Friday, January 27, 2012

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (Little-Brown 2007)
Writing and Art: Hergé
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Tintin, a young Belgian reporter, travels to the Soviet Union during the late 1920s to report on the socialist government of Joseph Stalin. He uncovers vast corruption in the "workers' paradise" and becomes marked for death by Stalin's secret police, prompting a string of adventures as he escapes back to Belgium.

"Tintin in the Land of the Soviets" was the first tale of the intrepid "boy reporter" and his dog Snowy that Herge wrote and drew. It is different in tone and style than all works that followed, and it is clearly the product of an artist still mastering his craft, not to mention finding the proper tone for the series that became his most celebrated.

Originally serialized in magazine from in 1929 and 1930, and published in book form shortly after completing its magazine run, Herge later a low opinion of this work. It's the only one of the 23 completed Tintin adventures that Hergé did not subsequently redraw in a color edition and/or update with more modern panels and references as the years went by. In fact, for decades, Herge blocked any efforts to republish "Tintin in the Land of the Soviets," and it wasn't until 1989 that he allowed an English translation of the book.

The style of story-telling "Tintin in the Land of the Soviets" is very different than the later stories that almost all saw some degree of revision by Herge over the years. It's closest in tone to "Tintin in the Congo" and "Tintin in America," which, if you read those three early works back-to-back, you can see the evolution of Tintin, even though Herge revised the two latter ones for later editions.

And, the art here is also far cruder than anything else I've ever read by Herge--it is barely recognizable, in fact. That said, I've never seen the original "Tintin in the Congo" nor "Tintin in America", but only the revised color versions. (And it's been 35 or so years since I read "Tintin in the Congo... and I'm not likely to get my hands on a copy again any time soon, as the hystrionics of the politically correct crowd and over-sensitive cry-babies successfully blocked its paperback re-issue back in 2008.)

The overall style is also more in line with newspaper comic strips of the 1920s and 1930s rather than the action-adventure of later Tintin stories. While there are some serious matters addressed--such as the portrayal of the Soviet government as murderous, corrupt, and predatory toward the people they were supposedly protecting and serving, portrayals which history has shown to be mild when compared to reality--the over-the-top cartoon action is what is most memorable about the book... and which is not found on this level in later works. Scenes where Tintin builds a plane over night or is frozen solid after wet from a river into the cold Russian night are almost without equal in Hergé later Tintin efforts, with the possible exception of the major city being built overnight or some of Tintin's interactions with Indians in "Tintin in America."

Still... if you like Tintin, you're bound to like this book. I don't think Hergé ever told a bad Tintin story.


  1. Has there ever been Tintin in Saudi Arabia or Tintin in the Middle East?

  2. There are several, actually. Tintin may well have spent more time in the Middle East than anywhere else in the world.

    "Cigars of the Phararoh", "The Crab With the Golden Claw", "Land of Black Gold", and "The Red Sea Sharks" all take place in part or in whole in the Middle East and/or North Africa.