confusion that along with the cigarette end Tintin discovers a scrap of grey flannel fabric; the column lurking man is in blue trousers, with not a sign of grey flannel about him. So where did that come from? And as it turns out, does it ever matter?

These are just MacGuffins, clues that lead Tintin to realise that Balthazar (a pipe smoker) was murdered when the official view is that he died in an unfortunate accident.

jock123:
I also find it hard to believe that the man to whom Ramón is talking about the robbery on page 7 is Alonso; although that person is hidden behind a newspaper, it could be the chap from the museum steps – he’s apparently quite tall (taller than Ramón), has a sleeve of the right colour, and is wearing a similar hat (conversely we only ever see Alonso wearing a cap).

OK, so you win a no-prize - a non-reward for spotting an error or inconsistency in the storyline or illustration (Marvel does that sort of thing). Still, it could be that after reading the paper, Alonso lost his hat and bought a cheap cap instead. I once left an umbrella behind in the London underground by mistake and had to buy a new one, so there you are.

I admit the man near the pillar is suspicious, but then again he might just be a red herring. Herge may have added him just to add a little tension at the very beginning: the way he's dressed and just stands there suggests a spy or a lookout for the robbery that is about to take place. In fact he's probably just there waiting for his girlfriend. The entrance to a museum is a good place to arrange to meet before going to the local restaurant.

Without wanting to go off-topic, if you want real evidence of Herge making the story up as he goes along and bringing up things that ultimately prove to be of no relevance, then take the 1930s B&W edition of "Black Island": Tintin finds the clothes of the crashed airmen and notices evidence that they may have been injured in the accident. He thinks that it will be a useful clue yet these injured airmen do not appear in the rest of the story.
jock123
Moderator
#6 · Posted: 1 Oct 2012 23:57 · Edited by: jock123
mct16:
you appear to assume that Alonso and Ramon were involved in the theft of the idol

No, my point is that Hergé appears to have kept that option open, along with the possibility of having Tortilla's identity be revealed, in the manner of the gang in Cigars of the Pharaoh, and just as in Cigars where it's never properly settled who was in the gang threads are left dangling.

mct16:
their role in the story only begins when Alonso buys the parrot

Well, they are clearly in it before that, albeit off stage, as they have met with Tortilla before the book ever begins.

mct16:
I don't think that Herge ever intended to have them being involved in the museum robbery even when it started to be published in the "Petit Vingtieme" in 1935.

That maybe so, but I've not got your certainty, and I don't think it reflects his working practices. He continues well beyond this book to be sometimes just days or weeks ahead in terms of plotting the story, and as Mikael says in this case he was posing questions of his readers, and possibly accepting their suggestions and incorporating them.
mct16:
if they were honest then they and Tintin could have joined forces and found the real idol

If they were honest, they wouldn't have been interested in it.
mct16:
a non-reward for spotting an error or inconsistency in the storyline

No, again, I'm trying to find the reason for Hergé doing what he did; there is no reason for Hergé to hide Alonso behind a newspaper, because we don't know who he is anyway - it doesn't add to the tension. He makes a visual connection between the thief and the hidden man, and then doesn't follow it up, so I posit that he was considering some other way for that scenario to play out.
mct16:
I once left an umbrella behind in the London underground by mistake and had to buy a new one, so there you are.

Commiserations.
mct16:
He thinks that it will be a useful clue yet these injured airmen do not appear in the rest of the story.

That's just grist to my mill - Hergé gave himself lots of potential story points, then picked up only a few of them.
mct16
Member
#7 · Posted: 2 Oct 2012 01:11 · Edited by: mct16
jock123:
Well, they are clearly in it before that, albeit off stage, as they have met with Tortilla before the book ever begins.

But when Tintin questions them in the jungle, Alonso claims that they only met Tortilla on the boat taking them to Europe and the impression is that they were just passing acquaintances. It's possible that they did not even connect him to the piece of paper stating that the diamond was in the idol, because otherwise they would have connected him to the theft from the museum and the murder of Balthazar without having to go to all the trouble of getting the parrot.

jock123:
He makes a visual connection between the thief and the hidden man, and then doesn’t follow it up

I'm still certain that the man behind the paper is Alonso. If he was the thief then it makes no sense that Ramon is trying to track him down by using the parrot and yet is talking to him at the same time.

