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Little, Brown scraps Tintin Congo outing

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Following tons of international controversy, PW reports that Little, Brown has canceled the US version of Tintin in the Congo:

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, which had been planning to publish Tintin in the Congo, a book criticized for its racist, Colonial-era depictions of Africans, has quietly pulled the title from its fall list, PW has learned. The publisher also said it will not include the book in a forthcoming box set of all 24 books in the Tintin series.

Publicist Melanie Chang did not give a reason for the standalone book’s cancellation, but of its omission from the box set she said, “Given the controversy surrounding the Congo title, we felt including it in the box set would eclipse the true intention of the collection, which is to showcase Hergé’s extraordinary art and his remarkable contribution to the graphic arts.”


Although Belgian-born Herge later repudiated the views of this early work, it has long been criticized for its racist and colonialist views — repugnant today but common for the time.

Similar problems have long scotched even the concept of an English version of Tezuka’s KIMBA, THE WHITE LION, as PWCW recently reported:

PWCW: Any interest from Vertical in licensing Kimba the Lion [a classic manga and anime work by Tezuka ]?

IM: We’re interested, but the depiction of black people in Kimba is problematic. If everyone can for a moment put their sensitivity aside then we can do it. Otherwise people may be offended by the stereotypical drawing of Africans. A disclaimer might not be enough. And the author no longer being alive, it can’t be redrawn. If people promise to be understanding, we will publish it.

Of course, we would first have to talk to Tezuka Productions, too. They might have their reservations. I know for a fact that they are very careful about Kimba. They got into trouble in Japan in the early 1990s when certain groups said that it should be taken off the shelves—and it was. So they added a disclaimer and now you can buy it, but you don’t see it that much in bookstores.


Our thoughts? While all of these contemporary treatments are promlematic — like Eisner’s Ebony in THE SPIRIT — pretending they never existed doesn’t seem to be very useful, either.

  1. and for our NEXT trick, we will ban all copies of Huckleberry Finn for the indiscriminate use of the words “nigger” and “negro”. Oh, no, wait, that was already tried in the United States.

    For f**k’s sake, you as a country need to grow up and deal with it. Each book, each story, each piece of art was and is always a product of its time. You know, that’s why it might make sense to have an afterword in new editions of old stories, explaining the times that surrounded that particular creation.

    But – as a culture – stop trying to pretend that something didn’t happen. Stop disneyfying history and art as to be able not to “be hurt” and forced to “think” about stuff that happened before. Learn from it!

  2. I completely agree with Thomas. The idea of not publishing a book because it features offensive material that was commonplace for the era it was released in is counter-productive. As a person of color, I would definitely be interested in reading, even purchasing, the collection. I’ve always been interested in the depiction of blacks in all media and this collection sounds like it’s full of research opportunity.

    On the other hand, I think the public backlash that the publishing company received, while maybe misdirected, comes from the stunning lack of real world depictions of black or African characters in comics even today. Perhaps it doesn’t make sense to everyone but I can understand why people would be angry about the release of Tin Tin– because what characters on the modern landscape are there to compare and contrast these stereotypical characters against?

    Sure we can probably all list a long stream of black comic characters but can we identify any that have entered in the American mainstream in a enduring fashion? Note, I’m not even saying that the modern characters need to be “positive” characters. I want them to be realistic depictions of real people living real lives but I can’t name any (outside of a character like Blade and Blade, well…) that have hit their mainstream stride. That’s where a lot of the outrage comes from, I believe.

    I’m not saying that it’s any one creator’s or company’s job to create these modern day black characters. That’ll happen when it happens and I sincerely hope that it happens naturally and not in some PC pressure cooker environment. I’m simply offering the opinion that folks will always get riled up about things like Tin Tin so long as they feel that little has been done to move beyond it.

    Sorry for rambling. :)

    — Jorge Vega

  3. Cowards! If this was a prose novel there would be no problem. Too bad they don’t have the courage of Warner Brothers, who are releasing their animated shorts unedited, including the scene of Bugs shooting a dog in the mouth.

  4. If anything, keeping the racist material in print helps to show how far we have come as a society. As repugnant as it is, it helps remind us of how ignorant society was of universal human dignity, and how it should never be repeated again.

    Eradicating unpleasant history only ensures we’ll repeat it.

  5. Personally,…I’m of the mind that all of the Tintin books should be taken off the shelves,…for their incredible misrepresentations of plucky, orange-quiffed, oval-headed, entirely too capable, globe trotting, caucasian, teen-aged journalists who live in large estates with alcoholic sailors.
    By the way,…is it just me, or can everyone read that dog’s thoughts?

  6. I completely understand the decision of not including the Tintin book in a line of books aimed at young readers. It’s not a matter of rewriting history, it’s a matter of aiming the books at the right audience.

    The WALT & SKEEZIX and COMPLETE DICK TRACY books (to name only a couple of examples) have their share of offensive stereotypes, but since they’re aimed at a different audience, they get distributed in bookstores without any problems.

