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

Week 7 – Tintin

Question 4: What issues do his albums raise in terms of representation of “race”, and particularly ethic and stereotyping?

  The reporter Tintin, a Belgian cartoonist named Hergé, became a symbol of courage and unity. However, at the beginning of the series of works in this popular world, Tintin also inevitably suffered from the defects caused by the times, including the racism that was commonplace in Europe and the United States at that time.

  From 1929 to 1983, Hergé worked hard. Round eyes, towering nose, and a pair of uncompromising curls on the top of his head… Tintin, who seems to never grow old, ventures around in the most turbulent half-century of the world to promote justice. However, the other two of Hergé’s first three works brought him allegations of “racial discrimination”.  The more controversial work of Hergé is the 1930 Tintin in the Congo. Congo (Golden) was a Belgian colony from 1908 to 1960 and became the second destination of Tintin after the Soviet Union. The book has repeatedly hunted wild animals and enslaved blacks and so on, so it has been banned in many counties. The British Commission for Racial Equality had arbitrarily accused in 2007 that “Tintin in the Congo” contained terrible prejudice: African Aborigines were described as “barbaric, ignorant, low-ranking races”; black women scorned Tintin, “ White men are amazing… you are our patron saint.”

  However, Hergé storytelling style changed dramatically in 1934- The Blue Lotus, which explored Tintin’s adventures in China, became a turning point; in this book, he truly portrayed the brutality of the Japanese aggressors, through Tintin’s adventure, eliminating of the west misunderstanding of China. What made him changed his style is an international student from China. In 1933, Hergé selected Tintin’s next destination in China. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the creative background, his friends recommended him to Zhang zhongren. At that time, most Europeans still had an impression of China in the 19th century or earlier. They believed that Chinese men left their nephews and women wrapped around their feet; Zhang zhongren “restores” a Chinese with an ancient civilization to Hergé. In order to thank the temporary assistant, Hergé specially joined the image of the Chinese guy “Zhang zhongren” in “Blue Lotus”. “Blue Lotus” was serialized from August 1934 to October 1935, and to a certain extent, it won international solidarity for China.

  When the Japanese ambassador to Belgium protested to Hergé in this regard, the latter refused to make any changes. “Belgium is a free country, artists have freedom of creation, writers have freedom of writing, and authors are responsible for their own works.” Hergé said, “I found a civilization that I didn’t understand, and I realized responsibility.”

  “Blue Lotus” became a major turning point in “The adventure of Tintin”. Since then, Hergé has begun to pursue a sense of reality, with particular attention to the authenticity of the details. Before the creation, he will make the most detailed understanding of the place where Tintin is going. “I am also responsible for the readers” he admitted.

 

APA reference:

Calamur, K. (2016, June 3). Coming to Terms With Tintin. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/06/tintin/485501/

Waterfield, B. (2019, January 11). Racism row overshadows 90th birthday edition of Tintin’s Congo adventure. Retrieved from https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/racism-row-overshadow-s-90th-birthday-edition-of-tintin-s-congo-adventure-2j2jbqplv

Bunyan, N. (2011, November 3). Tintin banned from children’s shelves over ‘racism’ fears. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/8866991/Tintin-banned-from-childrens-shelves-over-racism-fears.html

Week 7

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

Hergé was amongst the comics artists considered to have been the best and most prolific in the 20th century. His work, The Adventures of Tintin, made him attract both positive and negative criticism. The negative reception of the franchise was majorly based on how it treated or portrayed geographic, cultural, and ethnic others. It has been argued that the early adventures of Tintin were characterized by shades of ethnic chauvinism. This criticism further goes on to allege that Hergé’s early comics had a connection with propaganda. This alleged connection emanates from his works The Blue Lotus, Soviets, and Tintin in the Congo, as well as from his contributions in Le Soir.

