Tintin meets the 21st century

As a child, I loved Tintin and his adventures. If I could get my hands on a book, I’d read it dozens of Tintin times. What can I say — it was as entertaining as Scooby Doo.

Even as an adult, when I’ve lost interest in Scooby, I can still enjoy Tintin. In fact, I took a couple out of the library not long ago and it was almost like old times, except I didn’t hear a voice from the kitchen saying, "Melvin, have you finished your homework?" (The question would usually be in Tamil, of course.)

But Tintin, for all its merits, does fall short in one major area: its portrayal of Africans and other blacks. The drawings themselves make me uncomfortable. I’m not surprised that the Commission on Racial Equality in Britain wants to see at least one book, Tintin in the Congo, pulled from stores. A CRE spokeswoman told BBC News that the book contained "words of hideous racial prejudice, where the ‘savage natives’ look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles". I’m not familiar with this particular book, but there’s got to be a scene in which Tintin or some other white person is being cooked in a big pot, while the natives dance around it with joy. I grew up in Zambia, not far from the Congo, and I don’t recall any white people being cooked, though a few of my school friends did think the young British teacher looked "yummy."
Bookstore chains Borders and Waterstones have moved Tintin in the Congo to their adult section.

Borders said they are committed to let their "customers make the choice". The store’s spokesman added: "Naturally, some of the thousands of books and music selections we carry could be considered controversial or objectionable depending on individual political views, tastes and interests."
A Waterstones spokesman said: "We have reviewed the title’s situation and are moving it away from the other Tintin titles into the graphic novel section."

I suppose they’d also be eager to carry 100 Reasons to Love Hitler and Chicken Soup for the Racist’s Soul. Perhaps they need a new shelf in the gardening section called "Bigo Tree."

This reminds me, of course, of the controversy surrounding Apu of The Simpsons. Many people find him offensive. As for me, I’m usually laughing too hard to be offended.
If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. Ah yes Tintin. But I loved Asterix and Obelix even better.

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