“Why does he hate Samis?”
We have all seen the blonde-fringed Tintin wriggle his way out of one sticky situation after another. But early 2010 saw the Belgian national hero’s past catch up with him; a past most of us had forgotten he had. Congolese Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo believes the comic book Tintin in the Congo is racist and should be banned, and has taken legal action against the series’ copyright-holder Moulinsart and its publisher Casterman.
It was during his second adventure, published in 1931, that Tintin travelled to the Congo, a Belgian colony at the time. There he was mixed up in a gangster showdown when some of Al Capone’s partners tried to take over the country’s diamond production. The early Tintin books are crudely drawn and feature a coarse style of humour, such as when Tintin escapes an angry rhino by blowing it up with dynamite. Even more notorious is the sequence where he visits a school to teach geography. “Dear friends,” he says to the Congolese children, “today I’m going to tell you about our country: Belgium.” This is the colonial master talking. In another sequence, he repairs a broken-down train for the helpless locals. In the new colour version of Tintin in the Congo, published in 1946, the geography lesson has been replaced by mathematics and the Congolese speak more comprehensible French, but the tone is still condescending. The population is presented as naive and lazy; a land of childlike beings.