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Tintin in the Congo: official word on the colour English edition?

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#21 · Posted: 19 Jan 2005 00:16
I stand with my hands up here, Chris - I am in a state of confusion over what is the best path to take.

I take what you said from my report, and agree that the B&W book didn’t appear to cause offence, but on the other hand, the purchasers of the facsimilies are pretty self-selecting.

What concerns me is that there may not be justification for including this book in its colour version in the canon, which is what seems to be the plan now that both “Soviets” and “Alph-Art” have been integrated into the standard series.

I am not a certain as you that, were the book to be made mainstream, it would go as unremarked upon as the B&W; I am also not sure that it should go unremarked upon...

Perhaps it could be teamed up with other educational materials, discussing colonialism, stereotyping etc., and be used as the basis for discussion in schools, but I am not sure that it is possible to look on “Congo” as really any better or more meritorious than “Little Black Sambo” if it is just dropped into the catalogue.
Harrock n roll
#22 · Posted: 19 Jan 2005 03:46
I suppose there's a possibility a colour Congo would cause debate, at least here in the UK. That's probably why it was announced that it would be released on the centenary of Hergé's birth, 2007 - to give it a “raison d'etre”- being the last one in the canon. But I agree that Congo should be remarked upon, I think it's context needs to be explained even if it's subject can't really be justified.

They could include a few pages at the beginning of the book explaining the background in detail rather than the short “disclaimer” as with Lotus and the facsimiles. It certainly could be made more educational by including something a bit more substantial within the book itself - well, we can hope!

One thing's for sure, it will defintely need the Hyslop font...;)
#23 · Posted: 19 Jan 2005 10:41
I feel that us Tintin fans and collectors (whom I excpect nowadays are usually over the age of 20) should not be denied the colour 'Congo', just beacuse Herge could have been a rasist. The book was a sign of the times. During my Degree course I produced my dissertation on the political elements of Herges work. When researching I found that many comic strips of the time we would now find offensive. 'Congos' stereotyping seems very tame compared to some of them. Ignorance towards other creeds and colours were present in the 30's. But now we have come to a point in time where rasism is not mainstream (there was once a colour called 'Nigger Brown'), therefore I feel we can handle the colonial aspects of 'Congo', and even the publishers should even feel rasist themselves for making such a deal out of it for all these years. I mean who is going to be offended by the book anyway?
UK Correspondent
#24 · Posted: 19 Jan 2005 16:32
There are probably many examples of possibly objectionable content in books that is never bothered over, that are simply put down to being a reflection of the views of the time.

In P.G. Wodehouse's 1934 book, "Thank You, Jeeves", the following passage occurs : "I was prepared to put up with this ... in return for the privilege of being in close communication with a really hot banjoist, and most of these ni**er minstrel chaps can pick the strings like nobody's business." I can't see this causing any more offence than "Tintin in the Congo" - there aren't any racist words used like in the Wodehouse passage, and the text itself could be adjusted to be less offensive if need be.

There have been countless revisions made to works in order to remove any hint of colonialism / racism. In "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl, for example, the Oompa-Lumpas were originally pygmies from darkest Africa, if I recall rightly. Roald Dahl isn't branded as a racist for this, so why should Hergé ? Whilst not having revised "Congo" to an extent that would be entirely non-offensive, the colour version, I would have thought, is less objectionable than the black and white.

An extended preface is a good idea, actually, with a few pages discussing the issues in the book. It would probably be worth citing a few experts arguing that Hergé wasn't a racist - Michael Farr (for sure) and Harry Thompson to give a British perspective, and if Benoît Peeters and Philippe Goddin could be coaxed into contributing, that would be great.

And I agree with Harrock - Hyslop's font must be used !
#25 · Posted: 21 Jan 2005 16:24
Here is an interesting link about a debate carried out by the French National Assembly in Paris, which covered the areas of racism in “Tintin”. Interesting if only because of the idea of an elected body discussing a fictional charater!

Now when are Parliament going to get around to discussing speeding in the tales of “Billy Whizz”?
Harrock n roll
#26 · Posted: 22 Jan 2005 00:57
Yes, I do remember that debate back in 1999, during the 70th anniversary. I always find it interesting when people make a clear distiction between Hergé and Tintin as if the character is a seperate entity with a different set of principles. So, is Tintin really Hergé, an alter-ego or a person in his own right?

