tintin and america
May 8, 2009, 1:30 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , , , ,

Here is an article that asks why Tintin is such a popular comic in Europe but relatively unknown in America.   It misses the mark by a wide margin, but it’s still interesting to read.  It never really answers the question and it spends a lot of time making the case for the author Herge having extreme views – racist, fascist.

Tintin was my favorite reading at a certain phase growing up in India.  I have always thought that Tintin worked as a hero in Europe but not in America; and that it had a lot to do with the basic make up of the two minds.  There are so many crass observations that can be made – liberal Europe, provincial America, old Europe, modern America etc –

However, there are general comments that can be made about the difference between the two attitudes.  I can think of two, one relating to a body/mind dichotomy and the second to morality.

That the small, smart Tintin is a European hero implies Europe values thought over force, mind over body.  Tintin thinks:  his body is small and unimportant, he muses and plots, he outwits.  In contrast, an American superhero acts:  his body and costume are critically large and lurid; he makes declarative statements; he achieves his goal through brute force.

Another clear difference between a European and an American comicbook hero – and ostensibly a difference between their two minds – is their respective attitudes toward clarity/ambiguity.  For instance, the American hero John Wayne was morally unambiguous – he knew the guys in the white hats were good and the guys in the black hats were bad.  It was a code; he didn’t question it; why question that the other, the outsider is evil?  Sergio Leone loved the western genre but knew the moral clarity of the American hero could never work with the European mind.  So, the Italian western hero – embodied by Clint Eastwood – was decidedly morally ambiguous, and much more interesting.  Men could be bad and good at the same time, like in real life.  The reason Tintin is not an American hero is his moral ambiguity, or as it’s simplistically described in this article, his ‘neutrality.’

From the article, Tintin: A Very European Hero

All societies reveal themselves through their children’s books. Europe’s love affair with Tintin is more revealing than most.


There is a link between Hergé, this disappointing man, and his creation Tintin, who fights against despots so bravely. It lies in the rationalisation of impotence: a very European preoccupation.

The key to Tintin is that he has the mindset of “someone born in a small country”, says Charles Dierick, in-house historian at the Hergé Studios. He is “the clever little guy who outsmarts big bullies”. And as a little guy, even a clever one, Tintin’s bravery works within limits: he rescues friends, and foils plots. But when he finds himself in Japanese-controlled Shanghai, in “The Blue Lotus”, he can do nothing to end the broader problem of foreign occupation.


Interviewed late in life, Hergé acknowledged the links between his wartime experiences and his moral outlook. The second world war lies behind a great deal in Tintin, just as it lies deep beneath the political instincts of many on the European continent. It matters a lot that the Anglo-Saxon world has a different memory of that same war: it is a tragic event, but not a cause for shame, nor a reminder of impotence.

Tintin has never fallen foul of the 1949 French law on children’s literature. He is not a coward, and the albums do not make that vice appear in a favourable light. But he is a pragmatist, albeit a principled one. Perhaps Anglo-Saxon audiences want something more from their fictional heroes: they want them imbued with the power to change events, and inflict total defeat on the wicked. Tintin cannot offer something so unrealistic. In that, he is a very European hero.

Tintin A Very European Hero The Economist

7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I think you make some very good points about the difference between the European expectation of a hero and the American notion of a hero.

Comment by Chris Tregenza

thanks –

Comment by peter rudd

My dad was an airline pilot in the 60s and 70s and used to bring us home copies of the Tintin stories. I read them all and loved them. Perhaps, as a girl, I could relate to his size and sensitivity. He seemed like a hero to me.

Comment by Hoot

i devoured them growing up and, as a boy, he was a hero to me too. i guess the mix of smarts and bravery seemed better than a lot of the other heros whose muscle far outweighed thinking.

Comment by peter rudd

There is one part of North America that savoured Tintin and other Francophone comics: Québec. One only has to look at the remarkable contemporary work by artists such as Michel Rabigliati and Julie Doucet to see how a corner of North America escaped the 20th century comics dominance of the superhero, and how hundreds upon hundred of Belgian and French comic titles could influence a new generation of artists. Montréal is a superb city for comics/comix/comic book production, but most North Americans are locked out without an understanding of French. The rate of translation of works to English is sadly very slow.

Perhaps more interesting, however, is a comparison of contemporary Québecois comics to contemporary American / Canadian / Mexican ‘alt’ or ‘indie’ comics. Both are ‘anti’ or ‘contra’ superhero subjects and styles, even if that was never intentional.

Comment by James

interesting! i’ll have to check some of the names you mention. thank you!

Comment by peter rudd

hey folks…

look what i found…

tintin comics all in 1 …resumable links pdf…

see here–

Comment by ishan banga

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: