Tintin and the Picaros and the Mansion of Gods Comics

Comics are considered among the most powerful and influential media that influence the perceptions, beliefs, attitudes and even the behaviors of society. It is not surprising, therefore, that cartoonists and cartoon characters have often been highly politicized, usually with the objective of passing a message or an agenda, or creating new outlooks for society to think of. Tintin and Asterix are perhaps among the most popular and global of comic characters that were ever created in the twentieth centuries. Interestingly, both characters were created by French cartoonists. Both characters are also frequently found in the middle of conflicts between cultures. However, one cannot miss the fact that both Tintin and Asterix have often been means through which their creators treated other cultures and civilizations in a patronizing and condescending manner.

In Hergé’s Tintin and the Picaros Tintin and his friends set off for an adventure in one of Latin America’s revolutionary countries. The dual nature of this country, San Theodoros, is made obvious from the beginning. On the one hand, there are the uncivilized and ‘savage’ tribesmen, and on the other hand, there are the revolutionaries and the lazy and drunken soldiers.

San Theodoros is listed among the Latin American countries of Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador. The way these countries are grouped and listed together in such a way that makes the reader perceive these countries as having many cultural similarities in common. The cultural traits that are focused on, both among the tribesmen and the urbanized soldiers are the problem of drinking, stupidity and laziness.

Tintin had been to this country on a previous visit and now that he is there, he asks about the tribesmen, the response was, “Dispomaniacs! That’s what ‘civilization’ has done for those savages.”

Tintin and his friends express a condescending manner towards the natives, both tribesmen and military, particularly making fun of their cultural values, traditions, and behaviors. Even though Hergé admits the patronizing tone when he makes one of the villagers answer Tintin angrily about a remark Tintin had made about the whisky made by the people of the tribe, “Disgusting? When you travel, you try to respect local customs! Otherwise, you stay at home.”

The tone is then directed at the generals and army officers. Hergé makes revolution in the ‘banana republics’ appear as if it is a natural tradition among the people of that part of the world. When Tintin puts a condition for his participation in the revolution that there would be no executions, the Field Marshall answers him, “A revolution without executions? Without reprisals? Caramba! It’s unthinkable. You must be joking! And anyway, what about tradition? Yes, what about tradition? Eh? Answer me that!”

Hodder Dargaud’s Asterix bears and reflects a similar condescending tone, usually against the Romans who are pictured as stupid, cowards, and oppressive, whereas the Gauls, the ancestors of the French, are presented as if they were more human, more simplistic, and more natural. In The Mansion of Gods, Dargaud even expresses mockery at the slaves who were victimized and ruled by the Romans. Mockery is expressed at the way in which the slaves think, behave or even exist. In one comment on the black leader of the slaves, Asterix says, “Poor chap…how was he to know a Numidian wouldn’t necessarily be a blackleg?”

Yet, more mockery and cultural criticism is depicted when Asterix and his Gaul friends give the magic power potion to the slaves to rebel against their masters. The rebel is bought out when the slaves agree to go back to work if they are paid more and if their demands for better working conditions are met. Asterix is shocked by their behavior and exclaims, “I thought you were going to rebel against the Romans and stop work!”

However, the sophisticated language in which the slaves made their demands was itself a way of mocking them and their low intelligence and superficiality, especially when their leader speaks to the Roman governor saying, “We’ve decided that it’s time for a little collective bargaining: We want to be paid, and set free as soon as the first block is finished….and of course we also want paid holidays, overtime, the gradual phasing out of the whip, a ban on chains, and decent accommodation.”

But once these demands are met and the slaves are set free, the slaves find themselves in a funny situation as expressed by their leader, “What are we going to do now we’re free?”

Apparently, this is a reflection on the third world countries and especially the people of Africa and Asia who suddenly found themselves free but did not know what to do with their freedom.

Both Hergé and Dargaud wrote at a time when the French colonial culture was still strong. They both entertained millions of readers and children all over the world, but at the same time, they also mocked other cultures and the representatives of these cultures in ways that reflected the superiority of the French nation and at the expense of other cultures and civilizations. Mockery is very obvious in both selected works, and it is not only based on the use of words or names, but also on the entire way in which culture is depicted and reflected. Yet, to what degree mockery and cultural discrimination have affected the masses of readers over the years is a matter that is left to guessing.

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