It is alleged that The Blue Lotus applies western anti-Japanese wartime propaganda as it dehumanizes the Japanese in a bid to humanize the Chinese. Critics holding this view argue that while it might have been unconscious, this use of propaganda arguably erased Chinese features (Mountfort, 2012). In trying to negative portray the Japanese, the critics contend, The Blue Lotus hyperasianized the Japanese and deasianized the Chinese. According to one such critic, Alexander Lasar-Robinson, this particular work exaggerates certain Asian features in depicting the Japanese but lessens the same features in depicting their Chinese counterparts. This was allegedly an effort to make the Japanese appear more ‘alien’ and the Chinese as more European-friendly or ‘neutral’ (Mountfort, 2012). This is viewed as propaganda since both the Japanese and Chinese are both Asian and are differentiated by few features if any.

The first two albums of Tintin are also accused of having purely applied propaganda in support of the right-wing. One of the albums, Soviets, is alleged to have propagated anti-Bolshevism doctrines with a view to painting Bolshevism in a bad light (Mountfort, 2016). It might have been an early attempt at opposing communism in solidarity with middle-class citizens, republicans, and landowners. Mountfort (2016) goes on to point out that Tintin in the Congo, another album, ascribed validity to the then Belgian colonial enterprise in spite of the enterprise has been appalling by all standards. In this instance, comic art propaganda was used by the album to portray Belgium’s colonial activities positively.

In Le Soir magazine, the adventures of Tintin allegedly appeared side by side with Nazi propaganda. Mountfort (2012) describes this appearance as having been recto-verso and included anti-Semitic diatribes. Consequently, productions by Hergé during this period have been brought under serious scrutiny. One such production, The Shooting Star, is accused of having presented as the villain or mercenary one Blumenstein, a Jew based in New York. In the production, the European pan crew assembled by Tintin and his friends face opposition from an American expedition led by Blumenstein. According to Mountfort (2012), this was an effort by Hergé to defuse the stereotype that the Jews were malevolent. This was apparently why he portrayed Blumenstein as ineffectual.

Strong allegations connect Hergé’s early comics with propaganda. In those allegations, critics of the artist point out how various early works in his series The Adventures of Tintin use propaganda to valorize certain ethnicities and races while vilifying others. The Blue Lotus, Soviets, and Tintin in the Congo are some of the works that have been heavily criticized for being full of propaganda. The Shooting Star is also accused of having contributed to the propaganda in Le Soir magazine. However, whether or not these allegations are true is open to an individual’s interpretations.

Reference:

Mountfort, P. (2012). ‘Yellow skin, black hair … Careful, Tintin’: Hergé and Orientalism. Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, 1(1), 33-49.

Mountfort, P. (2016). Tintinas spectacle: The backstory of a popular franchise and late capital. Journal of Asia-Pacific Pop Culture, 1(1), 37-56.

Week 7 Blog Post

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

Decades before Speilberg’s well known The Adventures of Tintin, the franchise was already a large force to be reckoned with. The comics grew to be translated into over fifty languages, and worldwide book sales grossed close to 350 million (Farr, 2001). With a wide range of high priced merchandise – from crockery to stationary, two radio series, two television shows, eight films (the first of the new media being produced in 1961) and five video games (Wikipedia, n.d.), Tintin has been a forerunner of today’s transmedia franchises long before the latest transmediation.

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

Beginning in 1925, Hergé worked for a right wing Catholic newspaper in Brussels known as Le Vingtième Siècle (Goddin, 2007). It wasn’t until the late 1920’s when he became Editor in Chief of a new comic for the magazine known as Tintin in the land of the Soviets. It was an eight page youth supplement that came out weekly. Then in 1931, Hergé released a second album of comics known as Tintin in the Congo. Both of these Tintin albums are identified as right wing propaganda and were later seen as extremely controversial (Cendrowicz, 2010)

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

In Tintin in the Congo, Herge is said to have depicted the Congolese as “good at heart but backwards and lazy, in need of European mastery,” (McCarthy, 2006, p. 37). From 2007 onwards, the book was removed from bookshops – or hidden –  around the world due to several complaints regarding the obvious racism toward the Congolese people who are drawn to “look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles”, (Bunyan, 2011, para 17).

