Friday, December 30, 2011

"Race changes" in Tintin

In 2006 I learned about Tintin in America. I wrote about it then, but apparently failed to order it so that I could do an analysis of it for AICL. It is now on order...

Obviously, I'm thinking about Tintin because the movie is in theaters now. This morning on Slate, I read David Haglund's blog post about parent objections to Captain Haddock's love of alcohol. He provides some historical background for the American response to Haddock:
Sam Adams, who recently reviewed two Hergé biographies for Slate, pointed me to a third, Pierre Assouline’s Hergé: The Man Who Created Tintin, which reveals that when the Tintin books began appearing in America, Hergé’s publishers demanded that he “attenuate the text here and there” to reduce Haddock’s drinking, in an effort to satisfy “puritanical American morals.” Hergé went ahead and “eliminated all images of Haddock drinking straight from the bottle,” telling one reader, “The blacks have been whitened, and Captain Haddock has to refrain from guzzling his drink.” (A PDF of this chapter from Assouline’s book is available online.)
I clicked on the PDF and read the chapter. In addition to portrayals of Blacks and alcohol, Assouline writes about the ways that Herge depicted Jews. I think it will prove useful when my copy of Tintin in America arrives.

I'm also intrigued by what I'm reading in Paul Mountfort's "'Yellow skin, black hair... Careful, Tintin': Herge and Orientalism" published in 2012 in the Australasian Journal of Popular Culture (Volume 1 Number 1): 
The original black and white version of Tintin in America (1931-32) offers a blistering critique of capitalism, both implicitly in its depictions of down-trodden urban Black Americans and in its explicit representation of American Indians as the victims of colonial dispossession and ongoing oppression at the hands of capital, backed by the US Army at gunpoint. (p. 38)
Eighty years later, "ongoing oppression" is about right, as the US is poised to, once again, come down on the side of companies who want resources on Native lands (see, for example, the resolution by the National Congress of American Indians ). It is too bad, however, that the Indians Herge presents are stereotypes (see the cover above). But how did he show them as "abject?":
the colour French (1946) and English (Herge 1978) editions progressively bowdlerized key scenes at their publishers insistence, so that, for instance, both a black doorman and mother with wailing child are literally bleached white in the colour version (Herge 1978:29 f12, 47 f15), along with their implications of ghettoization, due to the 'unsuitability' of mixing races in a children's book destined for an American audience. Similarly, frames depicting 'Red Indians' as abject were severely toned down (1978: 16 f7-8). (p. 38)
The copy I ordered is the 1978 edition. I'll have to see if I can get the black and white version to see what needed to be toned down. (If you've got access to it, perhaps you can scan relevant pages for me.)

Update, Saturday, December 31, 8:02 AM CST
Adelaide Dupont submitted a comment that says the Indians in the original are "Lakota Isnala." Items shown include a peace pipe, a tomahawk, a monastery, and a treaty. Using "Lakota Isnala" as a search term, I found a bit more information, also from Assouline's book. He says that Herge was looking for fresh ideas:
Then in the last months of 1957 he read an article on American Indians, reviving his youthful passion. He found his thread: Tintin finds himself on a reservation trying to prevent unscrupulous businessmen from evicting the natives in order to drill for oil. He immediately wrote to his old friend Father Gall to ask for his advice on the project. The Cistercian monk was an expert on the Plains Indians, who had named him "Lakota Isnala." He sent Herge five single-spaced typewritten pages filled with details and anecdotes about the geography of Little Rock and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Indians' hostility toward white people, and the despoliation of their land by big corporations. He even wrote of how Indians had been on the front line when the Allies landed on the beaches of Normandy.

Like the previous project, the story opens with an incident on the road to Marlinspike Hall. An accident, or is it an attempt on the life of a Sioux? At the hospital, in his delirium, the man mentions a peace pipe, a tomahawk, and a monastery. Going to the monastery and visiting an exhibit of Indian artifacts, Tintin discovers that the peace pipe has disappeared. It contains a precious official document proving the claims of the Indians to their hunting grounds. As all the other copies have vanished it is the last thing to prevent their being forced from their land by an oil company. Herge abandoned this project instinctively. (p. 187)

I read that excerpt in Google books preview. The excerpt prompts questions! What was that youthful passion? What was the article Herge read? Why did Herge abandon the project? I've got Assouline's biography on order...

