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Note: As Simon is a UK reviewer, this post deals with a UK release. US readers may be more familiar with this Tintin Vol. 1 which skips these even earlier adventures.
People often ask me about the first comic I ever read. Ignoring the regular children’s comics, it would be a either one of the Asterix books or one of the Tintin books. Both are great classics, originally written in French, although Tintin was a Belgian publication.
Given a choice between the two, I always pick Tintin.
The stories always contained more adventure and it is set in a much more realistic world than that of the potion drinking Gaul. Also I would consider Tintin, his dog Snowy (or Milou in French) and all the other characters to be far better than any from the Asterix titles.
For those who haven’t read Tintin before, here’s a bit of history.
He first appeared as a comic in the children’s supplement in a Belgian newspaper in 1929. The stories were created by Hergé (Georges Remi) and his assistants. They ran until 1976.
Tintin is a young Belgian reporter who travels around the world on assignments. He reports back to the Belgian public on world matters and is always accompanied by his loyal dog Snowy.
This hardcover collects the first two Tintin stories ever published: expeditions to the heart of Soviet Russia and the Belgian Congo. One thing to point out here is that these are the two most criticised stories out of all the 24 Tintin stories (and rightly so – as I will explain later on.)
Tintin in the Land of the Soviets
Tintin is sent on assignment to Moscow to report on the Soviet Union.
It turns out that the alleged wealth of the Soviet Union is false and the Soviet secret police want to stop the report from being made by any means.
Tintin finds himself in a dangerous, although often slapstick, situation of being stalked and regularly attacked by the secret police. The story acts as political satire against the Soviet Union and its propagandized well being.
Hergé withdrew the publication in the mid-1930’s due to the over critical nature of the material and it wasn’t republished until 1973.
The biggest difference is that the artwork is in black and white.
For me this doesn’t detract from the story at all, as this early work isn’t about detailed scenery.
It was about the story and the linework works well enough to pace the us along.
Additionally, this reproduction is historically interesting, allowing us to see a progression in Hergé’s work.
There are a few surprisingly true things portrayed in the book, such as the starving of peasants as they had to export a large amount of produce to seem successful.
Hergé also depicts the fixing of elections through the refusal to give food to people who wouldn’t declare themselves communists.
Detractors have criticised Hergé himself for over-propagandizing, but it’s unclear how much of his story is based on research and how much is based on popular conceptions of the time. His latter stories were certainly better researched, but perhaps some slack can be cut for his early work.
Tintin in the Congo
(Editor’s note: The images in this post are from an earlier French printing of Tintin Au Congo. Simon does not have a scanner and I was unable to find a copy of the newly remastered English edition. If someone has some quality scan samples to add to our review archive, we’d love to have them! -Ian)
Congo sees Tintin being sent off to the colonized Belgian Congo on a hunting expedition.
Already this story is dated, screaming very un-PC, as hunting is often frowned upon these days (especially the animals he chooses to hunt.)
To make things worse the native Congo people resemble Golliwoggs and are depicted as rather primitive persons.
Needless to say, this story is extremely controversial; it is why the book is wrapped in cellophane and has a content warning label on it!
In one particular scene Tintin uses explosives to blow up a rhino. Another sees him kill 15 antelopes instead of just the one by accident.
The story isn’t as well paced as Hergé’s latter works. On the whole, no real flow is evident and the direction is unclear.
Tintin does manage to expose a smuggling ring that links back to Al Capone, which leads nicely onto the third Tintin story, Tintin in America.
Unlike the first story in this collection, Tintin in the Congo was redrawn. It is in colour and looks far nicer than the first story.
One interesting fact about this story is that the regular characters the Thompsons weren’t included originally and were drawn in when it was republished.
Unfortunately, Hergé kept the naive 1930’s racism in the story. It is a real shame, as it was largely due to his employer on the strip who felt the “values” of colonialism should be taught to the Belgian youth.
While this is of interest to those of us who value comic history, it makes this book quite a bit less kid-friendly compared to other Tintin titles.
Other than the overt racism shown in the second story, there is one more thing that lets down this collection: the translation.
Obviously, both stories were originally written in French. Due to their more controversial nature they had no publication in English for many years.
This seems to have meant their translations aren’t of the same quality as the other stories in the series.
Still, I can’t help but love the first story and would give that a full 5 out of 5.
Tintin in the Land of the Soviets is dragged down by Congo, which would have been more enjoyable without the racism.
However, it would seem massively wrong to the creator if others had edited it, toned down the exotic hunting and racism. It would be a different story from the one Hergé wrote.
Tintin only gets better from here onwards. Personally I would say you cannot start anywhere but the beginning.
Overall average 4 out of 5. Well worth a read.
Not entirely essential – and totally omitted in many reprint series – although the 3rd story Tintin in America does follow on from Tintin in the Congo.
This is where it began. It’s best to start here.
You may also be interested in Asterix the Gaul.