By Hergé, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK/Mammoth)
ISBN: 978-1-4052-1244-1 (HB) 978-0-74970-385-1 (PB)
George Remi, world famous as Hergé, had a long creative connection to Catholicism. At the behest of Abbot Norbert Wallez, editor of Belgian Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siécle, he had created Tintin before moving on to such strips as the mischievous Quick and Flupke, Tim the Squirrel in the Far West’, ‘The Amiable Mr. Mops’, ‘Tom and Millie’ and ‘Popol Out West’ – all while continuing and expanding the globe-trotting adventures of the dauntless boy reporter and his faithful little dog.
In 1935, between working on serialised Tintin epics The Blue Lotus and The Broken Ear, Remi was approached by Father Courtois, director of the French weekly newspaper Coeurs Vaillants (Valiant Hearts). The paper already carried the daily exploits of Hergé’s undisputed star-turn, but Courtois also wanted a strip depicting solid family values and situations that the seemingly-orphaned and independent boy reporter was never exposed to.
He also presumably wanted something less subversive than the mischievous, trouble-making working-class boy rascals Quick and Flupke…
The proposed feature needed a set of characters typifying a decent, normal family: A working father, a housewife and mother, young boy, a sister, even a pet. Apparently inspired by a toy monkey called Jocko, Hergé devised the family Legrand.
Jacques was an engineer, and son Jo and daughter Zette were average kids; bright, brave, honest, smart and yet still playful. Mother stayed home, cooking and being rather concerned rather a lot. They had a small, feisty monkey for a pet – although I suspect as Jocko was tailless, he might have been a baby chimpanzee, which “As Any Fule Kno” is actually a species of ape.
The first adventure was a two-volume treasure: ‘The Secret Ray’ – only once published in English and consequently rarer than Hen’s teeth or monkey feathers. A ripping yarn of scientific bandits, gangsters, mad professors, robots and, regrettably, some rather ethnically unsound incidences of cannibal savages, this is very much a product of its time in too many respects.
Although Hergé came to deeply regret (and wherever possible amend) his many early uses of that era’s racial stereotyping, the island dwelling natives in Le “Manitoba” Ne Répond Plus and L’ Éruption Du Karamako (which originally ran in Coeurs Vaillants from January 19th 1936 to June 1937) will now always be controversial.
It’s a true pity that such masterful and joyous work has to be viewed with caution, read strictly in context and must be ascribed subtext and values which may never have been intended, merely because the medium is pictorial and its meaning passively acquired rather than textual, and which can therefore only be decoded by the conscious effort of reading.
I also wonder how much was a quiet, sensitive artist led by an aggressively proselytising, missionary Church’s doctrine and policy…
How much Church opposition was there to Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in October 1935 for example? And don’t get me started on Nazi Germany and the Vatican…
Sorry. Rant brakes have been applied now…
The last completed adventure of the boldly capable Legrand family came out in the 1950’s, when Hergé was at the peak of his creative powers. Although he found the concept a difficult one to work with, devoid of the opportunities for satire or social commentary, the wholesome derring-do of this series still provides thrilling and funny entertainment for kids of all ages.
Whilst vacationing in the Alps, Jo and Zette inadvertently fall foul of the whimsical and capricious Maharajah of Gopal, who is infuriated that they are better skiers than he. Matters only worsen when Jo accidentally hits the Maharajah with a snowball.
The spoiled, rich bully’s appalling behaviour escalates until eventually their father Jacques administers a long overdue spanking to the middle-aged potentate which completely changes his attitude. The much friendlier Maharajah promptly commissions the engineer to construct a bridge across the fabled Valley of the Cobras that divides his mountainous kingdom.
As the family embark for the sub-continent, all are unaware that the villainous Prime Minister of Gopal has colluded with a greedy Fakir to sabotage the project…
Begun in 1939 but shelved for nearly two decades, this is still a light exuberant romp, full of thrills and packed with laughs, executed with the captivating artistry that has made Tintin a global phenomenon. This is a book any child will adore and it baffles me why it and its companion volumes are out of print. Hopefully not for long though
© 1957, 2007 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai. All rights reserved. English text © 1986, 2005 Egmont UK Limited. All rights reserved.