Tintin in America: Advice for Librarians

by Harry on October 29, 2007

Tintin is apparently set to appear in a movie at some time in the unspecified future. I’m indifferent to this myself — the black and white cartoon from the 60’s was good enough for me, and the BBC radio drama adaptations are unsurpassable. But it should not be a matter of indifference to school librarians, for whom it is will create some major headaches.

Why? Tintin will suddenly be popular in America, and there’ll be lots of enthusiasm about the books. Librarians will buy them in job lots, without looking at them carefully, and will be especially attracted by the title Tintin in America. When it arrives, they’ll see the cover, and have to figure out what to do.

Now, having got into trouble myself for giving Tintin books to the child of right-wing Republican gun-toting conservatives, who accused me of being politically incorrect (me? I ask you), I’m aware both that I have a tin-ear with respect to certain cultural values, and that a cover like this might cause offense across the board.

In fact, if you read the actual book, although it is true that the Indians are portrayed as being idiots, they are not portrayed as being more idiotic than, say, Thompson and Thompson or even Professor Calculus. Furthermore, they are portrayed as being victims of positively wicked Federal agents (who were perfectly happy to give nice white Tintin a decent price for the oil when they thought it was his, but paid a pittance, backed by guns, when they realized it belonged to the Indians). Me, I’d probably buy the book and put it on the shelf. But there are only so many hours in the day, and it’s a bit much to expect the librarian to explain the relative innocence of Herge’s treatment of the Indians to every single complaining parent and teacher. They’ve got better things to do.

I’m hoping that librarians will have the sense simply to avoid Tintin in the Congo because the title really is a giveaway. (If you find that you have bought it by mistake, read this).

My advice would be this. If you want your library to contain the complete works, you can do so, while avoiding a lot of trouble, by getting the Complete Adventures Volume 1, which has the story in it, but a more or less innocent cover. But I bet our readers have equally good suggestions.



Timothy Burke 10.29.07 at 9:44 pm

To some extent, the suckiness of Tintin in America is the best protection against its incorrectness. If it’s in a stack with a bunch of the really good later Tintins, I doubt any kid except for the most completist will bother getting past the first couple of pages.

I’m not sure Tintin is the unknown novelty in the USA that you think it is, by the way.


Raghav 10.29.07 at 9:47 pm

I thought the reason they hadn’t rereleased Tintin au Congo in color in English was that it was racist and colonialist?


harry b 10.29.07 at 10:13 pm

Tintin is known among the children of cosmopolitan and, to a lesser extent, middle class parents. But not among the working class kids. The pattern in our own school district is instructive — the elementary schools with the kids of professors all stock most of the Tintin volumes, which have modest but significant circulation (but none of them have Tintin in America, the only school in the district with TinA is a high poverty school); the middle-to-high poverty schools have few or none, and those they have don’t circulate (I looked into this precisely because a libararian I know has had to deal with the TinA dilemma).

When a movie is made and has any kind of success the tie-in and related books fly off the school library shelves, no matter what the school population.


john somer 10.29.07 at 10:34 pm

General de Gaulle once said “The only competitor I have in the world is Tintin”


mkl 10.29.07 at 10:42 pm

There aren’t many cultures Herge didn’t hit with that level of subtlety, or many books in which he didn’t hit at least one. Notwithstanding, the books are ripping fun for 7 year olds, whose cultural understanding and sensibility is right about that level.

And an earful of Captain Haddock to those who disagree. Now, if we could please also get Richard Scarry’s Busy Busy World back as well.


Martin 10.30.07 at 12:07 am

When you raised the question of what the childrens librarian should do with “Tintin in America,” at first I thought you were referring to the novel reviewed below (which apparently has a following as a cult classic):

Tintin in the New World. – book reviews
ArtForum, Summer, 1993 by Tom De Haven

….Frederic Tuten’s long, strange, and eerily hermetic “romance.” ….When we first meet [Tintin] in the novel, he’s moping around the cavernous halls of Marlinspike, his seaside estate. … A letter finally arrives ….the Brussels postmark suggests that it’s from Herge himself, dispatching Tintin, without explanation, to a little hotel in Machu Picchu, close by the Inca ruins.