This may just be a case of poor illustrative work. It may have been difficult to get two men with their faces clearly seen by the reader to be reading a paper in such a narrow panel, especially if he wanted to conclude the page with Tintin, with a gun, dramatically catching Ramon in the act in the last panel.

jock123:
He continues well beyond this book to be sometimes just days or weeks ahead in terms of plotting the story, and as Mikael says in this case he was posing questions of his readers, and possibly accepting their suggestions and incorporating them.

With "Blue Lotus" onwards, Herge seems to have been more in control of his storylines. I'm quite sure that he had the general plot all planned out, in contrast to the haphazard, mish-mash plots of "Soviets", "Congo", "America" and "Cigars".

When he started planning "Broken Ear", I'm quite sure that he did have the general plot outlined at least: the theft, Tintin tracking Alonso and Ramon, the coups in San Theodoros, the war, the Arumbayas, back to Europe for the final confrontation etc.

Besides, the questions are not really a request to the reader for inspiration, but rather ways of getting them more involved. For instance the first question appears when Tintin says to himself: "Am I the only one to know the fetish they put back is a fake?" whereupon Herge asks the reader: "On what basis does Tintin make such a remark?" and we've already had the panel in which Tintin notices the intact right ear of the idol, in contrast to the previous illustrations in which it is damaged.

The other questions are on the same basis: After he's visited Balthazar's flat, Tintin mutters "Funny sort of accident", whereupon Herge asks the reader: "What's your opinion on the death of Mr Balthazar?... And what connection could there be between this death and the theft of the fetish?..." when Tintin has already found the clues that make him doubt that it was an accident.
jock123
Moderator
#8 · Posted: 2 Oct 2012 08:55 · Edited by: jock123
mct16:
the impression is that they were just passing acquaintances.

That doesn't negate what I said: I just said that they'd met already, before the book begins, and not just got involved when they bought the parrot (your point).
mct16:
they would have connected him to the theft from the museum and the murder of Balthazar

They did, they tell you as much: the parrot just confirmed their suspicions.
Getting the parrot wasn't actually any trouble at all; keeping the parrot was the problem.
mct16:
If he was the thief then it makes no sense that Ramon is trying to track him down by using the parrot

Yes, but that happens post facto; Hergé makes that the way the plot goes, so that's how it was.
What I was exploring were the potentials in the plot, and suggesting that Hergé gave himself the opportunity to make the person behind the newspaper anybody...
mct16:
It may have been difficult to get two men with their faces clearly seen by the reader to be reading a paper

Hardly, given the fact that it's a very large paper, and not such a small panel; the second person is drawn that way on purpose.
mct16:
I'm quite sure that he did have the general plot outlined at least

Quite clearly we are not going to agree on this; Hergé's plotting was not a careful construction, never more than broad strokes, and he loved to chop and change, seeing where the story would take him (he was still saying this in the late fifties, when following a script by Greg for Le ThermoZéro proved to be incompatible with his working methods, and it still seems to have been the case for Alph-Art).

Anyway, this is getting to the point of re-hashing the same points over and over, which is fruitless. All I want to know is, is it the Poldavian Consul?
mct16
Member
#9 · Posted: 2 Oct 2012 12:22
jock123:
All I want to know is, is it the Poldavian Consul?

I suppose we'll never know. It's one of those "Easter eggs" that creators are fond of putting in, teasing the reader and never confirming the suspicion one way or the other. Ironically, there is similar speculation about whether or not Trickler of "Broken Ear" makes a cameo appearance in "Calculus Affair".
Mikael Uhlin
Member
#10 · Posted: 2 Oct 2012 17:34
mct16:
there are diplomats who also have an interest in history, archaeology and ethnography

...and opium :-)

mct16:
These are just MacGuffins, clues that lead Tintin to realise that Balthazar (a pipe smoker) was murdered when the official view is that he died in an unfortunate accident.

Talking about MacGuffins, I get the feeling that the idol and the diamond are MacGuffins as well. After all, the main story of "The Broken Ear" (despite its title) is about Latin American politics, and the idol seems just to be a way to interest Tintin for the Arumbayas and their country so he could travel there. And when the diamond finally is found, it almost immediately disappears forever in the ocean (page 60).

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