Couldn’t believe my eyes. Two of my fave bands, in children’s book form!
International Women’s Day. Because “heroes” and “explorers” is still code for “non-lady heroes” and “non-lady explorers.”
Posted by Sammy, who now works at the Trove (WP Children’s Library).
Snack courtesy Book Style inheritor @sammylif of Bookstyle Publications
Tintin by Hérge by Dan Pasternack
I was going through some old things & I found this piece I wrote about Tintin. It is from fall 2010.
One of the first things I did when I started working at the library was revisit Hérge’s Adventures of Tintin which I loved when I was a kid (in fact these are the same copies I read when I was a kid).
It’s a child’s adventure serial written from the 1930s-1960s. Tintin, our good guy, travels the world with his dog Snowy, having adventures, defeating smugglers, encountering exotic natives. The strip, written by a Belgian, is often characterized by its Eurocentric attitudes and paternalistic situations. I’d finished with the villainous Japanese and clueless Congoans when I started on Tintin in America, written 1931. The story mainly follows Tintin’s comical interactions with stereotypical Chicago gangsters, then veers off into the American West. After starting out looking for a 30s European concept of America, I was on full alert for revealing cultural stereotypes as Tintin rolled into Redskin City, and Hérge did not disappoint.
Tintin is captured by the necessarily hostile natives after they struggle to find their buried war hatchet in a terribly unfunny and racist scene. He escapes into a tunnel and emerges from the gushing ground covered in black gold – in Hérge’s America, there is oil under every rock. The author, whose outside European view of the country has so far matched a hypothetical American contemporary’s (Chicago is run by gangsters, Italian immigrants are dimwitted thugs, Indians are bloodthirsty and say ‘How’) now redeems himself with impressive and sympathetic satire. Over a full page, see above:
Panel One – Tintin discovers oil.
Panel Two, subtitle: Ten Minutes Later – A businessman rushes up to offer Tintin $1000 for his oil well
Panel Three, subtitle: Twenty Minutes Later – a crowd of businessmen surrounds Tintin, offering larger and larger sums of money for his well. The unfailingly honest hero refuses all offers and tells the men that the oil belongs to the local Indians.
Panel Four: The first businessman approaches the tribe, and makes them an offer for the well: “Twenty five dollars and a half an hour to get out of here”.
Panel Five, subtitle: An Hour Later – we see that doughboy-style soldiers have arrived and that they are pushing the Indians away with their bayonets.
Panel Six, subtitle: Two Hours Later – the metal well is under construction
Panel Seven, subtitle: Three Hours Later – a bank is under construction, and is already being guarded by a doorman in a sharp suit.
Panel Eight, subtitle: The Next Morning – the site has become a full-grown town, with cars and buildings and a policeman directing traffic. Policeman to Tintin: “Get out of the road, what do you think this is, the Wild West?”
The rest of the story is more unnotable children’s adventure fare (Herge didn’t really figure this thing out for the first few years; Cigars of the Pharoah and The Blue Lotus are the first really good ones), but this single section I think offers a convincing, biting satire of American capitalism, growth, and especially treatment of Native Americans. I assume that such a sympathetic portrait of Native Americans was rare in the 1930s, and that it is explained by Hérge’s status as a European. It’s a sympathetic, realistic historical portrayal of the unfairness of white dealings with Native Americans, presented in an easy way (the businessmen offer Tintin thousands of dollars and the Indians twenty five for the same land) for his young readers to grasp.
There is much for even a contemporary American to identify with in Hérge’s 1931 portrayal of America. The author also caricatures the speed of American economic development, maybe not entirely disapprovingly, but with some measure of admiration. We seem to enjoy our gangsters, or at least the idea of them, then and now. At first I was surprised to see that Black Americans were left out of Hérge’s story entirely, even though he includes both Native Americans and then-unfavored Eastern and Southern European immigrants. When I read about the series, I found that the two or three African Americans in the strip had been excised when it was released in paperback in the United States in the seventies because they were casually racist “Sambo” caricatures.
I reflect that this erasure is almost as much of a problem as the initial imagery. Removing the images scrubs both the subjects and actors of discrimination from children’s history. Protectionist censors have left a 1930s that is missing both African Americans and the discrimination and stereotyping of African Americans – effectively letting the discriminators win by wiping away both their subject and activity. The absent African Americans leave only the African-American-less environment that their oppressors were hoping to create by oppressing them. This kind of censorship and forgetting also creates the nostalgic white past that current Americans can longingly look back to. If one can imagine a monocultural past than one can wish that the present was monocultural too. Sometimes I think that the Tea Partiers are unaware that there has ever been a mosque built in the United States before.
The propulsive speed that Hérge satirizes is an important part of this national culture of forgetting – Americans move forward, with only a dim, child’s view of their past. I immediately recognized his gangsterland 30s Chicago ruled by Al Capone, but the absent racial stereotypes only help me forget the concurrent oppressive racial tyranny of the time. The author somewhat avoided this problem of forgetting the Native Americans, presenting eight panels of sympathetic satire after several pages of racist caricature. Why weren’t the ‘How’s censored? Is it because they fit into the accepted child’s version of American history alongside the gangsters? Some historical realities are too ugly to be remembered and so are forgotten, others are sanitizable. Systemic oppression has no place in popular history, but vice and exoticism always will. Norman Rockwell seemed to make the same choices in his imagined family tree, offering rowdy gunslingers and jolly pirates, but no African Americans. No caricatures, just absence. Better to pretend none of that happened.
Hérge inadvertently helps me understand American Nationalism as a child’s nationalism, defined by absences and thus by repetition. I’ve been trying to understand the new Right as I hinted before, and why everything seems new to them. They’ve forgotten that their states used to be part of Mexico. They’ve forgotten the Civil Rights Movement, and the systemic segregation that preceded it, so acutely that they can hold a rally on one of its anniversaries and invoke its leaders. They’ve no memories of Walt Whitman or Allen Ginsburg; homosexuality is new to them. They can recall only three of the ten initial amendments to the Constitution. These people are so earnest, and religious, that I think they may have forgotten modernism, and the Enlightenment. They might counter that I’ve forgotten my roots, forgotten my country’s founding fathers, forgotten my God, forgotten my morals. We are all Americans.
Little Chief saves the settlers from the charging buffalo. And that’s the last page.
from “The Other City”, a collection of interviews w Brooklyn teenagers pub. 1969