Expecting to find there some grand adventure involving the usual assortment of crooks, he finds, instead, a contingent of querulous–and to readers of Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain, thoroughly familiar–European expatriates….Unlike Tintin, however, these characters are rendered scrupulously true to Mann’s originals….

As Tintin (filling in for Hans Castorp, Mann’s protagonist) patiently follows the group’s heady (to him; prolix to me) discussions about human passion, discord, decadence, and violence, his former career as a freewheeling adventurer and righter of wrongs seems altogether and all too suddenly pointless: “How little I understood the workings of the community I had wished to serve, how less I knew of the human heart, the least known of all, my own.” ….

Eventually, Tintin is seduced (Tintin–seduced?) by Madame Chauchat, who doesn’t seem to mind at all that he wears boxer shorts….

….the plotless, uninflected narrative drones on and on, like a tedious lecture in a hot classroom. And yet–the entire enterprise, this invention, is so bizarre in its plunderings (why Tintin? why Mann?), and so unapologetically itself that even as it exhausts your goodwill and patience, it somehow fascinates.

COPYRIGHT 1993 Artforum International Magazine, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group


Tom Lynch 10.30.07 at 12:07 am

As a kid I loved Tintin, and I read Tintin in America several times. As an adult the recent controversy over racism in the Tintin books makes me somewhat glad there was never a Tintin in Australia …


harry b 10.30.07 at 12:54 am

That’s funny, martin: the Economist ran a review of that book a couple of years ago, and I searched for it in vain, but haven’t resumed the search — perhaps this is a good time.


c.l. ball 10.30.07 at 2:53 am

I’ve only read several of the Tintin cartoons (Flight 714; King Ottokar’s Sceptre; Land of Black Gold) when I was a child. I enjoyed them a great deal. I got them in Bermuda on vacation in the late 70s, and was never able to find them in the US. This was before the internet, mind you.

But don’t worry about a US movie causing librarians grief; the Dali Lama has Tintin covered.


a cornellian 10.30.07 at 3:02 am

Wait, what happened to Busy Busy World ? That was one of my favorite books when I was younger (~15-17 years ago)


Martin 10.30.07 at 3:24 am

Re: Tintin in the New World by Frederic Tuten

According to Amazon, there is an edition in print and older editions can be bought used for $0.01. It’s worth clicking over to Amazon to see the cover art of the novel.

I haven’t read the book–I’m not that much of a Tintin fan (though I thought Magic Mountain, in addition to its other qualities, and notwithstanding its seriousness and tragedy, was the funniest thing I ever read so maybe I should try Tt in the New World after all).


Clayton 10.30.07 at 4:02 am

So I followed the link to amazon for Tin Tin in America and read the one preview page. I’m dying to know what’s with the boomerang attack on the hired thug? Anyone? Please, please don’t make me order the book just to find out!


Tom T. 10.30.07 at 4:10 am

I read Tintin in the New World. It’s a ghastly mess. The Tintin of the book has nothing to do with the “real” Tintin. There are no adventures; this Tintin has no energy, no pluck, and no curiosity about the world around him. The book strings together endless, dry, pompous, lectures in philosophy and psychology. It purports to describe Tintin’s first sexual affair; it’s as icky a conceit as you might think, and it’s the opposite of erotic.

Oh, what an awful book. I thought I’d purged it from my memory. Blast you, Martin.


Bryan 10.30.07 at 8:43 am

well, I read the Tintin in the New World. It has something to do with the original Tintin in the way that a high literary parody of popular culture commonly has with the work it parodies. I suppose the author fancied he was deconstructing Tintin.

As you can no doubt guess I agree it is a pretty bad book. IIRC Lewis Carroll said once that one should never parody a work that was better than one’s own. Most of the current crop of literary parodists never seem to have entertained the concept that such a thing could exist.


Martin GL 10.30.07 at 1:12 pm

You haven’t read Tintin unless you’ve read it in the original Danish.

