Books & Comics

#Tintin in #America

#TinTin in #America

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Chronologically, Tintin in America, written & published by Herge in 1931,  is the third Tintin adventure. Herge  was so fascinated by America that he wanted to write about it immediately after the first adventure in Congo. There are references to the American mafia of Al Capone in the Tintin in Congo adventure, wherein the american mafia tries to get rid of Tintin.

While thinking of uploading this blogpost, which I have been working on for some time, last Sunday, I came across the following exciting news. Wow… there seems to be some really rich TinTin fans in this world who are not only alive but also kicking it hard.

Rare Tintin drawing fetches $1.6 million

Read more:

A rare cover from a Tintin comic has fetched a record amount for the type of art-work, being sold for $1.6 million at a Paris auction house.

A comic cover, depicting a drawing of the adventurous Tintin, has been sold for a record amount of money at the Paris auction house Artcurial. The cover dates back to 1932 and it is an original illustration, drawn in Indian ink and colored with paint.

The cover was drawn by Tintin’s creator, the Belgian writer and illustrator Herge. It was, according to Fox News, one of only five such works of cover art remaining.

The BBC reports that comic was titled “Tintin in America”, where Tintin is dressed as a cowboy. Tintin was created by the artist and writer Herge (Georges Remi(1907–1983). The character Tintin was a young Belgian reporter who is assisted on many adventures by his faithful fox terrier dog called Snowy.

The purchaser was an unknown private collector. At the auction other Tintin memorabilia was sold, some of it fetching high prices although nothing came close to the record breaking illustration.

Tintin’s continual appeal was marked by film director Steven Spielberg 3D movie, “Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn”, which was released in 2011.

So there are sufficient number of fans of Tintin who appreciate the Herge’ work and are willing to spend this kind of money, I was pleasantly surprised when I read this, if you want to read the full comics click on the link (complete comic book in pdf format 03 Tintin – Tintin in America) or go through the summary & tidbits from the story below.

Originally written in French (Tintin en Amerique) and first published in Le Petit Vingtième between 3 September 1931 and 20 October 1932, it was first published in book form  in 1932 (black and white, 120 pages). As the advance printing technology arrived, Herge redrew the whole comics for publication in color in 1945 (except page 62, frame 2).

The Story

The story is set in the year 1931. Tintin had already got the first taste of mafia attack in Congo (Tintin in the Congo) where  Al Capone‘s gangsters tried to eliminate Tintin so that their illegitimate diamond smuggling continue without detection.  This time the newspaper editors have sent Tintin to America (Chicago, Illinois via New York) to report on the increasing mafia/ criminal activities in the city.

As soon as he reaches Chicago, he is captured by gangsters but manages to get himself out and chase away the gangsters with the help of Chicago Police. The story of Tintin getting captured and then managing to get himself safely out of the clutches of the villains just in the nick of time continues.

Tintin encouters Al Capone early in the story, after he is dropped through a trapdoor in the street and knocked out by two thugs.Al Capone pays the two gangsters, ordering them to eliminate Tintin. However Snowy once again saves his master’s life by knocking a flower vase onto the head of the gangster as he is about to shoot Tintin and knocking him out. Tintin listens at the door where Capone and the other gangster are, however the gangster (Pietro) knocked out by Snowy recovers , recovers and throws a vase at Tintin. But the door is suddenly opens up, knocking the gun out of Tintin’s hand and also causing the vase to hit Capone’s face. However he then headbutts Pietro in the waist and runs out, hiding behind a curtain to evade the other crook. These door gags are also a frequently used technique by Herge in many of the Tintin Adventure.

Tintin then gags Pietro and binds him, as well as gagging and binding Capone. He then knocks the other gangster out with a chair as he enters. However the policeman he calls to help arrest the gangsters does not believe his story and tries to capture him instead (Tintin’s failure to capture Capone reflects the fact that Capone was still active when the comic strip was written). Snowy later comes along, revealing someone else came and untied the other three, despite his efforts.

One of my favorite drawing is where Herge captures the high rise buildings & architecture of Chicago is the when a gangster enters the hotel room to shoot Tintin but he manages to get out of from one window and enter from another one and go right behind the gangster to foil his plans.

After several attempts on his life, Tintin meets Capone’s rival, the devious Bobby Smiles, who heads the Gangsters Syndicate of Chicago (GSC) who tries to persuade Tintin to work for him, but Tintin declines. From here on Bobby Smiles becomes the key villain & the target of Tintin’s pursuit in this adventure in America.

Tintin spends much of the book trying to capture Smiles, pursuing him to the Midwestern town of Redskin City.

