It is commonly held that the United States helped create the comics art and literary genre; however, what is often overlooked is the significant comics community thriving in Europe during these early years, particularly in Belgium. Georges Remi (known to the world as Herge) introduced his creation, Tintin, in 1930 and continued producing works up until the 1970s for Western audiences and comics readers throughout the world. Yet, despite Tintin’s world appeal, many readers and critics have recently begun noticing problematic elements in The Adventures of Tintin that warrant further scrutiny given the depictions and treatment of other cultures. Although some of Herge’s works standout as particularly problematic, there are elements of how Herge portrays the Other and deals with individuals of different races and ethnicities in Tintin: Land of the Black Gold and Tintin: Destination Moon.
“The Orient has helped to define Europe as a contrasting image,” (Said 1) and In Land of the Black Gold, one can see contrasting images of Tintin from the West and the Arab men from the Middle East that lend themselves to an Orientalist reading. Although this episode is not as problematic as other works by Herge, there are some particular elements that should be examined. At the start of the story, Tintin and company find themselves embroiled in a power struggle between an oil company and the country’s emir, but manage to save the day in the end—a fairly traditional feel good story. Yet, this plot reinforces certain imperialistic notions that it takes a strong Western influence to dominate, restructure, and have authority over the Orient exemplified through the emir’s inability to rule his own country and implore the aid of Tintin (3). While this might be considered a subtle detail, it still serves as an example of the “discourse [of] supporting institutions, vocabulary, scholarship, imagery, [and] doctrines” that imperial European powers imposed upon the colonized (3). Considering the historical relationship between Western Europe and the Middle East prior to, during, and following Herge, one cannot overlook the struggles for independence of the Orient from its European rulers. How then, might this have informed some of Herge’s creative choices?
At a superficial level, Herge clearly seeks to entertain his readers with a combination of globetrotting adventure and humor. The story is replete with slapstick comedy—often at the expense of Captain Haddock, and Detectives Thomson and Thompson—and it takes readers across the globe in the expected style Tintin came to represent as a boy adventurer. In this case, Tintin’s adventure brings him to a Middle Eastern country filled with intrigue and danger. The Arabic men of this country are regularly portrayed in a threatening manner—either taking him and the detectives into custody to kidnapping him and the emir’s son at gunpoint as part of a political power play. In fact, there are few instances when the Arabic men aren’t portrayed with weapons and armed to the teeth. Even the unarmed emir—who often vacillates between comically sentimental over his son: “My little honeybun where are you? …My little peppermint cream…”(Herge 40)—has built a reputation for being downright fiendish as Professor Smith relates prior to his capture: “I’ll be captured and handed over to that merciless fiend! He’ll torture me…put me on the rack! I’ll be impaled…roasted on a slow fire” (61). Despite his effeminate nature towards his son, this man is clearly a force not to be trifled with. Furthermore, this viewpoint confirms many suspicions held by Westerners of their treatment at the hands of Easterners.
What is perhaps the most disturbing portrayal of these people is the emir’s child, Abdullah. He is seen as nothing more than miscreant who continually hinders Tintin in his attempts to retrieve him from his captors and return him to safety when cries that he “Shant! Don’t want to go home! This is a nice game” (Herge 51). At best, he is simply an immature young boy who is unable to move past his own interests to see that Tintin is there to help him. At worst, he utterly lacks the ability to recognize his place as the prince and his abduction represents a loss of stability to the kingdom. While this interpretation could be viewed as overly harsh on the young lad, it is important to realize that royal heirs are raised from the earliest age to recognize their importance as the future kings or queens of their realms, and their wellbeing was often tied to that of their respective kingdoms. Lastly, readers should consider the two representations of children and adolescents presented here: Tintin and Abdullah. We see the blonde Caucasian boy who travels the world providing his sleuthing abilities for those in need. This is a sharp contrast with the olive-skinned, Middle Eastern boy who sees the violence and danger before him as natural aspects of the games he might play. It should be no surprise to readers that the earlier portrayals of Arabic men in the story depicted individuals well acquainted with violence. Herge’s story lends itself to readers implying that violence is such an inherent part of Arabic culture that it is seen as a likeable game to one so young as Abdullah and is something they must equip themselves to defend against when they are older.
Destination Moon provides other subtle examples of where Herge’s treatment of people of different cultures is brought into question. What stands out most in the beginning of this new adventure is the brash, drunken Captain Haddock and his way with words. Herge clearly uses this character for comedic effect as he stumbles over himself to issue forth a bevy of insults and exclamations. He refers to the people of Syldavia—a sort of Eastern European derivative—as “poisoners,” “pirates,” “baboons,” in addition to being a “Tribe of Polynesians,” and members of the “Ku Klux Klan” (68-78). It is interesting to note that this is the response Captain Haddock displays despite never actually having encountered Syldavians or their country prior to this episode; yet, he clearly demonstrates a certain amount of xenophobic tendencies towards people who are not like himself. While this might not necessarily cause Herge to be completely open to charges of Orientalism, it does seem to demonstrate some elements of racism, and this can certainly lay the groundwork for unfair and unrealistic portrayals of Others. After all, the only consequence for Haddock faces for his continued intolerant outbursts is the reader sees him as a bit of a humorous blowhard. At no point does he really learn a lesson about being more tolerant, let alone accepting of others. Further, his words and actions demonstrate a disturbing trend on the part of the wealthy captain to immediately label other people in a disparaging manner particularly if they are not of Western European descent. Although Captain Haddock will ridicule the soldiers armed with submachine guns en route to the centre, the Director General of the Centre, Mr. Baxter, immediately silences him. Interestingly, the soldiers speak with broken English and the director commands the English language with no notable accent. Although it is not directly stated, one should ask why this is the case?
Of course, some modern readers might dismiss such points as catering too greatly to the politically correct movement. However, one need only consider the influence cartoonists and comic artists truly possess when taking into account the furor over pictorial representations of the Prophet Mohammed in Jyllen-Postens’ satirical cartoon from 2005 that resulted in multiple uprisings, violence, and even deaths of protestors throughout the Middle East. Movie insiders indicate The Adventures of Tintin is next in line to receive the Hollywood treatment. With this increased publicity, it is important that these concerns of possible racist, Orientalist, and/or xenophobic elements of Herge’s work be dealt with in such a way that allows the boy adventurer to continue reaching audiences throughout the world, but in a more inclusive fashion that allows for greater agency of Others.
Herge. “Destination Moon.” The Adventures of Tin Tin vol. 5. New York: Little Brown, 2007. Print.
—. “Explorers on the Moon.” The Adventures of Tin Tin vol. 5. New York: Little Brown, 2007. Print.
—. “The Land of Black Gold.” The Adventures of Tin Tin vol. 5. New York: Little Brown, 2007. Print.
Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1994. Print.
 See Tintin in the Congo (1930), The Blue Lotus (1983), The Crab with the Golden Claws (1971), or The Cigars of the Pharaoh (1971) for a few examples.
 Many other comics and pulp magazine covers of the early 20th Century often reinforce this image of the dangerous and blood thirsty Easterner as well.