I did find one quote from Hergé (which I believe is from the Sadoul book but I can't find mine) where he says of Congo: “All I knew about the country was what people said at the time: ‘Negroes are big children. Happily for them we are there!’ And I drew them in the spirit of the pure paternalism which reigned at the time in Belgium. I am not trying to excuse myself. I admit that my early books were typical of the Belgian bourgeois mentality of the time.” He also refers toCongo and Soviets as “sins of youth.”

Something for the extended preface perhaps?
UK Correspondent
#27 · Posted: 24 Jan 2005 17:25
I've had a look through Sadoul's "Tintin et Moi, entretiens avec Hergé", and I've come up with these sections referencing "Tintin in the Congo" and accusations of racism (translations by your's truly) :

Sadoul : "It's often said repeatedly that you are racist. It's time to put this to rest : what have you got to say in your defence ? How would you respond to accusations of racism ?"

Hergé : "I'd say that everyone is entitled to their opinions, even those that claim I am racist. But really, come on ! There was "Tintin in the Congo", I recognise that. It was in 1930. I only knew about this country from what people at the time said : "The blacks are big children ... It's lucky for them that we're there ! etc. ...". And I drew these Africans after these descriptions, in the purest paternalist spirit of the time that was prevalent in Belgium. Later, in "The Red Sea Sharks" - and even if the Africans speak pidgin English there - it seems to me that Tintin has surely shown his antiracism enough, hasn't he ? It's like with the gypsies in "The Castasfiore Emerald". The attitudes of Tintin and Captain Haddock are identical : they defend them against all prejudices. Only in "The Red Sea Sharks", by depicting blacks destined for slavery and Arab slave traders, I was accused again of racism, but against Arabs this time ! It never ends ! ... With "Congo", as with "Tintin in the Land of the Soviets", I was fed the prejudices of the middle class bourgeoisie in which I lived. Indeed, "Soviets" and "Congo" were sins of youth. I'm not disowning them. But if I were to do them again, I would do them differently, that's for sure ... And notice that already in "Tintin in America" I showed the "white power", the white financiers exploiting the Indians. For a "racist", I don't keep my sympathies hidden ! And my Chinese in "The Blue Lotus" ? Remember the humiliations that the white men made them suffer ? ... I'm not trying to excuse myself : I acknowledge that the books of my youth were typical of the bourgeois Belgian mentality of the time."

And later on, during the discussion of each book in the series ...

Hergé : "It [the African setting] didn't inspire me that much, but I gave way to arguments, and we're off to the Congo ! I did this story, I told you, in the outlook of the time, that's to say in a typically paternalist spirit ... which was, I assure you, prevalent in all of Belgium."

I've also found this extract from "Hergé & Tintin Reporters" (p67), from a letter in 1966 :

"I never spared anyone, not even the average European : the Thomson twins, Jolyon Wagg, Castafiore and a hundred others are average Europeans (the Milanese Nightingale must forgive me !). In reality there are individuals, types who form the substance of satire (albeit good natured) : the bore, the prima donna, the policeman, the adjutant, the dangerous military man, the financial gangster ... the race of these people has nothing to do with it."

Just thought those might be useful for the topic of discussion !
Harrock n roll
#28 · Posted: 25 Jan 2005 03:22
I like the last quote from Hergé in Richard's post. I find it revealing that he starts with “I never spared anyone” and finishes with “the race of these people has nothing to do with it” and yet he gives a list of “types.” He was obviously being very careful. I think we could read between the lines a bit and broaden his list to include the satirizing of races and religions too. I won't do that here but you get the picture, quite a long list...!
#29 · Posted: 25 Jan 2005 08:29
The Roal Dahl example actually shows that he was branded as racist, and took the time to do something about it, albeit pressured by his publishers.

And whilst I appreciate the broad sentiment of what Hergé says in the Sadoul interview, the fact that he knew that the Congo work was questionable, and that he would do it differently if he did it again, he never did, and that it is what sticks out like a sore thumb.

He continued to profit from the work, and the estate still profits, and thus it is hard to prove that he wasn’t just being mealy mouthed. Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words. I am not saying that Hergé was racist by comission, but the sin of omission is a possible charge against him.
#30 · Posted: 29 Jan 2005 19:38
They can hand-wring however much they want in the preface. Just get the colour book out in English, already! Does "racism" matter less in French?

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