In brief, Tintin is a French-language Belgian comic about a "boy" "reporter" who travels the world having adventures, followed everywhere by his little white dog Snowy (Milou in the original French). It was drawn and written by Georges Remi, better known as Hergé, 1929 to 1983. Art people make a big deal about his style of drawing, called ligne claire. All I know is, it looks pretty, and you are guaranteed to be offended by it at some point.
Yeah, there's the racism thing. Tintin started out as a weekly serial in the newspaper Le Petit Vingtième, which was marketed to children. The comics are collected into the two earliest books, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets and Tintin in the Congo (which was then a Belgian colony). They're actually really bad, especially Congo which is bad AND hugely racist. Hergé clearly did not give a fuck when he wrote those. He drew two pages per edition, made it up as it went along, did not do one jot of research, and his cartoon was so amateurish that he couldn't figure out that if you read left-to-right, the action should flow left-to-right. Half the word balloons aren't in the right order.
This is one reason why it's harder to find copies of these two books. The other is racism, especially in the case of Congo. It's Hergé's Old Shame.
This post is rather image-heavy.
Anyway, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is a loosely connected series of vignettes. Tintin is small. Like 5'3", 110 pounds soaking wet, in combat boots. This and his cerebral nature has lead many a muscle-bound villain to assume that Tintin is a pushober. Not so (click to enlarge):
You don't fuck with Tintin. Tintin is a badass. He'll beat you within an inch of your life if you try to kill him, then wag his finger at you on his way out.
Most of the book features Tintin doing impossible things, like building a car out of spare parts in like an hour or carving a tree trunk into a plane propeller with a pocket knife. It's basically anti-communist propaganda. Here's Tintin discovering that the Soviets have set up Potemkin villages:
Then he exclaims about people being foolish enough to believe the communist. The book alternates between Tintin punching people people in the face, talking about how bad Communism is, and Wiley Coyote-level cartoonish hijinks. It's not as good as it sounds.
There are some things of note. Tintin actually does some reporting:
Savor this moment, because it never happens again. He always gives his occupation as "reporter" and he sometimes conducts interviews and takes notes, but rarely seems to actually write anything.
At one point, Tintin is suspected of being a spy and is dragged into a torture room:
Like I said, the book isn't that good. At one point, Tintin freezes solid (and lives). The only thing positive I have to say about it is that Tintin kicks a bear in the face and there's a cute page or so of Snowy trying to disguise himself as a tiger.
Tintin in the Congo
I didn't read the Tintin books in order. I didn't acquire Congo until I was about 18. I wanted to read it out of long-standing morbid curiosity as to the content. Was it as racist as its reputation? No. It's worse.
Look, the Congo was a Belgian colony back then and Hergé's boss asked him to write about the glories of colonialism. It's unintentionally accurate, in that the whole book is Tintin being a dick to the Africans and killing big game for sport. It's really weird to read it after you've read the other books, in which Tintin is polite, usually respectful to other people's cultures, and an animal-lover.
Even before he gets to the Congo, he's acting like a jerk for no reason. Snowy falls overboard (for stupid reasons involving a parrot):
A "real man"? Have your balls even dropped, Tintin? Also ... *sigh.* Go ahead, jump into the water. I'm sure there's no reason why the deck hand didn't try it.
These scans are about the least racist things that happen in Congo.
I'm serious. I'm leaving out the worst stuff.
No, worse than this.
I swear, this is as non-offensive as Congo gets. By the end of the book, you'll be rooting for the crocodile.
Tintin in America
The American stereotypes will seem downright refreshing after that. Tintin in America originally looked a lot more like the first two comics, but it was redrawn for the color edition in Herge's later style. America is a series of loosely connected adventures that Tintin has in the USA. It was first written in the 30s, but reworked a couple times.
Incidentally, how old is Tintin?
Yeah, no one knows. Anyway, Tintin takes on a bunch of Chicago gangsters, including scarface himself, Al Capone:
Unfortunately, Capone neglected to follow Evil Overlord Rule #42 and didn't capture Snowy. The two of them beat up Capone and his gangsters and tie them up, which leads to these couple of panels:
Maybe he wasn't reacting so much to what Tintin said as to the way he was waving that gun around. This is more of Herge not doing the research. I'm pretty sure the problem with bringing Al Capone to justice wasn't so much locating his person as finding charges that would stick.