Just kidding – but seriously: the Danish translations which I grew up on are amazingly good, because the translator took some serious liberties with Haddock’s swearing. It is *quite* colourful and astoundingly creative in Danish. In other languages, including the original supposedly, not as much. (“Pocket-Mussolini! Mackerel-eater! Carnival pirate! Fatbladder!” etc.)

Here’s a list for the Danish-speaking readers.

“So there we were, in the middle of a hurricane, lost in the Bay of Biscay, and without a drop to drink.”

“You didn’t have any water?”

“Water? Who thinks of taking a bath in the middle of a hurricane!”


Anderson 10.30.07 at 1:18 pm

So what exactly am I missing? Did American Indians (1) never tie prisoners to posts? (2) never wear the attire depicted? (3) never act in a hostile manner?

Or is it the chronology that’s off, since IIRC Tintin is a denizen of the 1930s and 40s?


Z 10.30.07 at 2:03 pm

I am a bit puzzled as well. I would have thought the problem with Tintin in America would have been the depiction of Americans as a bunch of criminals ruled by money and the general extreme-right undertone present in Tintin albums up to The Blue Lotus, not the rather surreal treatment of natives.


Sk 10.30.07 at 2:12 pm

z and anderson:
You are being disengenuous. The problem with Tin Tin in America is:
1) it portrays Indians as wearing traditional Indian garb. The only acceptable garb for all minorities is suits and doctors smocks.
2) it portrays Indians as buffoons (The fact that it portrays everybody as buffoons is irrelevant). The only acceptable buffoons in modern culture is white males, preferably suburban dads. The only acceptable portrayal of minorities and women is as judges.
3) It portrays Indians as potentially violent. The only acceptable violent characters in todays culture are Germans and East Europeans (primarily because they hint of Nazis, and everybody can still hate Nazis).

Don’t ever make this mistake in public again. If you are an academic and you make this mistake, you will be politely told that you are ‘not fitting in.’

University of Leichester
Department of Cultural Purity

“Better thoughts for a better future”


Anderson 10.30.07 at 3:07 pm

Leichester? Is that the Indian spelling?


Doug K 10.30.07 at 3:52 pm

I read Tintin as a boy in Africa, but didn’t encounter the weird early ones (Congo, Land of the Soviets, America) until my son got them out of the local (Denver) library.

As z noted, after The Blue Lotus, Tintin is always on the side of the oppressed local and opposed to the colonial authorities, which is an interesting turnabout. In any case, “general extreme-right undertones” are rather a recommendation to a large subset of US society, they’ll sell like hotcakes.

Also don’t see the problem as stated with T in America: seems to me it depicts all Americans except the Indians as violent buffoons, the Indians are rather sympathetic than not, even if cartoonish. Wait, it is a cartoon !


Keith 10.30.07 at 4:30 pm

I work in an art School Library and we already have several Tintin books, and will be ordering more soon, hopefully, on the grounds that we have a comics and animation program and these are classics. Like all classics, they come laden with cultural baggage but such is life.

And I’ve been really good about not pulling the Anne Coulter and Michael Savage books off the shelves, too. Even though I want to.


harry b 10.30.07 at 6:53 pm

z and anderson,

well, I basically agree with z and doug k about this (and sk, you’re just being silly). I want to emphasize that I was not endorsing any possible complaint against the book, which (and indeed I said that I would buy it myself).

Here’s the problem. The cover represents a pervasive cultural stereotype. Most librarians have no problem with that per se, especially in the context, and want to choose books according to some rough algorithm balancing literary merit with popularity. Despite what Timothy Burke says about it (that is, despite what he says about it being true!) TinA has more literary merit than almost any books that will enter libraries because they are popular as a result of tie-ins etc. So most librarians would be happy to have it in their collections. BUT most librarians have only so many hours in the day, and they know that the presence of that cover will give rise to numerous complaints from other teachers and from parents. Furthermore, not all librarians can read every book in their collection, in order to defend it effectively. People do judge a book by its cover, and the librarian always has to make a judgment about how much time will be wasted by dealing with wrongheaded but predictable complaints. So, I guarantee you that hundreds if not thousands of elementary school librarians will buy this book (after the movie comes out) and then face a dilemma about whether or not to put it on their shelves. I was trying to help.


yabonn 10.30.07 at 7:11 pm

I didn’t see much fascist undertones in the Lotus – opposition to Japanese militarism, yes.

