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Thursday, 4 February, 1999, 12:15 GMT
Tintin on trial
Tintin logo
Tintin is under a different kind of spotlight
The august chamber of the French National Assembly in Paris echoed to the sounds of a highly unusual debate on Wednesday.

The subject was Tintin, that plucky cub reporter whose comic strip exploits have captivated children - and adults - for 70 years.

Over the years there have been doubts in the minds of some people about the author, Herge, whose early work now appears racist and even anti-semitic. Now it was time to ask - did Tintin feel the same way?

Tintin merchandise
Tintin merchandise makes millions across the world
The chamber focused on the serious question: "Tintin: Is he from the left or from the right?" It was the first time that anyone can think of that a cartoon character was the subject of a debate in the French parliament.

Didier Quentin of President Jacques Chirac's Gaullist rally for the Republic party noted that Tintin's adventures proved him to be "anti-Soviet" and "anti-petroleum-rich capitalists."

He concluded that the comic book character must be a right-wing Gaullist.

Not so, said the left. For Yann Galut of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin's Socialist party, Tintin was "a synthesis" of France's current batch of centre-leftists, such as Jospin and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the former leader of France's May 68 student upheaval and now member of the Green Party.

Georges remi, aka Herge
Georges Remi was a Nazi collaborator during WWII
He also praised Tintin's policy on drugs, but sharply distanced himself and his party from Tintin's dubious comments about Africa.

The debate was not designed to produce firm conclusions and there was no vote on the matter. But it was thought of as important by many Tintin fans in helping to distinguish Herge's views as distinct and different from Tintin's.

Speaking before the debate its organiser Dominique Bussereau said:

"Tintin is always a generous person, always ready to help the poor, the orphans, people in difficulty. He's very kind. You have to distinguish between Herge, who was a great artist but whose views wavered throughout his life, and Tintin, who always trod a straight path - friends with children, the weak and the oppressed."

Tintin in the dock
Tintin statue
The cub reporter is a national hero in Belgium
The famous adventurers Tintin, old Captain Haddock and the little dog Snowy, very popular - all have now appeared in 58 languages and over 3 million copies are bought every year.

In the debate over Tintin one of the books which particularly comes under fire is "Tintin in Congo" is. Charles Dierik runs a comic strip museum in Brussels and says the book is seen as overtly colonial. Other books were seen as anti-semitic.

Mr Dierik says that unlike many Belgian illustrators and journalists, Herge, real name Georges Remi, co-operated with the Nazis and adjusted his stories accordingly:

"During the war Herge worked and published Tintin stories in Nazi-owned daily paper and this is very shameful for him because he included in his stories racist caricatures, anti-semite caricatures, that were really not needed at all in the story, just to please his masters. In my opinion Georges Remi had not a very strong personality, or he had a secret personality."

tintin books
All the comic books have been translated into 58 languages
Despite this the Tintin industry of videos and toys is unstoppable. Two hundred million books have been sold so far. And many of those who campaign against the far-right and don't like Herge's politics see the books themselves as harmless.

Alain Destexhe, a leading Belgian Senator, said the character's impact cannot be underestimated:

"Tintin is part of the history. I think it shows how at the time the European countries were seeing the Africans and their former colonies. And of course it was extremely paternalistic and maybe a bit racist.

"But this is over time and I don't think we should judge with our eyes of today. I am happy for my children to go on reading Tintin books and I will try to explain them that this was written at a different time."

So regardless of what people may think about Herge, Tintin himself has emerged from this latest scrap unscathed.

David Shukman reports from Belgium before the debate - Tintin a fascist figure?
See also:

29 Nov 98 | Europe
Crazy for Tintin
10 Jan 99 | Entertainment
Tintin's 70 years of adventure
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