Tintin in peril: Congolese man seeks court ban on 'racist' cartoon

4th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

The intrepid boy reporter Tintin, or at least his publishers, have been charged with racism over the portrayal of Africans in the cartoon book 'Tintin in the Congo,' a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The civil case is being brought by a Brussels-based Congolese man who has for years tried to get the offending cartoon strip, created in the 1930s, pulled off the shelves.

In his sights is the Herge foundation Moulinsart, whom the plaintiff, Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, has been pursuing in the criminal court for three years.

Frustrated at the lack of progress, he began a parallel civil case and announced Tuesday that he was including in that action the comic book publishers Casterman.

"We will appear in court on May 12 after having been named both as editor and distributor," of the offending comic strip book, said Valerie Constant, spokeswoman for the Casterman, the publisher which can trace its roots back to the 18th century.

The plaintiff Mondondo "demands that the album be withdrawn from sale or, failing that, that a warning be inserted," in all copies as he considers the book's portrayal of black Africans to be offensive, she said.

"Casterman opposes such a withdrawal. This work was created 80 years ago, it is just a snapshot of the sentiments of the day, is distributed in Europe and Africa without problem," she added.

"Tintin in the Congo," which first appeared in Belgian newspaper Le Vingtieme Siecle as a comic strip in 1930-1931, is part of the popular series "The Adventures of Tintin" created by late Belgian author and illustrator Herge.

It features his popular red-headed boy journalist Tintin and the faithful dog Snowy.

But the tale of Tintin's trip to what was then the Belgian Congo is controversial because of its depiction of colonialism and racism, as well as casual violence towards animals.

The official Tintin website has previously acknowledged the controversy.

"In his portrayal of the Belgian Congo, the young Herge reflects the colonial attitudes of the time," it said on its website when the original case was launched.

"He depicted the African people according to the bourgeois, paternalistic stereotypes of the period -- an interpretation that some of todays readers may find offensive."

Herge, real name Georges Remi 1907-1983, justified the book by saying it was merely a reflection of the naive views of the time. Some of the scenes were revised for later editions.

Britain's Campaign for Racial Equality has described the book as containing "imagery and words of hideous racial prejudice, where the 'savage natives' look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles".

Editions of the book sold in Britain now come with the kind of warning banner which Mondondo sees as the minimum requirement.

As to the possibility of inserting a warning statement in all versions of the book, the Casterman spokeswoman said the company "does not want to take such a decision alone," as it touches own the rights of the author's beneficiaries.

In 2007 Mondondo brought criminal charges against Moulinsart, accusing them of breaching Belgium's racism laws.

That case is still rumbling on through the courts.

© 2010 AFP

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