That Dog Sure is a Fancy Talker
(book assigned by Admiral Fartmore)
Editor’s note: I assigned this book to Beau because he keeps complaining “there be too many gosh dang words in these books” and “not ’nuff purdy pictures!” Buuuut, apparently he wasn’t the biggest fan of the pictures in this one. He also won’t stop talking about his mama’s sweet potato pie.
Let me just say one thing from the start; this book is racist as fuck. There’s no two ways about it. Tintin is racist. Now, I know many of you loved reading Tintin as a child, but it’s racist. Lets just get that out of the way as quickly as possible. Are we all on the same page? This book is racist.
Let’s go over the basic plot quickly before getting to the meat of this review. Tintin works for Le Petit Vingtième, a Belgian newspaper. He travels with his passepartout Snowy, a small dog who for some reason is capable of speech. They decide to go to the Congo for a reason we are not told. Snowy gets into a fight with a stowaway on the boat on the way over, though they eventually arrive in the port of Matadi to begin their African conquest holiday. There they meet their assistant Coco, a rather incompetent local guide. While Tintin and Snowy go hunting, they leave the car with Coco, who (because he’s incompetent) allows the car to be stolen. Tintin chases the thief and gets the car back, placing the villain under house arrest. He puts him under the guardship of Coco, who lets the prisoner escape (because of his incompetence). The stowaway returns, and tries to kill Tintin a number of times, before he is outsmarted and fed to the crocodiles. Tintin realizes that the stowaway was in fact a member of Al Capone’s gang, sent to kill Tintin and seize control of the diamond trade in Congo.
It would be easy to criticize the book for its lacklustre plot, or even for Al Capone somewhat inexplicably relocating his business interests from Chicago to the Congo. But that would be too easy. This is a children’s book after all. Naturally, though, there are some more worrying things that this razor-thin plot is concealing. Firstly, and I’m not sure if you picked up on this or not, but there’s rather a lot of racism. Lets begin by taking a gander at how the Congolese are depicted in this book.
For some reason Tintin and his dog are revered in the Congo. We don’t know why.
I’m really not even sure where to begin with this one. Clearly, the depictions of Congolese is one of the worse racial caricatures that you can imagine. But it does get worse. In addition to the terrible imagery, Africans are also portrayed as being unintelligent and lazy. Observe the following three non-sequential panes.
(1) Tintin, Snowy and their assistant Coco; (2) Tintin trying to get some Congolese to work; and (3) Coco & Snowy talking.
There are three things of note in these above images. Firstly, the African refers to Tintin as “Master.” Secondly, the Africans are depicted as lazy. They frequently resist Tintin’s pleas to do an honest day’s work. Thirdly, the dog speaks more eloquently than the Congolese man. Also, the dog is braver than then the Congolese. By the way, if you’re wondering what a “chug-chug” is, it is apparently the Congolese word for a car.
Whereas the condescending and infantile portray of Congolese people is probably the worst crime in this book, its not the only one. The treatment of animals is quite shocking. A slightly worrying scene of events takes place when Snowy is kidnapped by a monkey, who looks somewhat like a Chimpanzee. Tintin is worried for his canine companion, and will go to any ends to get him back. Tintin’s plan is to kidnap a member of the chimp’s family, skin it alive, and wear its fur as a costume. He then infiltrates the monkey gang, kills them all, and rescues his dog.
This isn’t the only encounter they had with wildlife. At one point a lion attacks Tintin, knocking him unconscious. He asks the Africans to help him, but they are too cowardly, and all run away. Snowy, however, is brave enough to fight the lion and defeats it. I suppose the racism here is consistent, since the dog is white.
(1) Africans run away from lion; (2) Brave White Dog attacks lion; (3) Brave White Dog teaches Africans and lion a lesson.
The monkey and the lion aren’t the only animals to be killed. Tintin shoots an elephant, and an entire herd of antelope. He kills a large snake by shooting it in the face, and a rhino by drilling a hole into it and inserting a stick of dynamite.
Though the book tells us nothing about this, the occupation of the Congo by Belgium was one of the more nefarious colonial enterprises. The colonial regime imposed quotas on villages to produce rubber. Failure to meet the quotas resulted in hands and heads being cut off. Through a combination of disease, war, and arbitrary punishment, it is estimated that anywhere between 5 and 10 million people died. If you are interested, and haven’t read it already, I’d strongly reccommend King Leopold’s Ghost by Adam Hochschild, which provides a tragic history of the Belgian colonial exploitation of the Congo and her people.
In one of the more bizarre parts of the book, Tintin teaches Congolese children about their country – Belgium.
And entering into the fray of one of the greatest colonial atrocities in African history: a beloved children’s character. At the heart of this book, more striking perhaps than the depictions of foreign cultures or the maltreatment of nature, is the bizarreness of colonialism. Naturally, for millennia, polities of various sizes attacked and invaded one another. Empires were no more a European invention than was gunpowder, however it was the Europeans that brought empire into technological modernity, conquering most of the world in the process. And it was only with the beginnings of self-determination and nationalism (and the beginnings of human rights) that imperialism and colonialism were revealed to be the twentieth-century anachronisms that they were.
Some parts of the book are almost beautiful. My favourite pane, the one below, shows Hergé’s style. It recalls both his influences all the way through to those that imitate him; from Hokusai all the way down to Lichtenstein. But how are we to think of something as both beautiful and representative of atrocity? It is interesting to note that this book occupies a similar spot on the shelf as does Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. It is an artistic talent wasted on a poisonous topic.
Perhaps the best understanding of this book is simply that it is an anachronism, as it is from an anachronistic time . It is from an era of planes, film, and intercontinental travel, but also of European powers clutching to the last vestiges of a false imperial glory.
And in the end, its nothing more than a finely drawn piece of shit™.