There he is captured by a Blackfoot Indian tribe . The Indian tribe is actually fooled by Smiles into thinking Tintin is their enemy and coming there to harm them.

There are some nice drawings by Herge of the Red Indian Tribal areas, he actually conducted some research on the Red Indian culture to draw his character as close to the reality as he can, though not fully accurate, as he did it without ever setting his foot on the US territory. In his interviews later on, Herge did indicated his keen interest in Red Indian people and the culture. As a young man, Herge was also very keen to visit US and experience the fast development taking place over there, first hand.

Through a series of accidents & incidences in Redskin City,  Tintin also manages to discovers oil which completely changes the fortune of the area, sadly the Indian Tribe does not get any benefit out of that.

Rather the discovery of oil brings more misery to the Indian Tribe as they are forced to vacate their ancestral land at a days notice. So Tintin unintentionally causes the expulsion of the tribe, as unscrupulous oil corporations take over their land, depriving them of any share in the oil profits. This part of the comics has got a huge political message, Herge may have been under pressure from his editors or himself biased by what he may have been reading or hearing about the development in US. The lack of superstar status in USA for Tintin could also be due  to these and some other political comments about the US (and some other countries, cultures as well in other comics) which may have made the publishing houses a bit skeptical regarding investing big time on him.

Post the Red Indian affair, after spending more time in pursuit of the villain and going through some more interesting incidences, making some more political comments about US based on the Europian media perception & coverage of America in those days. It seems the up & coming America was both a country to be admired and looked up to as well as loathed by some elements in the European media those days. That is natural given that America was replacing them as the top country, the superpower in the world. Now it may seem a bit odd but in those days there would be a lot of people in Europe looking down upon the USA.

There are references of lawlessness, Bank robberies, inefficient/unprofessional police, common people taking law in their own hands/ lynching mobs.

Finally Tintin manages to captures Smiles, and ships him back to Chicago in a crate.

After Smiles is captured, an unnamed bald gangster kidnaps Tintin’s dog, Snowy.

Some of the jokes in the comic were not in good taste e.g. Tintin mistakenly assuming a howling kid as his dog. The kid and the mother were black in the original comics, but in the later color edition they were shown as White.

Tintin manages to save him after hiding in a suit of armour and knocking out the gangster and two of his henchman. He discovers Snowy with his leg manacled in a dungeon. However the gangster sends his 15 bodyguard after Tintin. He tells them he wants them back in 10 minutes, with Tintin bound and gagged. Tintin locks them in the Keep, but the leader escapes. The next day the bald gangster orders a subordinate named Maurice Oyle to invite Tintin to a cannery, where Tintin is tricked into falling into the meat grinding machine. However, because the workers at the cannery are on strike, the meat grinder is deactivated and Tintin escapes. Tintin later tricks and captures both Maurice and the bald gangster. Also some conspicuous references to automobile revolution, automation & industrialization, questions about the quality of products being produced by the american industries.

After this escapade, Tintin is invited to a banquet held in his honor, where he is kidnapped by Chicago gangsters who have decided to wreak revenge upon him for his crackdown upon the city’s criminals.

The gangsters tie Tintin and Snowy to a weight and throw them into Lake Michigan. However, the gangsters mistakenly used a block of wood as a weight, and thus Tintin and Snowy are saved by what is ostensibly a police patrol boat. It soon transpires that the crew of the boat are not policemen, but more gangsters, and they attempt to kill Tintin. However Tintin overpowers them, and later leads the police to the gangsters’ headquarters.

A grateful Chicago holds a ticker-tape parade for Tintin, after which he returns to Europe.

