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Tintin comic new edition addresses racism controversy

PARIS – There has been a mixed response from anti-racism groups over a newly modified version of the Tintin comic books, after it was widely criticised over its colonialist depiction of Africans.

First published in 1931, Tintin In The Congo, by Belgian comic strip artist Herge, is the second volume of The Adventures Of Tintin.

The Belgian Congo – comprising most of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo – was then a colony of the European country, becoming independent in 1960.

In the comic, Tintin, an intrepid reporter, travels to Belgian Congo to report on events there leading to encounters with native people, wild animals and an American diamond-smuggling gangster.

Over recent decades, the comic strip has become increasingly controversial, with critics pointing to its racist and colonialist treatment of the local population.

The new edition, launched in November together with two other books in the Tintin series, carries a preface explaining the colonial context of the time.

It also contains tweaks to the story. At one point, Tintin teaches an African child mathematics, whereas in the original, he teaches the child that its home nation is Belgium.

The cover was also changed from the original, showing Tintin facing off against a lion, whereas before, he was sitting with a black child.

“This volume goes back to a time, that is thankfully over, where it was acceptable to consider blacks as inferior,” said Mr Patrick Lozes, founder of CRAN, a federation of anti-racism associations.

He welcomed the addition of the preface, which he said went “in the right direction”.

The preface, written by Mr Philippe Goddin – head of the Friends Of Herge association – is mostly concerned with defending the record of Tintin’s creator in terms of racism.

“He defended himself vigorously against that charge,” he wrote. “He happily mocked everybody, whites and blacks.”

In an interview with AFP, Mr Goddin said “there is a thin line between caricature and racism, he did not cross that line”.

Mr Pascal Blanchard, a historian of colonialist propaganda, said he was “surprised” that the publishers did not make a special announcement of the changes, and that the new preface was not mentioned on the cover.

He called the preface “highly debatable”.

Claims that Herge’s work had simply been a reflection of his time were “facile and false”, he said.

Herge - whose real name was Georges Remi – himself admitted in 1975 that all he knew about the Belgian Congo was “what people talked about” at the time, saying: “I drew Africans in the pure spirit of paternalism that was prevalent back then.”

Herge, who died at the age of 75 in 1983, is considered as one of the leading cartoonists of the 20th century, with a unique style that influenced many artists, including pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein.

Tintin’s adventures have been translated into 130 languages, sold 260 million copies and been made into TV shows and a Hollywood film. – AFP