Tintin and the Anti-Semites

Young Adventurer Is Noble but Author's Past Questioned

Cartoon Hero: Tintin is nothing but an upright cartoon hero. But what about his Belgian creator, who has a history of anti-Semitism?
Cartoon Hero: Tintin is nothing but an upright cartoon hero. But what about his Belgian creator, who has a history of anti-Semitism?

By Ezra Glinter

Published December 21, 2011, issue of December 30, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The setting: a tiny monarchy, poor but beautiful, on the Balkan Peninsula. The population is a mere 642,000 people, mostly peasants. The country’s main exports are wheat, mineral water, firewood, horses and violinists.

The scene: A ruffian has stolen the king’s scepter, but is caught just steps from the border. Documents are found in his pocket revealing a planned invasion by the neighboring fascist state. He belongs to a fifth column called the Iron Guard. Its leader’s name is Müstler.

The year: 1939.

Steven Spielberg works on the set of ‘Tintin.’
Steven Spielberg works on the set of ‘Tintin.’

The country is Syldavia, a fictional creation of Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi in “King Ottokar’s Sceptre,” the eighth adventure of Tintin, famed boy reporter. In previous exploits Tintin battled gangsters in America, explored the pyramids in Egypt and became the confidant of Latin American revolutionaries. In coming years he would find the Yeti in Tibet, escape from a live volcano and go to the moon almost 20 years before the actual 1969 moon landing. Not least, he would go on a hunt for pirate treasure with his friend Captain Haddock, an adventure that, thanks to Steven Spielberg and 3D motion capture technology, is now on screens everywhere.

But “King Ottokar’s Sceptre” had a special significance. Though Syldavia was modeled on Albania, other historical parallels are evident. Remi — or Hergé, to use his nom de plume — identified the story as a “failed Anschluss,” recalling the 1938 annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany. Like all Tintin adventures the story is humorous and high-spirited, ending with our tuft-haired hero’s triumph and, in this case, his investiture with Syldavia’s Order of the Golden Pelican. But despite the good cheer, the condemnation of German expansionism shines through.

Hergé’s own stance was not so simple. Following the fall of Belgium in the summer of 1940, and after serving briefly in a Flemish infantry unit, Hergé accepted a job at the collaborationist Brussels newspaper Le Soir. (After the war he was arrested — four times — for collaboration.) Not only did his drawings appear alongside Nazi propaganda, but his next Tintin book, “The Shooting Star,” featured a hook-nosed, cigar-chomping financier named Blumenstein, who tries to subvert a scientific discovery for personal gain. The name was later changed to Bohlwinkel and the character’s country moved from America to the fictional São Rico, but the anti-Semitic implications of the caricature remained.

Of course, anti-Nazism and anti-Semitism were never mutually exclusive. But the problem posed by Tintin goes deeper than Hergé’s questionable World War II alliances. His first Tintin comic, “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets,” was a crude piece of anti-Soviet propaganda created for Le XXe Siècle, the right-wing Catholic newspaper whose children’s supplement, Le Petit Vingtième, Hergé edited for 12 years. His second book, the colonialist “Tintin in the Congo,” is even worse. Its depiction of Africans as childlike primitives has made some readers try to ban it from libraries and bookstores. In one panel an African woman bows before Tintin, exclaiming, “White man very great. White mister is big juju man!”

These episodes are confounding because, unlike his creator, Tintin is never a racist. In fact, his appeal rests on his inhumanly decent character. Tintin is good. Tintin is incorruptible. Tintin cannot be threatened or bribed. Tintin does not drink or smoke. And who could resist his checked plus fours and charming coif?


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.