Feature

Censoring ‘Tintin in the Congo’

Why an 80-year-old comic book is being pulled from the shelves

“Tintin is in trouble!” said The Times of India. Legal trouble, at least. Congolese accountant Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, 41, is suing the fictional Belgian reporter—or his Belgian publisher, anyways—in French court, asking that the 1929 comic book “Tintin in the Congo” be banned as colonial propaganda that spreads “racism and xenophobia.” Mondondo filed the same suit in Belgium two years ago, but nothing came of it.

Small wonder, said Henry Samuel in Britain’s Daily Telegraph. Belgium’s inaction on the suit may not be “politically motivated,” as Mondondo claims, but Tintin is “a rare unifying symbol” in divided Belgium, which ruled Congo from 1885 to 1960, sometimes brutally. “Postcolonial guilt,” however, doesn’t explain the Brooklyn Public Library’s decision to pull “Tintin au Congo” from its shelves.

The Brooklyn Public Library is facing “public outcry of censorship” for putting “Tintin au Congo” under lock and key, said Rocco Staino in School Library Journal. But it’s not alone. Borders moved the book from its children’s section to adult graphic novels in 2007. To be fair, the book does depict Africans as “simple savages prone to cowardice, superstition, and who use phrases like ‘White mister! You come save us!’”

The Brooklyn library says the Tintin book is “racist and depicts Africans as monkeys,” said Canadian blogger Raphael Alexander. But that’s not how it’s seen in the Congo, according to photographer Nuala Sawyer, who writes: “The funny thing is that the Congolese seem to embrace Tintin—I think that interpretations of racism are incredibly different in the Congo than the USA.”

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