Tintin in the Congo is probably the most difficult to write about of all of them. There’s so many things that could be potentially wrong with the story, even when you look at it from a historical point of view. It’s also difficult because there are two versions of this book, the original from 1930, which is the version I will be talking about and the rewritten version from 1946, which is now the more common version available.
The book was rewritten and redrawn in 1946 so that the artwork would match the now familiar style that Herge had adopted. It also gave Herge a chance to excise any references to Belgium and the colonialism of the Congo that had been so relevant when the book had first been written. The new version was also taken from 110 pages down to 62 to fit in with the rest of the series.
The original version of the story was printed between 1930 and 1931, when the Congo was still a Belgian colony. It remained a colony until 1960, but elements from the story were removed in 1946 to make it more “internationally acceptable”. The early strips, which would have seen first by Belgian children in the newspaper Le Petit Vingtieme would have been able to teach children what and where Belgium “owned”. One example of this is when Tintin is asked to teach a class of children, in the original version he gives a lesson on “Your country: Belgium” whereas later on this lesson is replaced with a simple maths lesson.
One of the first things I noticed was within the first couple of pages a shipmate is refered to as “that black” which, these days, would be completely out of the question, but in 1930, wouldn’t have seemed anything (to the white readers of the strip, anyway!)
The first six pages of the book are made up of gags and dog related jokes, something which Soviets also suffered from. I think the lack of reliable human friends for Tintin means his primary focus (Snowy) then needs to be in some peril for action to happen. It’s seven books before Tintin gets a human to interact with on a frame by frame basis and I feel these two earlier books suffer from it. By Tintin in America and onwards, cheap gags don’t seem to be as relied upon as before.
Tintin’s heroics come up more here too as he shows how far he is prepared to go for Snowy (or others if he’d had the chance). He dives into the sea to rescue Snowy from drowning and when a boat comes to rescue him he says “No, no! Take my dog first!”
Tintin is already known in the Congo, perhaps something that was reflected in real life. The characters accept him as the reporter they’d read about in their paper, the same paper that Tintin was published in back in real life Belgium. Tintin then goes onto befriend a Congolese child, while, yes, using him as a lookout and getting him to do various other things for him, but they don’t seem to mind. To them Tintin is a friendly “white” not like they’ve encountered before.
This is also the first time we see several people trying to offer Tintin money at the same time and him refusing. The journalists here are trying to get his reports on the Congo as exclusives for themselves but Tintin will not give in. He sticks to his guns and will not be bought, something we see quite frequently across the series.
We also see Tintin hunting, something which had it happened later on in the series would have seemed very out of character. Hunting was very in during the interwar years (watch any country house set drama of those years and you’ll see) and at the time, Tintin killing a few animals wouldn’t have seemed a problem. At one point he kills and skins a monkey without really thinking about it so he can save Snowy.
I found this book had no real fluid storyline and relied a lot on Tintin getting into various scrapes with either animals or the natives. It wasn’t until the end when he found out who was after him and why was there any real story. Either I’d never read the whole book or I’d completely forgotten it but the Al Capone connection which carries through to the next adventure starts here. Herge never wanted to send Tintin to the Congo but was told he had to. With the Capone connection at the end of Congo he essentially confirmed for himself where his story had to go next. Al Capone is the only real person to ever appear in Tintin, mentioned by name in Congo and then actually appearing in Tintin in America.
That’s all for now,
Next week: Tintin in America