Trivia from the Comic Book

  • Tintin in America is an iconic comic book, in the Tintin adventure series it marks the end the first development stage of Hergé’s work. There are key signs indicating that young Hergé now started taking his work more seriously.
  • Hergé actually conducted research to obtain background information on the theme of his story, he consulted L’Histoire des Peaux-Rouges/The History of the Redskins by Paul Coze.
  • Hergé had wanted to write a story about the oppression of the Indians in the USA, but his boss, Father Wallez had other plans, as he was more interested in his own Catholic/European supremacy propaganda. He suggested story with political messages, focusing on the darker side of America. So Herge had to focus on the Chicago crime syndicate that would help illustrate how corrupt the USA really was. Wallez and the Catholic/European organization that he represented was all in favor of a strong and unified Europe, surely they were not in favor of Hitler but still very much pro-Euro.
  • The political message was not the only thing that  Hergé had in mind, so on page 16 he lets gangster Bobby Smiles flee to Redskincity, a town near an Indian camp. However, to stay out of trouble with Wallez, Hergé used the Indians to expose American corruption with the scene where the ‘whites’ found out about the oil on the Indian reserve, they force the Red Indian tribe out of their ancestral homes and established a town and oil industry within 24 hours.
  • These and other political messages in the book ensured that the publisher in USA were not willing to touch the book even with a pole. Even till the the mid-1940s, American publishers insisted that Hergé replaced the ‘coloured’ people featured in the comic with ‘whites’.
  • USA was not the only country that gave Hergé a hard time publishing this comic. Most foreign publishers outside Belgium & France seemed to have problems with the almost apocalyptical scene in which the soldiers move out the Indians of the reserve, and the speed in which the new town is created.
  • Nevertheless, Hergé’s popularity in Belgium and France increased even more with this album. Wallez arranged another ‘happy homecoming’ for Tintin, at which even more people showed up than the previous ‘homecoming’. Tintin albums became so popular that they attracted the attention of Casterman, a well known publisher in Belgium and France. Eagerly, Casterman decided to publish the Tintin stories.
  • In the original edition, Tintin never learns Bobby Smiles’ name; it is revealed only when he mails him to the nearest police station, in the phone call to the press from the police chief.
  • Billy Bolivar was based on Arthur Henning, aka Arthur Saxon, a professional strongman whose specialty was the one-handed lift. Billy was called “Bolivar (Hippolyte)” in the original black and white version. Luckily, Saxon was already dead at the time Hergé wrote this story.
  • In panel 5 of page 35 of the revised edition (page 70 in the original edition), after Tintin has put on Pedro’s boots, the spurs disappear and the boots turn brown. This only happens in the colour edition.
  • In the original black and white version, two Chinese characters throw Tintin into the lake on the orders of the Head of the Organization of Disordered Gangsters. For the colour edition, Hergé rewrote the scene: now only a single henchman helps the Head throw Tintin into the lake.
  • The coloured edition has been changed. Page 29 frame 10, and page 47 frame 16 feature black people in the first editions of the coloured version. Later editions feature white people.
  • In the original black and white version, the two doors in the frames where Tintin lures the gangsters of Kidnap Inc. into the dungeon were labelled, DUNGEON and TOWER STAIRS. For the colour edition, Hergé changed this to DUNGEON AND KEEP, but he forgot to remove the stairway going up.
  • Incidentally the two signs were reversed in the original version as well; when Tintin switches them, the tower stairs are labelled DUNGEON (“Good, so now they’re all locked in the dungeon!” is Tintin’s comment in the original edition).
  • Tintin in America depicts the real-life problems of organized crime in Chicago, America during the Great Depression, and the brief depiction of Al Capone is the only notable appearance of a real person in a Tintin album.
  • Hergé names a specific Native American tribe, the Blackfeet, but here his penchant for fine detail noted in his portrayal of 1930s Arabia, India, and China is not so evident: The Blackfoot reservation is actually in northern Montana near the Canadian border, the giant Saguaro cactus is actually found in the Sonora desert of southern Arizona, and the railroad locomotives (portrayed with the dangling couplers and massive double bumpers) are actually those of period European equipment.
  • Although he depicts American Indians as to some extent bloodthirsty, Hergé also demonstrates sympathy for their plight.
  • In the first black-and-white strip Tintin is shown photographing an Indian who is holding a begging bowl, the begging bowl has disappeared in the color version.
  • Hergé later depicts Natives being driven off their land by armed soldiers so that the US Government may access the oil found there; and whereas Tintin, a white man, was offered thousands of dollars for the oil rights, the Natives are given a mere $25 and half-an-hour to leave.
  • However, the most overt aspects of American racism, though portrayed highly negatively in context, are nonetheless omitted from the English translation. For example, in the original French version, there is a bank robbery (page 34). A panel shows a bank worker explaining to the police that, after sounding the alarm “on a immédiatement pendu sept nègres, mais le coupable s’est enfui.” Translation: “We immediately lynched seven Negroes, but the guilty party fled.” The English translation changes this to “we hanged a few fellers right away”. The worker’s admission of vigilante justice is met with indifference by the police.
  • Two pages later, on page 36, a radio broadcast refers to the lynching of “44 nègres”, with no accompanying explanation, implying that such events were typical. Other edits include a frame on page 47 where Tintin hears a wailing baby and thinks it’s his kidnapped dog. In the original version, the baby and its mother are drawn as stereotypical negro caricatures. In later translations, the negro family has been replaced by whites.

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