 

Bunyan, N. (2011, Nov 3). Tintin banned from children’s shelves over ‘racism’ fears. The Telegraph. Retrieved from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/

Cendrowicz, L. (2010, May 4). Tintin: Heroic Boy Reporter or Sinister Racist? Time. Retrieved from: https://time.com/

Farr, M. 2001. Tintin: The Complete Companion. London: John Murray

Goddin, P. (2007). Hergé: Lines of Life. Belgium: Editions Moulinsart

McCarthy, T. (2006). Tintin and the Secret of Literature. London, England: Granta

Wikipedia. (n.d.). List of Tintin Media. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Tintin_media

Week 7: Tintin

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

 

The Tintin comics crafted by Herge are a lens through which we can observe the racial stereotypes and discrimination that was prevalent at the time of their writing, particularly in the comics Tintin in the Congo and The Blue Lotus. The way in which Herge shows images of non-westerners is very colonial and often racist. However there is clear development over time in his views on other cultures when the comics are looked at as a whole.

The earliest comic of Tintin was Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, which included the first portrayal of a non-European character in the form of the Chinese torturers. These pony tailed, robe wearing monsters intend nothing but harm for Tintin, and played on fears that westerners had about the far east. However, these overtly racist themes that we can find in Tintin were not to be shed as Herge continued, and are most obviously portrayed in Tintin in the Congo. At the time, the Congo was a Belgian colony and so there is a lot of colonial propaganda speaking to how right the Belgians were to take over that land. “Hergé unthinkingly reproduces the dehumanizing racist stereotypes used to
justify Belgian colonialism” (Mountfort, 2012) by showing Tintin in a position of power in his interactions with the heavily caricatured natives, often showing his “superiority” through both his ability to problem solve, and by the way in which the local speak in a broken version of the language. The text shows an open disregard for the natives having any ability to govern themselves, requiring a white man to solve the most simple of disputes, and lecturing them on how they are all Belgians now. While this was the accepted norm for the society of the time, in the eyes of modern society it is overtly racist in phrasing and intent. Later, there was a remodeling of his portrayal of the Africans, though Herge’s “well intentioned portrayal of trapped African pilgrims liberated by Tintin and Haddock was to backfire” (Farr, 2011) as they still required a white savior to free them from the slave ship, and they act subservient to them as well.

The Blue Lotus shows, in some respects, a significant development from the earlier portrayals of other cultures, especially the use of accurate Chinese culture, art and language within it, primarily driven by Herge’s friendship with a young Chinese artist, on whom the character Chang was based.  The attention to detail, the respect that is shown to cultural traditions and beliefs is far removed from the previously crude and offensive examples in Herge’s work. There are still some negative stereotypes shown, particularly in the offensive portrayal of the Japanese characters during the story. However, much of what we see as racist was the views of the time in which Herge lived, and so it can be easy for us to read to much into his work. While some of his work can be said to show personal beliefs as well as societal ones, to Herge “the hidden meaning and allegories that others found in Tintin’s activities” (Thompson, 2011) were of no importance; he was an artist who held his work as a story that he wished to tell, not the societal propaganda many believe it to be.

 

Farr, M. (2011). Tintin: the complete companion. San Francisco, CA: Last Gasp.

Mountfort, P. (2012). Herge and Orientalism. Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, 1, 33-49.

Thompson, H. (2011). Tintin: Hergé and his creation. London: John Murray

Week 7, Comics – Question Four

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

Herge’s Tintin albums raise controversial and uncomfortable representations of different cultures and races – in particular, Asian and African characters in Tintin are subjected to this dehumanising characterisation. The controversial representation of those POC (people of colour) groups are illustrated through the heavy ethnic and cultural stereotyping which are evident in Herge’s early comics.

