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When the Nazis Took Belgium, Tintin’s Creator Drew Pro-Regime Propaganda

Hergé’s politics have been the subject of debate over the years

Boy reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy portrayed in a sign. Although Tintin's later adventures are fairly innocent, the comic has dark roots. (Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonian.com

Tintin is a character with enduring appeal. But the boy reporter has dark roots.

“People have been reading Tintin for a long time and know these iconic images,” comic books expert Eric Leroy told Radio France International when one original drawing from a 1937 Tintin comic fetched more than $80,000 at auction. Original Tintin drawings have sometimes sold for millions at auction, writes RFI, partially because of cartoonist Hergé's signature style. But the comic’s right-wing history has largely been forgotten.

Georges Prosper Remi, creator of Tintin, was born on this day in 1907 in Belgium. In his late twenties, already a reputable cartoonist in his native country publishing under the name Hergé, he began producing Tintin for the children’s section of Le Vingtième Siècle, a deeply conservative, pro-authoritarian Catholic newspaper, writes biographer Pierre Assouline.

As might be guessed from this affiliation, Hergé was a conservative, writes columnist Jeet Heer for The Globe and Mail, but over time his leanings became more dramatic. “Politically, Hergé was a mixed bag,” Heer writes:

An intelligent conservative, in the 1930s he commendably opposed the rising tide of tyranny, taking a notable stance against Japanese imperialism in Asia and Nazi expansionism in Europe. But after Germany conquered Belgium, Hergé compromised himself by publishing his comics in a collaborationist-run newspaper. The stench of that deal with the devil...has never lifted from Hergé’s reputation.

That newspaper was Le Soir, a French-language publication that kept publishing under Nazi occupation when many others did not. During that period, writes Bruce Handy for The New York Times,  Hergé began work on a new Tintin story titled “The Shooting Star.” In this story, he writes, “Tintin faces off against Blumenstein, a greedy, hook-nosed Jewish-American financier. In later years, an apologetic but defensive Hergé—he would tone down Blumenstein’s nose in postwar editions and change his name to Bohlwinkel—shrugged off accusations of anti-Semitism,” he writes. The cartoonist’s excuses included saying “That was the style then,” Handy writes.

But even though Hergé only published a few stories that had explicitly anti-Jewish messages, the bigger problem in the eyes of many was that he published at all. Many newspapers shut down during the war rather than collaborate with Nazi propagandists.

Many other Belgian illustrators and journalists didn’t cooperate with the Nazis, according to comic strip historian Charles Dierik, speaking to the BBC in 1999. “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,” Dierik said.

Hergé’s collusion with the Nazis didn’t hurt his career after the war, Handy writes. Tintin has continued to be extremely popular. He continued writing Tintin until 1976, producing a total of 23 books and an unfinished twenty-fourth. Although Hergé revised many of the early stories as time changed, the memory of them remained.

About Kat Eschner

Kat Eschner is a freelance journalist based in Toronto who focuses on technology, culture and ethics. She recently graduated from the master’s program in journalism at Ryerson University, where she served as editor-in-chief of the Spring 2016 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

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