Week 7 – Tintin and the Blue Lotus

1. In what specific ways is Tintin a forerunner of late 20th – 21st century transmedia storytelling franchises?

Herge’s Tintin had a strong European audience in the late 20th century. This can be attributed to Herge’s cinematic style of storytelling, where the audience feel like they’re follow the comics from different camera angles and the flow of the scenes work very much like a film. “Acutely aware of the key aspects to be considered in the production of a dynamic film narrative— movement, action, and scene splicing—[Hergé] endlessly varies angles and shots with the express intention of making his stories as authentic as possible.[1]” This allowed Tintin appeal to many and, furthermore, to be developed into other modes of media, including short animated films such as Tintin and the Blue Lotus, other forms of literature as seen with Tom McCarthy’s Tintin and the Secret of Literature, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s 2011 adaptation of Tintin and the Secret of the Unicorn, and models for merchandising. There is also Herge’s museum near Brussels filled with Tintin pieces which garners a lot of attention. With Tintin’s success only in competition with the Harry Potter franchise for its scale and mass audience numbers, Tintin has remained one of the most popular franchises in the 20th – 21st centuries.

2. What is the alleged connection between Hergé’s early comics and propaganda?

Herge worked for a right-wing Catholic magazine ‘Le Petit Vingtième’ and had a correspondent who sent him foreign comics to get inspiration from, such as the latest transatlantic development in strip cartoons and his use of speech bubbles beginning in 1928. This correspondent was Léon Degrelle who went on to establish the Rexists, the Belgian equivalent of Fascists, and became their leader in 1935. This political connection led many to believe that Herge’s early comics, such as Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, held anti-communist propaganda or subliminal political views in favour of his former correspondent.

Herge’s politics are evident in his first album, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, as “[it] is so transparent in its anti-communist propaganda that Hergé himself tried to suppress its publication in later years.[2]

3. How would you characterise Hergé’s politics, and how did they apparently change over time?

I believe that Herge’s views on politics, ethnic groups, ideas, etc. was heavily influenced by the time, especially with the censoring of ideas and information. Herge created his comics in a way that would appeal to the mass audience, whether the stereotypes used were correct or appropriate. For many, generic ideas about other people were the only things they knew about them, for example the Jewish stereotypes about them having long, hooked noses and being obsessed with money. Had Herge tried to portray any ethnic group in the most realistic, humane way, they were no guarantees that audiences would understand the context or scene. ‘Exotic’ comes across as more entertaining that normality, throwing in stereotype widely accepted at the time would increase the entertainment factor and therefore sell more copies.

As times changed and public understanding and social understandings changed, Herge’s politics and approach to portrayal of race and character in his comics too changed. Not significantly, for he still made racist or offensive points in his comics such as his portrayal of Congolese men, Japanese characters, Chinese characters and American characters, but Herge was raised in a time where the politics and social norms accepted the stereotypes that came across of offensive and to ‘unlearn’ the fundamental basics of his life growing up would take a while.

4. What issues do his albums raise in terms of representation of ‘race’, and particularly ethnic and cultural stereotyping?

Herge’s portrayal of race, namely African/Congolese, Japanese, Chinese and American characters and their personalities, sparked controversy across the years. Such stereotyping which may have been accepted prior to WWII was seen in a different light some decades later as the social norms changed. Some albums including these controversies include Tintin in the Congo, Tintin: Cigars of the Pharaoh, Tintin and the Blue Lotus and Tintin in America.

Characterising race through their appearance, such as Congolese men with black skin and big lips or Chinese men with yellow skin and pig-like faces, is offensive and inappropriate. It was only upon meeting a Chinese man, aspiring artist Chang Chong-chen, that Herge normalised the characteristics of Chinese characters and gave them a more human-like appearance (he kept the evil Chinese characters with overtly yellow skin and pig tails – whether this was to distinguish the good and bad is up to you to decide). Such racial stereotypes landed Herge in hot water and resulted in him republishing albums with changes made to remedy the issues (removing the racist portrayals of minorities in place for a white character seemed like his preferred way to go).

5. How decisively did Hergé address this issue from The Blue Lotus on, and in what ways did it remain problematic?

As I previously stated, Herge did attempt to remedy his previous mistake of mis-portraying Chinese characters as yellow pigs by making them more human, however, a new issue arose with the idea that Tintin would come to the aid of Chinese characters in trouble much like a knight would come to save the damsel in distress. This then characterised Chinese people as being unable to care for and save themselves and needing the white man to save them from their problems. This can be seen in Tintin and the Blue Lotus when Chang gets swept away in the river and Tintin goes in a save him and when Tintin steps in the save a rickshaw driver from an American busniessman.

There are still evident issues with the portrayal of Japanese characters such as Mitsuhirato and his cronies. As stated by Alexander Laser-Robinson, “If we can assume that racism can be defined by the identification or disengagement from a group of peoples, then we can begin to see in The Blue Lotus the deasianization of the Chinese versus the hyperasianization of the Japanese.[3]

Bibliography:

Calamur, K. (2016) Is Tintin Racist? Coming to Terms with Tintin. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/06/tintin/485501/

Laser-Robinson, A. S. (2005) An Analysis of Hergé’s Portrayal of Various Racial Groups in The Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus. p.6. Retrieved from https://www.tintinologist.org/articles/analysis-bluelotus.pdf

Mountfort, P. (2016) Tintin as Spectacle: The Backstory of a Popular Franchise and Late Capital. p.5. Retrieved from https://blackboard.aut.ac.nz/bbcswebdav/pid-4917942-dt-content-rid-10277214_4/institution/Papers/ENGL602/Publish/Mountfort%202016_Tintin%20as%20Spectacle%281%29.pdf


[1] Mountfort, P. (2016) Tintin as Spectacle: The Backstory of a Popular Franchise and Late Capital. p.5

[2] Calamur, K. (2016) Coming to Terms with Tintin. The Atlantic.

[3] Laser-Robinson, A. S. (2005) An Analysis of Hergé’s Portrayal of Various Racial Groups in The Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus. p.6

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