Martin Beckford, London Telegraph, July 12, 1007
The comic book character Tintin was at the centre of a race row last night after Britain’s equality watchdog accused one of the books of making black people “look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles”.
The Commission for Racial Equality claimed Tintin In The Congo depicted “hideous racial prejudice” and that it should be removed from sale.
Last night, the Borders chain of bookshops agreed to move it to the adult graphic novels area of its shops, but the official Tintin shop vowed to keep selling it, as did Waterstone’s and WH Smith.
Tintin In The Congo was the second comic book, written and drawn by the Belgian author Hergé, to feature the boy reporter. It was first published in 1931 but was redrawn in 1946, when Hergé removed several references to Congo being a Belgian colony.
But the book still contained images such as a black woman bowing to Tintin and saying: “White man very great… White mister is big juju man!”
In Britain, Tintin In The Congo was for decades excluded from reprints because of its content. The book became so synonymous with racism that when a Belgian foreign minister made critical remarks about the Democratic Republic of Congo’s government in 2004, a spokesman replied: “It’s Tintin In The Congo all over again.”
The publisher Egmont issued a colour version of the book in Britain in 2005, but included a foreword which tried to explain the colonial attitudes prevalent at the time it was written.
It was this edition which was spotted by a Borders customer in London last month, prompting them to contact the CRE.
Yesterday, the Government-funded equality watchdog made an outspoken attack on any shop which sold the book.
A spokesman for the CRE said: “This book contains imagery and words of hideous racial prejudice, where the ‘savage natives’ look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles.
“It beggars belief that in this day and age Borders would think it acceptable to sell and display Tintin In The Congo. High street shops, and indeed any shops, ought to think very carefully about whether they ought to be selling and displaying it.”
The spokesman said the only acceptable place for the book was “in a museum, with a big sign saying ‘old fashioned, racist claptrap’”. An assistant at the Tintin shop in London’s Covent Garden said there were no plans to remove the book from sale and added that the book is “a product of its time”.
WH Smith said the book is sold on its website but with a label which recommends it for readers aged 16 and over.
Waterstone’s said it would not censor the book but is considering moving copies from the children’s section.
Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative MP, said it was “ludicrous” for the CRE to try to ban a 75-year-old book and claimed its outburst would damage the watchdog’s reputation. “I understand the view that it shouldn’t be on sale to children but the publishers have taken care of that.
“It brings the CRE into disrepute—there are many more serious things for them to worry about.”