At the Lotus, Hergé already had evolved, even if his earliest books (Congo, Soviets) are rather nasty.

Iirc Congo is readable, just add a “racism of these times” warning.


Z 10.30.07 at 8:41 pm

Just to clarify, I meant up to but not including. If this is incorrect in English, please forgive me and replace “up to The Blue Lotus” by “up to Les Cigares du Pharaon”.

On the general issue, my advice to librarians would be to start the collection at Les Cigares du Pharaon. Starting there, the stories are vastly superior to the previous ones and political controversies are thus mostly averted.


BruceR 10.30.07 at 9:21 pm



novakant 10.30.07 at 11:42 pm

Does anybody remember the title of that wonderful comic book series which featured a Chinese man in traditional garb who was always quoting Confucius? I think he was accompanying some european hero, but my memory is very hazy on this. It’s from around and set in the same period when Herge started out.


Alex Higgins 10.30.07 at 11:44 pm

There is a great liberal moment in, I think, Tintin and the Blue Lotus, when our hero sees a European fat cat cruelly abusing his Chinese rickshaw driver in Shanghai and, enraged, goes and smacks him in the face.

I feel, in some ways, this scene makes up for Tintin au Congo.


Alex Higgins 10.30.07 at 11:47 pm

Oh, some people beat me to the Blue Lotus point…

And I’ve been really good about not pulling the Ann Coulter and Michael Savage books off the shelves, too. Even though I want to.

Keep them. Just file them under “insane, bigoted garbage”.


Martin Wisse 10.31.07 at 8:13 am

I’ve always found Tintin in America to be an effective answer to the charge that Herge was a conscious racist because of Tintin in the Congo. Both are a mixture of stupid cliches and downright ignorance, with the America volume mixing in Chicago gangsters with wild west adventures and sharp American business practises. These books are so godawful because Herge grew up in a very rightwing, Catholic environment and imbibed all the prejudices of that environment, didn’t do any research and had never come into contact with people of a different background.

It’s a tribute to him that he managed to largely overcome his upbringing, started doing research, got in contact with people of the cultures he was setting Tintin’s adventures in and created a classic of European comics. Much of which is due to his friend, Chang Chong-jen, whose name you might recognise from certain of Tintin’s adventures…

So yeah, skip the first three Tintin albums because even if you can see past the prejudices, they’re just not very good, only of interest because of what the Tintin series would grow into.


ajay 10.31.07 at 11:37 am

General de Gaulle once said “The only competitor I have in the world is Tintin

which is odd, given that Tintin wasn’t French. (Or at least Herge wasn’t.)


Josh in Philly 11.01.07 at 7:38 am

What about the Jews in the original version of The Shooting Star or the blacks in The Red Sea Sharks? Or Hergé’s women? There’s all kinds of icky cultural attitudes in Tintin: I’m happy to bracket them and enjoy the stories, but YMMV.


Marko Attila Hoare 11.02.07 at 12:57 am

Just when you think that political correctness can’t get any more petty and ridiculous, it somehow manages it.

If it’s reached the stage where libraries in the US are afraid to stock ‘Tintin in America’ because it might cause offence to PC Nazis, the US might as well declare itself a fascist dictatorship and have done with it.

Whatever next ? PC fundamentalists might start burning copies of Tintin books and issuing death threats to the publishers. There could be riots outside the Belgian embassy and the burning of the Belgian flag in response to this monstrous affront to the PC faith.

I can picture the headlines: ‘Tintin – the new Salman Rushdie’; ‘Belgian super-sleuth driven into hiding by fatwa’; ‘Captain Haddock requests police protection’.

Who will stand up for freedom of expression ?


GFS3 11.02.07 at 3:11 am

This was, perhaps, one of the greatest Tintin posts ever conceived.

But I must disagree that Tintin isn’t a known entity in the good ole U.S. of A.

Hell, read this:


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