  7. Have you read the bookstore blog post that rants against Banned Books Week yet? In it, the blogger asks all of the libraries and book stores touting themselves as arbiters of free speech why none of them are doing anything about Tin Tin in the Congo’s lack of availability in the US.
    Link:
    http://www.inkwellbookstore.blogspot.com/

  8. “For f**k’s sake, you as a country need to grow up and deal with it.”

    As much as I agree with most of what you just said, you’re not going to score any points by generalizing the American people (as so many non Americans seem to do automatically these days) and telling us all in one swoop to “grow up”. We as a people are as divers in our culture and view points as is all of Europe . There are a lot of forward thinkers in this great country of ours, and I (even though I was born in England) count myself as one of them. I humbly ask that you please keep this in mind, the next time you have an opinion as to what goes on in the United States. In return, I will do the same when speaking of other countries, and yours. Thank you.

  9. “Too bad they don’t have the courage of Warner Brothers, who are releasing their animated shorts unedited, including the scene of Bugs shooting a dog in the mouth.”

    Except Warner is editing or not releasing select Tom & Jerry shorts for the same derogatory stereotypes.

  10. I stand by the phrase, Christopher.

    The US culture has become so randomly politically correct, but only when it comes to art. If in Germany we can have an edition that has an afterword in it, why can’t you? I tell you why. It’s because somebody somewhere will be offended, and despite the fact that the first amendment should over it, somebody somewhere in an executive office of a publisher will be pissing his pants at the slightest mentioning of something that could offend somebody somewhere.

    And from my very own experience, writing material for the US market, the pant pissing already starts when you have a bunch of teenage girls discussing a boy by saying “Oh, that’s so gay.” Now, and this is from an editor who is a nice guy and smart, but the editorial note to me stated: “Please do not use the word “gay” more than once in a conversation, because it might hurt the book’s commercial chances.

  11. Any discussion of Political Correctness (in America and elsewhere) is the kind of thing that (1) is so complex and nuanced to perhaps be impossible to fully address in blog comments on the internet and (2) tends to generate more heat than light as commentors’ passions run high. But I does seem to me that:

    * if one wants to be outraged that the publisher of TINTIN IN THE CONGO has cancelled its plans to publish the book, there’s plenty of reason for that outrage without having to invoke Political Correctness as if it were a national rather than corporate phenomenon.

    * it’s a bit ludicrous to imply that this sort of situation is somehow uniquely American. I’m sure there are many nations that have seen attempts–some originated by the citizenry, some mandated by the state–at supressing literary and artistic works reflective of embarassing or out-of-favor periods of their histories. (It’s a bit distrubing to think that many other nations’ attempts may have been ultimately more successful, perhaps because of the public outcry and discussion that often follows in America when these sorts of efforts occur.)

    * if you want to argue that Political Correctness with regard to art and literature is an intrinsically American phenomenon, or is somehow more egregious in America than elsewhere, well, then you’re going to have to work harder at developing an argument than a glib and off hand one-liner. Mr. Gerhardt’s subsequent anecdotes begin to do that, but the initial “you as a country need to grow up and deal with it” just isn’t itself convincing–or helpful–at all.

  12. “and for our NEXT trick, we will ban all copies of Huckleberry Finn for the indiscriminate use of the words “nigger” and “negro”. ”

    Old Mark Twain always gets trotted out for the defense when someone objects to racist images/words in books. Can we at least ackowledge the very different context of the words? Namely, that despite the use of those words, Huckleberry Finn is one of the most profound ANTI-slavery, ANTI-racist works in American literature, that those slurs in white characters’ mouths is deliberately used in opposition to the depiction of Jim as a man of bravery, loyalty and dignity; whereas the portrayal of blacks in Tintin, Kimba, et al are just stereotypes and chariacatures stunningly blithe in their racism?

    Rodrigo Baeza has it right. This isn’t some left-wing, knee-jerk reaction to something that maybe, just maybe might make someone somewhere squeamish. It’s not about whitewashing history, or the First Amendment. It’s about a publisher making a decision on what they feel is appropriate to put on the shelf in the children’s market.

  13. “For f**k’s sake, you as a country need to grow up and deal with it.”

    I think we need a better arguement than “grow up” and “deal with it,” which seems to be the solution to every world crisis as per the internet posters of the world.

  14. I completely agree with Rodrigo and CBrown, the publisher’s decision to release this material within a children’s market was a poor idea. Releasing it within a market aimed at adults, collectors and reflective historians would have definitely been appropriate and, in the end, I think the publishing company realized that– maybe a couple of steps too late though.

  15. “I stand by the phrase, Christopher.”

    That’s fine. We let you do that sort of thing in America. We also tend to stop listening (and I think the same goes with the rest of the world) when people open their arguments with gross generalizations about who we are and how we think. I do not believe in censorship or cutting out large chunks of history to suit a small group of people, but you pitched out a comment that said I did. You pitched it out at friends of mine who would also agree with you, who are American, too. We don’t appreciate stereotypes being projected onto us anymore then the next people. How are we ever to make progress if there will always be people who just assume they no another person’s (let alone a whole nation’s) point of view. I say this as constructive criticism. Oh, and by the way, the graphics look nice. Way to work in a plug.

