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

Tintin is one of the most widely recognized images in the world. Creator Georges Remi who published under the pen name Hegre, First sent Tintin to Russia in, Tintin in the land of the Soviets, which was published in 1929. With twenty four editions that followed which to date have been published over 200 million times, it can easily be said that Tintin is a worldwide phenomenon. But could the early works could also be considered a form of propaganda? Well, if you look at the early edition and here we will look at Tintin in the land of the Soviets, Tintin in the Congo and The Blue lotus. the alleged connection is not hard to make out. Filled with racist stereotypes and historical reimaginings certainly the works could have been used as such. But I would argue that though the works could be seen as a form of propaganda it was not the intention. 

The definition of propaganda States;

 Propaganda- Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view

Any work must therefore be used for political intention or to sell a point of view for it to be considered propaganda. I understand that this is some what broadening the question but the alleged connection is easy to find. The purpose of these early works is more interesting. 

Tintin in the land of the soviets: first published in 1929

As a simple description of the stories plot, Tintin travels to Russia and exposes the attempt by Commuunist thugs to sell the success of their regime to capitalist investors. Tintin, without too much difficulty thwarts the bad guys and returns to Belgium a hero. 

 Mountfort (2012) makes note that the anti Bolshevik attitudes in western Europe at the time can be read in the stories plot and so we could summarize that the work is this in nature. A form of anti Bolshivik propaganda. The connection being seen literally in the drawings of the Russian characters and the stories simple, anti Soviet storyline.  

There are also some pretty incredibly similar depictions of certain people that have appeared in different cartoons and artworks throughout history. For instance here is a German anti Jewish poster;

And here is a  strip from a Tintin comic

So the connection is fairly obvious.

Frey (2006) discusses Herge’s war record, as a publisher for a rightwing  leader, Léon Degrelle and as a writer for Le Soir, a paper which had been under Nazi control during the Belgium occupation of the second World War. Without analyzing that information to much and simply placing that alongside what we can read in, Tintin and the land of the Soviets, we could see how this particular work could be seen or even used as propaganda.

Though the work is there for entertainment. The racist and prejudice view it presents gives the work a political purpose. Therefore it is propaganda in the sense of its crude depiction of life in Russia in the time. We are not here to analyse Herges politics or perhaps more his personal attitudes which clearly seeped into his work in his depiction of certain people. Herge was clearly aware of the political landscape of his time and this understanding is mentioned in Mountforts article which we will reference again later. Herge also defends himself, dismissing the allegations against him, as simply the work of young man. Innocent because of youth (Mountfort, 2012)


The blue lotus: published in October 1935

In this edition, Tintin is called into action in China and basically stumbles upon Japanese conspirators who lead the false flag operation which leads to the invasion of mainland China,  what we now call the Mukden incident.  Mountfort (2012) mentions that this work, despite its very negative racial depictions of the Japanese, shows a significant shift in Herges depiction of the other. Herge is attempting to, perhaps, atone for some of his early work. But while this may be true, the work can strongly be seen as a work of propaganda due largely to the depiction of a sympathetic Chinese view in regards to the Invasion of China by Japan at the onset of World War two. The works intention is entertainment and as history has shown us, the events described are not make believe but more or less what actually happened. We know this due to the Lytton report, commissioned by the League of Nations in 1931, which determined what happened during the Mukden incident and placed blame at Japan’s feet (Kuhn 1933)

However The depictions of Japanese as slit eyed with large protruding teeth, were similar to the anti Japanese propaganda at the time. While the Chinese characters were drawn much more realistically. This being the change in the depiction of the other, but that change did not reach across to Japan. Which goes to show the certain perspective or opinion which Herge supported. In difference to perhaps his more right wing tendencey which he had shown in the past (Mountfort,2012)

Because of the depiction of real world history and clear siding with a Chinese point of view, The blue lotus is perhaps one of the more clear cut examples, where not only is there a connection to propaganda but an understandable purpose.  



Tintin in the congo: first published 1931

Here Tintin travels to the Congo and becomes involved in the affairs between native tribes. There is treachery, conflict and puzzles which Tintin helps the Congolese solve. 

