(Paris) It was without much publicity that Tintin in the Congo was re-released in November in a new, colorized version, with a new cover, but above all, for the first time, with a preface which puts this album in context to the glory of colonization.

Tintin in the Congo, by Hergé, was republished in its original version, published in serial form in 1930-1931 in Le Petit Vingtième, and in volume in 1931. While at the time it was in black and white, the Moulinsart and Casterman added colors.

The album is sold in a box set called Les colorisés, released on November 1st. It also includes Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (1930) and Tintin in America (1932).

The publisher has communicated very little about this publication, despite its importance. Pascal Blanchard, a historian specializing in colonialist imagination and propaganda, had never heard of it before AFP showed it to him.

“It’s very interesting and smart of them to do this work. Because we have to publish Tintin as it was at the time,” he says. But “I find it surprising that the cover does not mention this foreword. And let the little Congolese boy disappear: this cover, they deracialized it! » In the 2023 edition, Tintin faces a lion.

Readers are more familiar with the color version of Tintin in the Congo from 1946, where Tintin is at the wheel. This album had been completely revised. Example: inside, Tintin gives a mathematics lesson to Congolese schoolchildren, while originally (and therefore in the 2023 edition) his lesson is about “your homeland: Belgium! …”

On the adventures of the young reporter in this very vast country which was a Belgian colony from 1908 to 1960, the controversy has never really died down for more than half a century. Around one question above all: are the black characters in the album represented in a simply caricatured manner, or frankly racist?

Hergé himself had seen this controversy rise at the end of his life. He responded to the journalist Numa Sadoul in 1975: “I only knew about this country what people said about it […] I drew them, these Africans, according to these criteria, in the purest paternalistic spirit which was the one of the time”.

For this preface, the chosen author is not a neutral observer. Philippe Goddin, comics expert, chairs the Les Amis de Hergé association.

He extensively researched the sources chosen by Hergé, both iconographic, for his drawing, and textual, for his scenario. And he doesn’t see racism.

“It has been said that Hergé odiously caricatured the Congolese. Racist, him? He vigorously defended himself […] He cheerfully mocks everyone, both white and black,” writes the preface.

A position that he explains to AFP: “We are racist from the moment we want to denigrate, demean the other, which is not the case with Tintin in the Congo. Of course, there are stereotypes, caricatures. Hergé insisted on big lips and flat noses, like many designers at the time. But for me, even if the line is fragile between caricature and racism, he doesn’t cross it.”

Pascal Blanchard says he is not convinced.

“This preface is very questionable. She tells us Hergé would be a simple sponge of his time. It’s light, it’s false,” he says.

“Hergé made a political choice to ignore the sources which describe the violence of colonization,” adds the historian. “And Philippe Goddin abuses a paradox: by showing us that Hergé is as close as possible to the photos that reach him from the Congo, he considers that the iconography on the colonies, in a country with a colonial propaganda agency, would become a source of truth. No, it’s propaganda.”

Pascal Blanchard would have wanted more: “a second preface signed by a great historian like Elikia M’Bokolo”, a Congolese specialist in Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Representative Council of Black Associations (Cran), a French collective, has repeatedly questioned the need to add a preface to Tintin in the Congo, in vain. Today he welcomes the 2023 preface.

“We’ve been fighting to have it since 2007, so it’s satisfying. Common sense prevailed,” Cran founder Patrick Lozès told AFP.

“This album harks back to a time, thankfully long gone, when it was acceptable to consider black people as inferior,” he added. “In the album, Africans are the only ones who sound like idiots. Even a dog speaks better than them. We could no longer leave young readers faced with this, without context, without explanation.”