"Lakota Isnala" also turned up in my search. Paul Goble also consulted with "Lakota Isnala" in writing Red Hawk's Account of Custer's Last Battle" in 1969. Interesting, eh?! I gotta learn more about "Lakota Isnala"!

Update: Saturday, December 31, 10:30 AM CST
"Lakota Isnala" is also in Benoit Peeters Herge, Son of Tintin, published by JHU Press in 2011. The Google Books preview offers a bit more info than the preview of Assouline's book allowed. Herge met "Lakota Isnala" at "the Trappist abbey of Scourmont near Chimay" (p. 204), where Herge went to rest. At first he was bored with the religious services there. Then, he met Father Gall, a monk who was "passionately interested by American Indians" (p. 204) who had entered the monastery in 1926.:
Without ever having set foot in America, he had learned the Sioux language in order to correspond with the tribe. Herge and Father Gall struck up an immediate friendship. The monk took the cartoonist into his den, an isolated circular room at the top of a small tower.
There, you don't know if you're still in an abbey or if you're in a Sioux tent. Eagle-feather headdresses, bows and arrows, tomahawks, guns, a peace pipe, and all sorts of other objects. Since I had read Paul Coze's book Moeurs et histoire des Peaux-Rouges (Customs and history of the Indians), I didn't feel too out of place. We talked for a long time. The names of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, all the famous Indian chiefs, came up again and again, mingled with mentions of Little Big Horn, Wounded Knee, all the battles in which they became famous. He showed me photos of his friends Black Elk and Little Warrior, and told me their stories. Then he told me about his own life, or rather his grandmother's; she almost married a Sioux. He is Sioux by adoption himself; that is, he is actually part of the White Butte Band, a tribe of Ogallala Sioux! [31]
Herge, passionately interested since his youth in the world of the Indians, as totally fascinated by Father Gall. Gall was an extraordinary character, and he made a deep impression on the few people who were lucky enough to meet him. "My name is Lakota Ishnala," he would tell his visitors, "which means 'the solitary Sioux.' I am solitary in two senses; not only does this allude to the solitary prayers of the Indians, since I am a man of religion, but it is also a reminder that I am all alone here, far from my people and my family." [32]

The day after their first meeting, Father Gall took Herge into the woods, to the place he called his "reservation." There, the monk dressed in Indian clothing from head to foot, complete with a feather headdress, embroidered vest, loincloth and trousers, moccasins, and blanket. In a few minutes, the Trappist monk had transformed himself into a Sioux chief. Soon he suggested that Herge smoke the peace pipe with him, according to the very strict Indian rites: the bowl had to be stuffed with tobacco and special roots; the pipe raised toward the sky and lowered toward the earth, then turned toward the four cardinal points, before it could be passed around by the participants. This was a form of religious sentiment that Herge felt extremely close to. Father Gall spoke to him about the Indian soul, the desire for communion with all the beings in the universe, and the feeling of harmony with nature of which the white man was capable. He also tried to correct the misconceptions propagated by the Scouts on the subject, before describing the current situation of Indians on reservations. Fascinated, Herge decided to suggest that Paul Cuvelier work with Father Gall on an "illustrated history of the Indians."  (pp. 204-205).
LOTS of red flags all through there... How did this monk learn to write the "Sioux language"? At best, he learned Lakota, Dakota, or Nakota. And just who was he corresponding with? I don't think there is a "White Butte Band." Was Gall friends with Black Elk? I suppose that is possible, given that Black Elk was in England as part of the Wild West show that toured there. Do I need to do research on Gall?! His persona was convincing to Herge, and as noted earlier, to Paul Goble, too. Do these two European writers (Herge and Goble) mean to tell us that this was the best they could do in terms of reliable sources for their portrayals of American Indians?!!! 

1 comment:

Adelaide Dupont said...

Just reading page 187 now.

The people in Tintin in America before revision are the "Lakota Isnala" and some of them have been on the front line in Normandy.

There were objects like the peace pipe, the tomahawk and the monastery. There was also a document/treaty.

And it is interesting, a few pages later, that Herge would dream of white and of erasure.

* * *

When people watch Tintin on TV, video or DVD, Tintin in America is often the first episode to which they might be exposed.

(Congo and Land of the Soviets were not put onto TV, and came out as books much later).