This edition has been at the heart of much of the controversy surrounding Herge’s early works Due largely to the racial stereotypes of the African characters and the history between Belgium and the Congo. The Congo was colonized by Belgium in the 19 century, what followed was a period of brutal violence that would be better labeled as genocide. Braembussche (2002) talks about the silence in Belgium in regards to this history. How this period is seen much as of mark of shame and has impacted upon the national identity of the nation. That is the severity of what took place. How this relates to Tintin, is that we could see the work as a re-imagining of history, which would add an element of propaganda to work. Then of course there are the depictions of the African characters..

Green, in her essay talks about the harmful depictions of Africans that have appeared in various media throughout history. Often these designs are used as forms of propaganda for various reasons. One of these depictions, the Sambo, a docile, stupid black youth with Ju Ju lips, can be seen in this Tintin comic..

The Shambo was created as a defense for slavery, a way to strip black people of any sense of humanity and make them a joke (Boskin,1986)

This is one of the ways the comic could be used as propaganda, but whether it can or can not, does not mean it was the purpose of the story. As excuses are provided for the depictions of Russians and Russian society in, Tintin and the land of the Soviets, another excuse is made for the depictions of Native Congolese people in, Tintin in the Congo. I think it’s best not to paraphrase here as the intention of this blog is not to attack Herge personally and so to not get off topic or have my work misinterpreted I will leave the words as they are for your own inspection. Mountfort says;

“ it must be acknowledged that extensive censorship by the Belgian state meant that the full genocidal horror of the occupation was less evident in 1930 than it is today” (Mountfort 2012)

However later on, Mountfort credits Herge with;

 “Acute awareness of the political and economic situation in the early 1930s”  (Mountfort 2012)

Now here he is not talking about the Congo and yes politics is different from censorship, but I feel a person of intelligence would not be so easily influenced by clearly biased history?

He had to be one..

I mention this because the work is clearly racist and presents a much more sympathetic view of Belgium in Congo and that the above quotes remove any excuses of Ignorance. An infamous scene where Tintin educates Congolese about mother Belgium was revised in later editions to be a simple math lesson (Mountfort 2012)  The work could be used for a political agenda or even as propaganda, but I would argue that this is not what Herge was trying to do. Yes he was most likely a racist who like to re-imagine history, removing all that nasty slavery and genocide from Belgium text books, but perhaps this is just the whim of a cartoonist and not the mechanics of propaganda machine, set to dehumanize and turn Belgium into a country of racists. I’m not saying the work isn’t harmful, I’m just saying it’s not anything more than harmful.    


References 

Remi, P, G (1929) Tintin in the land of the soviets. Belgium: Le Vingtième Siècle 

Remi, P, G (1935) The blue lotus. Belgium: Le Vingtième Siècle

Remi, P, G (1931)  Tintin in the congo. Belgium: Le Vingtième Siècle       

Green, L. (n.d.) Negative Racial Stereotypes and Their Effect on Attitudes Toward African-Americans. Ferris State University. Retrieved August 21st 2019 from https://www.ferris.edu/htmls/news/jimcrow/links/essays/vcu.htm

Boskin, J. (1986). Sambo: The rise and demise of an American jester. New York: Oxford University Press 

Mountfort,P. (2012).‘Yellow skin, black hair … Careful, Tintin’: Hergé and Orientalism. Australasian Journal of Popular Culture Volume 1 Number 1. doi: 10.1386/ajpc.1.1.33_1

 Frey,H ( 2006) Contagious colonial diseases in Hergé’s: The adventures of Tintin. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09639480410001693043

Braembussche, A (2002) The Silence of Belgium: Taboo and Trauma in Belgian Memory. published, Yale University Press

Kuhn k, A (1933) The Lytton Report on the Manchurian Crisis. The American Journal of International Law, Volume  27, page 5. https://www.jstor.org/stable/218978 10.2307/2189786

Jann Guminer (2017) “Us” and “Them” Some observations from Social Psychology (Photograph) retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-teenage-mind/201704/us-and-them

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s