Tintin in Latin America
Tintin is a cartoon
character created by the Belgian artist Georges Remi under the alias of Hergé. There are
over 20 different titles in the series of Tintin adventures, where the action covers all
parts of the world including the Soviet Russia, the Congo, Egypt, China, Tibet, Peru and
even a trip to the moon. Over the years, the Tintin character has received international
recognition. Charles de Gaulle once told André Malraux that his only international rival
is Hergé. So how popular is Tintin in Latin America?
In the 1995 edition of the Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica Kids
Study, we found that 23% of children between the ages 7 and 11 have seen or heard of
Tintin. As the following table shows, there does not appear to be much difference by age
or sex, but there are major differences by socio-economic status and geographical region.
This set of circumstances is expected since Tintin is known to children primarily through
either the published books or cartoon animated series shown primarily on cable/satellite
||% Ever heard of Tintin
|Age 7-9 years old
|Age 10-11 years old
|Males 7-11 years old
|Females 7-11 years old
|Socio-Economic Level A
|Socio-Economic Level B
|Socio-Economic Level C
|Socio-Economic Level D
|Balance of Central America
|Balance of South America
Among the Latin American children who have seen or heard of Tintin, 27% of them
ranked him as 'One of their favorites', 46% of them thought that he was 'Very Good', 23%
thought he was 'Good' and only 4% 'did not like him.' The popularity of Tintin to children
is due to a large degree the exotic settings of his adventures. By comparison, other
cartoons seem to be set outside of time, space and tradition. To the extent that children
believe these stories to reflect social realities elsewhere, there may be some important
concerns and implications. After all, one of the most famous analyses of the ideological
dimensions of cartoons was How
to Read Donald Duck: Imperialist Ideology in the Comic by the Chilean Ariel
Dorfman, in collaboration with the Frenchman Armand Mattelart.
Our interest in Tintin is really from the viewpoint of post-colonial studies.
This cartoon series was created by a European who did not have primary contact with the
subjects (see, for example, the apparent influence of National Geographic Magazine on
the art work in Prisoners of the Sun). We would therefore expect
these cartoons to reflect euro-centric views of that era. In its own time, Tintin
addressed many contemporary political issues (e.g. the Japanese intrusion into China in The
Blue Lotus). Over the years since their publication, some of the Tintin books were
updated for political correctness and expediency (e.g. the modern version of Land
of Black Gold replaced the British occupation force in Palestine by Arab
Within the series of Tintin adventures, Prisoners of the Sun
took place in South America. Here is our synopsis (based upon the English-language
- Tintin and his friend Captain Haddock came to Callao, the port city of Lima
(Peru), where they wanted to intercept a cargo boat (Pachacamac) which was
believed to be carrying their kidnapped friend Professor Cuthbert Calculus. While in
Callao, Captain Haddock was spit upon by a llama in the street.
- When the cargo boat arrived, a local doctor declared a quarantine on account of
yellow fever. However, Tintin decided to board the boat surreptitiously at night because
"The doctor is an Indian ... a Quichua Indian ... Doesn't that mean anything to
- On the boat, Tintin found Professor Calculus, who had been kidnapped because he
had put on the Incan bracelet of Rascar Capac, an act of sacrilege for which he must die.
- But before Tintin could notify the police, the kidnappers moved Professor
Calculus off the boat. Tintin and Captain Haddock pursued them by train to Jauga. An
Indian ordered the train conductor to put the two into the last car ("It is his order
--- and you know what happens to those who disobey him") and then disconnected the
car. The two were lucky to survive the downhill runaway.
- When they finally arrived in Jauga, Tintin saw two grown men bullying a small
Indian boy Zorrino and came to his defense. For this act, Zorrino offered to act as his
guide even though he was afraid. Zorrino spoke in broken English: "Afraid of Inca,
señor. Vengeance of Inca terrible when Indian tell white man what white man must not
- The Indian who ordered the sabotage on the train also saw what Tintin did. In
truth, he is Huascar, a high priest of the Sun God. He gave Tintin a little medal. He too
spoke in broken English: "But you not always have good luck ... you listen to me: you
not go ... you still go, then take this ... very good, help you in danger ...")
- As they set out to the Temple of the Sun where Professor Calculus was being held,
Captain Haddock was spit upon again by a llama besides getting his beard chewed.
- During their trip to the Temple of the Sun, the group encountered dangers such an
ambush by Indians, being snatched into the air by a condor, an avalanche, a bear,
mosquitoes, howling monkeys, a boa constrictor, a tapir, an anteater and alligators. The
story did not indicate the duration of the journey, although the change in flora and fauna
would have meant a very, very long journey.
- Finally, they stumbled into the temple of the sun. For this sacrilegious
intrusion, the Incan prince pronounced: "Our laws decree but one penalty. Those who
violate the sacred temple where we preserve the ancient rites of the Sun God shall be put
to death." The only favor that was granted was that they "may choose the day and
the hour when the rays of the sacred Sun will light their pyre!" The little boy
Zorrino was spared because of the medal from the high priest Huascar, thus according some
degree of compassion to the Incans.
- Tintin chose eleven o'clock on the eighteenth day as the designated moment. From
a scrap of a newspaper that he had, Tintin had found out that there would be a total
eclipse of the sun at that time. On the pyre, Tintin declared aloud, "O God of the
Sun, sublime Pachacamca, display thy power, I implore thee! ... if this sacrifice is not
they will, hide thy shining face from us." When the eclipse occurred immediately
after those words, the superstitious Incans were terrified and set them free.
- The group promised not to divulge the location of the Temple of the Sun, which
contained the Incan treasures that the Spanish conquerors had sought for so long in vain.
For their promised silence, they were rewarded with gold, diamonds and precious stones.
- Before he left, Captain Haddock spitted on a llama (which is of a different color
one from the others which had spitted on him) as his revenge, saying "I've nothing
against you personally, but that pays a very old debt."
While we may not have been completely fair here, there are clearly many elements
in this story that would not be considered politically correct today.
(posted by Roland Soong 4/6/98)
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