Story and Art by Herge
Reading Tintin is always a pleasure. It’s this great combination of classic adventure storytelling with amazing artwork. Streamlined is the best way I can describe it. A simplified lead character in a rather detailed world. It shouldn’t work but it does, and I’m fairly certain it works because the detailed world is still brightly coloured to an almost surreal level.
If you’ve never read Tintin before he’s basically Jimmy Olsen without the mind numbing stupidity. Okay, sometimes those whacky Jimmy Olsen stories are insanely funny but mostly in an openly ironic poking fun at a story aimed at kid’s type of way instead of a wow that scene was hilariously written way. Tintin is basically Indiana Jones without the sex. I mean this kid is meant to be a reporter but I’ve never seen him write much in pretty much the same way Indiana Jones is meant to be an Archeologist but we’ve never seen him mark off some dirt and start digging for fossils and pottery shards.
This episode has Tintin going to China in the lead up to (or cool down from) the Second World War. At least I’m pretty sure that’s meant to be the time frame because there is a lot of politics involving the English and the Japanese. There are faked terrorist acts, armed force invasions, corrupt cops, at least three time Tintin beats the crap out of grown men (sometimes three at a time) and two visits to an opium den. Because I’ve read this as a kid I always think these books are aimed squarely at the kid demographic but it’s got a lot of content that isn’t totally kid friendly. It’s basically for the new readers who think Disney is fluffy crap and want something with a bit more edge.
It certainly delivers. There are imaginative traps and double crosses to keep younger readers captivated as well as enough beautiful artwork to keep us older fuddy duddies happy with the medium. It’s a reminder that even when comics were aimed at a younger demographic they weren’t the total pabulum we imagine them being. Perhaps it’s because this book was created before parent interest groups but having a bit of darkness and danger in the story is what makes it feel classic. And for me, as well as a lot of readers, it was probably some of the first times we’ve read comics that seemed serious while still maintaining a sense of adventure.
What the heck fits that description today, with a similar expressive approach?
This is a story exploring a Eurocentric approach to the Far East that is problematic while it does make obvious attempts to avoid criticism by having a conversation between Tintin and Tchang proving both cultures are equally racist. Yeah. Underneath all that is a bit of a mystery involving crossed wires, incomplete messages and a quest to find an antidote to a poison that makes you insane. It's all a bit of a macguffin to have Tintin go to China really as well as avoid corrupt powers that be.