Friday, September 08, 2006

Tintin in America

Yesterday's assignment in my class at UIUC was for each student to bring a children's book about American Indians to class. I'll talk more about what they brought in a later post, but for now, I want to talk about a specific book: Tintin in America.

One of the students brought Tintin in America. The author, Herge, is Belgian, and the book was published in Belgium in 1932. I will get a copy and read it, and invite anyone who knows the book to send me your thoughts (dreese dot nambe at gmail dot com).

In the book, Tintin goes to "Redskin City." From what I saw, the Indians are stereotypical characters in feathered headdress and buckskin. On the cover of the book, Tintin is tied to a post in front of two tipis. An Indian appears to be calling to others to join him; he brandishes a tomahawk in one hand and points to Tintin with the other.

An old publication date (1932), originally published in another country... But it was published here, too, in 1979, by Little, Brown. I'll spend some time reading and thinking about this book. There is a fan website called that says:

"Hergé had wanted to write a story about the oppression of the Indians in the USA, but his boss, Father Wallez fancied a story about the Chicago crime syndicate that would help illustrate how corrupt the USA really was. (Don't forget that Wallez was all in favour of a strong and unified Europe - without the rightist Hitler - type associations). That was not exactly what 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 established a town and oil industry within 24 hours.
Finding a publisher for this book in the USA was impossible. Even in the mid-1940s, American publishers insisted that Hergé replaced the 'coloured' people featured in the comic with 'whites'. Then again, the USA was not the only country that gave Hergé a hard time publishing this comic. Most foreign publishers (i.e. non-Belgian or French) 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."

A lot of people here and around the world object to the treatment of American Indians. As the author of tintinologist says, Herge wanted to write a story about the oppression of American Indians in the United States.  In doing so, however, he uses stereotypical imagery. Does that imagery inadvertently negate what they're trying to accomplish? And what about people who don't know it is stereotypical?


Rob said...

You can see a picture of Tintin in America in Newspaper Rock.

Chris Owens said...

I definitely agree with your whole point about the negative aspects of stereo-typical imagery. But since the "Tintin in America" was written back in the early 30s maybe it shouldn't be taken out of that historical context. Perhaps the book could be seen in a positive way because it brings attention to those 'historical' stereotypes for the children of today to learn from.

Many thanks!
Chris (at