Tintin in the Congo: It’s complicated
A youth library in Stockholm pulled Tintin comics from its shelves on the grounds that the racial caricatures of Africans and Arabs are not suitable for children before quickly backpedaling after the removal triggered a media firestorm in Sweden.
“I wanted to highlight an opinion piece about issues of discrimination, but realize now that it’s wrong to ban books,” explained Behrang Miri, the Kulturhuset library’s youth director.
Although the articles don’t specify which Tintin books were pulled, it’s safe to say the primary culprit was Tintin in the Congo, published in 1930, in which the Belgian creator Herge depicted Africans in crudely stereotyped ways. The book has come under heavy criticism in the United States and in Europe, and several attempts have been made, some successful, to remove it from libraries and bookstores (in February, a Belgian court rejected a five-year-old bid to ban the book).
So it’s something of a surprise to learn that Tintin is actually quite popular in the Congo, with locally made statues of the characters and mockups of the covers selling briskly to European tourists. While the director of the national museum objects to the proliferation of Tintinabilia, preferring to focus on the rich native heritage of the country, artisan Auguy Kakese, who makes and sells Tintin figures for a living is more sanguine:
“It’s humor, it’s not racist… for those who say it’s racist I say that in the comic strip, you never see images which show him trying to kill the Congolese,” Kakese said in his workshop, which employs 10 people and produces thousands of Tintin statues.
Although most of the statues Kakese sells are of the comic’s European characters, he does not shy away from depicting the Africans as well, despite them seeming uncomfortably stereotyped for modern tastes.
“We were a Belgian colony, if we work with Tintin now it’s to say that the Belgians are still our brothers,” he added.