  16. Fact: The Tom & Jerry archive DVDs contain a printed mature content advisory. Warners has not released Coal Black and de Sebbin Dwarves. Disney offers video apologies on their archive DVDs for gun violence and racial stereotypes and exaggeration.
    Barnes & Noble shelves Tintin with the graphic novels, not in kids. NOBODY would notice if Little, Brown (owned by Hachette) published it as a $30 hardcover with additional material describing and discussing the artwork.
    But who cares… the work is still available in (heh) black and white. And available from the UK, and probably being scanned as we speak.
    To see how to do this right, go read the Gordo collection published by the University Press of Mississippi. Me, I’m gonna read Wilhelm Busch. Mmmmmmmm Comedic cartoon violence with a moral.

  17. Well, shit. I ordered this for my shop based on getting the complete Tin Tin, not the “complete Tin Tin minus one book because we were worried someone would find it offensive.”

    Wonder if it’ll be returnable? That’s one *less* sale because of the failure to include the book, rather than one more. And I doubt I’m alone.

    Or maybe I am, since I’m American, and according to Thomas Gerhardt, we are all without exception censoring morons. And we make huge generalities that make us look like idiots, too.

    Wait… that last one might not be solely an American phenomenon.

  18. Still this book remains in print from Last Gasp. In an archival edition with a price of $24.95.
    So not targeted at the young ones; but still available for students of the time period and/or Herge.

  19. Good. If the marketing was geared more towards younger kids who might not get the historic creation of these books, their views, without adult supervision, might be misconstrued about what is what.

    I don’t generally get why people, who would not be offended by the book, get so uproariously uptight about these sorts of decisions. I am not a black person, therefore, I don’t really know how something like this would make me feel.

    It’s a hard disconnect that doesn’t seem to really enchance any more discussion bt those who should be included in such a debate. I’d certainly hope more discussions of this kind open up to include the possibly offended’s voices.

  20. This seems like a bad decision to me, but of course it’s the publisher’s prerogative to publish or not publish the book.

  21. “For f**k’s sake, you as a country need to grow up and deal with it.”

    It probably bears noting that the outcry against Tin Tin in the Congo began in the U.K. when a young African-American child was offended by the representations in the book. The controversy crept across the pond to the U.S.

    I’m against censoring these images for the reason that they could be conducive to bringing parents and kids into some important conversations about race and prejudice. However, I say that as a white male. If I were black, I might very well have different (and strong) feelings about the matter.

  22. There are objectionable ethnic stereotypes throughout the Tin Tin series, not just of Africans, but of Chinese, Native Americans, various Latino groups, and many more. Singling out one book in the series doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Yes, perhaps it would be better to have the Tintin books published for the adult market, and those parents who have the time and committment to raise their children to consider cultural differences as opportunities for expanding one’s personal horizons can share the books with their children. I’m speaking as a person of mixed ethnicities (Japanese/Caucasian).

  23. American Guy: You can say “black”. Really, you can.

    And I note that while the outrage did begin in the UK, the UK outrage didn’t result in the book being pulled from the shelves. (I saw it in the graphic novel section of my favourite bookshop just last Saturday.) In fact, the controversy resulted in massively increased sales.

    I note, too, that a student from the Congo has filed a legal complaint in Belgium against the rights-owners, claiming that the book is an insult to all Congolese people.

  24. I think this books should be grandfathered, and released as a historical document. It should have a disclaimer clearly printed on the cover, and on the inside of the volume.

  25. Katherine, it did, however, get pulled from the children’s section, its shelving there being the whole reason for the U.K. hullabaloo, which seems somewhat analagous to Little, Brown’s decision not to release the book through its Young Readers division. Also, as Rory Root notes:

    Still this book remains in print from Last Gasp. In an archival edition with a price of $24.95.
    So not targeted at the young ones; but still available for students of the time period and/or Herge.

    So for all the teeth-gnashing going on in this thread and elsewhere about the United States’ overly P.C. nature, it turns out that the book is available in the U.S., just not from Little, Brown.

  26. However, I do share Randy Lander’s disappointment that the “complete” Tintin collection I preordered is anything but.

  27. The simple truth is this. The publisher is afraid (rightly so) that they will be in court for ETERNITY from various angry Americans if they try to release this book in general distribution in the US. In essence, the book will never see the light of day because our sensitive minds are being protected by these various groups who know better than we do, reading this ‘filth’.
    As to the comment by Chad that the book is available in the US, try to order it new directly from Amazon. You can’t. Most ‘common’ people would go to a major bookstore or website and will be UNABLE to find it. In essence, we live in a highly censored PC society and it stinks.
    Ultimately, I am reminded the joke is on us, everytime I see a black-face TV commercial, or a preview of the next episode of any primetime drama featuring rape, torture, and murder. That stuff is fine for our people but a 70 year old book… ban it, burn it!

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