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