Incidentally, Snowy, Tintin's dog, can talk, but apparently only Tintin can understand him. Snowy's bark is "Wooah! Wooah!" because he is a Belgian dog.
I think the soda jerk is reacting to a dog drinking through a straw.
Tintin pulls the first instance of something I took to calling the Tintin Maneuver. Honestly, pulling this off even once would be enough to name it after him:
I've often wondered why heroes don't try this more often.
Capone is quickly dropped as a villain and Tintin goes after a gangster named Bobby Smiles. Most of the Tintin villains had stock exclamations that were tied into their ethnicity somehow; Bobby Smiles said "Alcatraz!" and "Sing-Sing!" No, really. Bobby Smiles flees into the Wild West which is apparently located just west of Chicago and has green grass and cacti in it. Tintin pursues him to Red Skin City (sigh!):
God, I love the look on that guy's face. He's so sick of Belgian tourists taking pictures of him without asking his permission and talking to their dogs about him like he's not even there. I mean, really.
Tintin decides that his outfit makes him stand out and he ends up ... look, I don't want to make a bunch of "Tintin is gay" jokes, but ...
So Bobby Smiles flees into the Blackfoot tribe reservation and convinces them that Tintin is an evil white man there to steal their land, so the Indians attack Tintin. I'm putting in the whole page because I think Tintin's nonchalance is funny. Apparently, once he gets an idea, like "Indians are friendly!", into his head, he'll stick to it despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary (click to enlarge):
Of course, Tintin gets away which leads to the memorable line "Alcatraz! ... Knocked out the whole tribe!"
The nonsense continues when Tintin accidentally strikes oil on the reservation (click to enlarge):
It's funny because it's true?
Bobby Smiles doesn't evade Tintin for long. He's hiding in a cabin perched high on a mountain, and when he sees Tintin climbing it, he remotely detonates a TNT charge in the mountain. The ensuing landslide would surely kill Tintin. The following confrontation is one of my favorites from any of the Tintin books:
Like I said before: don't fuck with Tintin.
Cigars of the Pharaoh
Cigars is the first attempt at an overarching storyline, and it doesn't really make any sense. It's about an opium-smuggling gang, I guess, and it ranges from Egypt to Arabia to India. This book was also extensively redrawn and re-written, but I've never read the original black-and-white version. (I'm not sure you can get it in English.)
It's the last book Herge wrote during his not-doing-the-research stage, and it's completely insane, even the rewritten version. This is, I swear, the craziest thing that happens in any of the Tintin books, including the time that Tintin blew up a hippopotamus with dynamite in Congo:
"Hooray! I've learnt to speak Elephant!"
Tintin ends up hanging from a tiger trap wearing a straitjacket, and he's rescued by the Maharajah of Gaipajama.
Tintin needs to impress the Maharajah and get him on his side. Fortunately, they're attacked by a tiger mere moments later!
Don't fuck with Tintin.
I do have to give props for the totally James Bond-esque sequence in which the faceless villain falls seemingly to his death while attempting to kidnap the Maharajah's son:
But mostly I don't really like the book. It's too silly for me. Still, it introduces a few characters that will appear later.
Thompson and Thomson, despite being nicknamed the Thompson twins, are not twins or related at all; they have different last names. They're merely identical. Apparently based on obscure 1930s stereotypes of policemen, Thompson and Thomson exist to provide slapstick and malapropisms, which are Herge's favorite things to write. My brother can tell them apart, but I can't. The Thompson twins are forever trying to arrest Tintin, apparently not learning from the first few hundred times that he's always being framed.
This guy's named Allan, and his appearance here is kind of a cheat because Herge retroactively wrote him in to existing canon after introducing his character in another boat. Whatever!
That's Senhor ... uh ... Senhor Oliveira de Figueira, the consummate salesman.
When you're six and you're reading a comic book, two names you don't want to be confronted with are "Senhor Oliveira de Figueira" and "Rastapopoulos." Ignore that Tintin claims to have met him before; he hasn't, it was the English translator taking liberties. Rastapopoulos pops up several times in this book for seemingly no reason ... could he possibly be ... the faceless James Bond villain?! Yes, he totally is.
Coming soon: Herge meets Zhang Chongren, starts to give a crap!