Looking at how Herge portrayed Africans in Tintin in the Congo first, there are clear colonialist and racist themes throughout the album. Historically, due to the Belgian occupation of the Congo, the population of the African nation decreased from twenty million to just ten million as a result of executions, routine torture and mutilation by the Belgians (Mountfort, 2012, pg 37). Keeping in mind that historical situation, Herge had essentially documented and reproduced the dehumanisation and paternalistic relationship between the two races in real life and into his comics. In Tintin in the Congo, Herge relied on the paternalistic imagery between Tintin and the Congolese, making the people in the Congo look like illiterates and child-like characters in need of guidance. Additionally, the African characters are drawn with exaggerated facial features such as extremely large lips. Viewing it from a modern 21st-century lens, it can be collectively agreed that Herge’s stereotypical characteristics of those African characters is racist and is a product of the time. However, it is particularly interesting that, though his depiction of POC characters is uncomfortable and racially ignorant, the Belgian Courts did not ban it. A Congolese student in Brussels filed a case claiming that Tintin in the Congo is racist, however, the Court believed that while it may be racist, Herge did not intend to incite racial hatred – which is an important criterion when deciding if something breaks Belgian’s racism laws (Reuters, 2012). While the Courts stand by their decision, the public has a different point of view entirely. In an opinion piece by The Guardian, Enright (2011) believed that Tintin in Congo shouldn’t necessarily be banned, but it should not be available for children to read. Since Tintin is a comic targeting children, Enright (2011) was concerned that children would learn incorrect opinions relating to racism, and that topics relating to historical cultural relationships should be a topic taught carefully in schools rather than by comics. So, with awful POC representations in Tintin in the CongoThe Blue Lotus could possibly signal a change in Herge’s attitudes towards other cultures and ethnicities.

In The Blue Lotus, Tintin visits China and also befriends a Chinese character named Chang. Before this was published, Herge befriended a Chinese artist in real life, allowing him to learn more about China as well as Chinese art and the Chinese socio-political situation of the time. That real-life influence was evident and also illustrated in The Blue Lotus. For example, the friendship Herge had with the Chinese artist Chang Chong-Chen, was depicted in the comic with Herge introducing a new character, Chang, to the audience. Chang had also saved Tintin near the end in this album, illustrating Chang as a hero figure rather than Tintin. So, on the surface, it does seem that there is a change in how Herge represents POC characters, but there are still some panels in the comics which suggest otherwise. For example, the Chinese characters are drawn with European-like features and the Asian features were more emphasised for the Japanese characters to make those characters seem more antagonistic. So, in order to “… make the Other palatable to a European audience by stripping it of elements that are too powerfully Other…” (Mountfort, 2012, pg 41). In other words, to humanise the Chinese characters, Herge dehumanised the Japanese characters, so in the end, one race is still viewed negatively by the audience. Therefore, while Herge was introduced to a new perspective on POC characters through his real-life friendship with Chang, it is evident that he is still in the sphere of influence concerning the paternalistic views favoured by the rest of his immediate society. So, while his friendship would temporarily take him out of that sphere of influence, Herge is still exposed to the idea that non-European societies are inferior. Thus, the result is that ambiguity of where Herge stands with POC character. Perhaps, in this case, he wasn’t sure himself of how he viewed POC due to those two conflicting ideals.

Enright, D. (2011, November 4). Tintin in the Congo should not be sold to children. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/nov/04/tintin-in-the-congo

Mountfort, P. (2012). Herge and Orientalism. Australasian Journal of Popular Culture, 1, 33-49.

Reuters. (2012, February 14). Tintin does not break racism law. Retrieved from http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/6414293/Tintin-does-not-break-racism-law

Tintin and Comic Books

Hi guys, here are the questions for this week. Please do the readings on Blackboard and choose one to respond to.

  1. In what specific ways is Tintin a forerunner of late 20th – 21st century transmedia storytelling franchises?
  2. What is the alleged connection between Hergé’s early comics and propaganda?
  3. How would you characterise Hergé’s politics, and how did they apparently change over time?
  4. What issues do his albums raise in terms of representation of ‘race’, and particularly ethnic and cultural stereotyping?
  5. How decisively did Hergé address this issue from The Blue Lotus on, and in what ways did it remain problematic? Why should we care today?