Adventures of Tintin: Land of Black Gold

By Hergé, and others, translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper & Michael Turner (Egmont UK)
ISBN: 978-1-40520-814-7 (HB) 978-1-40520-626-6 (TPB)

Georges Prosper Remi, known all over the world as Hergé, created an incontrovertible masterpiece of graphic literature with his tales of a plucky boy reporter and his entourage of iconic associates.

Singly, and later with assistants including Edgar P. Jacobs, Bob de Moor and other supreme stylists of the select Hergé Studio, he created 23 splendid volumes (originally produced in brief instalments for a variety of periodicals) that have grown beyond their popular culture roots and attained the status of High Art.

On leaving school in 1925, he worked for the conservative Catholic newspaper Le Vingtiéme Siécle where he fell under the influence of its Svengali-esque editor Abbot Norbert Wallez. A devoted boy scout, Remi produced his first strip series The Adventures of Totor for the monthly Boy Scouts of Belgium magazine the following year, and by 1928 was in charge of producing the contents of the newspaper’s weekly children’s supplement Le Petit Vingtiéme.

He was illustrating The Adventures of Flup, Nénesse, Poussette and Cochonette, written by the staff sports reporter when Wallez asked Remi to create a new adventure series. Perhaps a young reporter who roamed the world, doing good whilst displaying solid Catholic values and virtues?

The rest is history…

Some of that history is quite dark: During the Nazi Occupation of Belgium, Le Vingtiéme Siécle was closed down and Hergé was compelled to move his popular strip to daily newspaper Le Soir (Brussels’ most prominent French-language periodical, and thus appropriated and controlled by the Nazis).

He diligently toiled on for the duration, but following Belgium’s liberation was accused of collaboration and even being a Nazi sympathiser. It took the intervention of Belgian Resistance war-hero Raymond Leblanc to dispel the cloud over Hergé, which he did by simply vouching for the cartoonist and by providing cash to create a new magazine – Le Journal de Tintin – which Leblanc published and managed. The anthology comic swiftly achieved a weekly circulation in the hundreds of thousands and allowed the artist and his team to remaster past tales: excising material dictated by and unwillingly added to ideologically shade the war time adventures as well as generally improving and updating great tales that were about to become a global phenomenon.

With World War II over and his reputation restored, Hergé entered the most successful period of his artistic career. He had mastered his storytelling craft, possessed a dedicated audience eager for his every effort and was finally able to say exactly what he wanted in his work, free from fear or censure. But although these freedoms seemed to guarantee a new beginning the life of the creator was far from trouble-free.

In 1949 he returned to Tintin au pays de l’or noir which had been abandoned when the Nazis invaded Belgium. The story had been commissioned by Le Vingtiéme Siécle, running from 28th September 1939 until 8th May 1940 when the paper was closed down. Set on the eve of a European war, the plot revolved around Tintin hunting seditionists and saboteurs sabotaging oil supplies in the Middle East…

Now safely able to resume the tale – with some necessary updating – the story began afresh on 16th of September 1948 and ran to its conclusion on February 23rd 1950, and was promptly collected into a full-colour album the same year. It remained problematical: and publication was suspended on August 4th 1949 until 27th October. Hergé had suffered a nervous breakdown and could not work for months. As he recuperated in Switzerland, the magazine turned disaster into a publicity stunt: declaring “Shocking News! Hergé has Disappeared!” It is a tribute to his skills and those of his studio team that the finished tale reveals none of his personal problems, but is an almost seamless and riveting yarn of political and criminal gangsterism; exotic, rocket-paced, surreal, hilarious and breathtakingly exciting.

The story concerns a plot to destabilise global peace by sabotaging petrol. All oil is somehow made more flammable, causing engines to explode when refuelled. Tintin traces the sabotage to the freighter Speedol Star, which he joins as Radio Officer. The dim-witted detectives Thomson and Thompson are also aboard, but much less discreetly, and soon all three are the targets of a numbers of attacks and assaults. When the ship reaches the Arabian port of Khemikhal they are all framed as drug smugglers and arrested.

At that moment Tintin is abducted by rebel tribesmen who believe he is a gunrunner and the now-vindicated detectives go in search of their friend in the desert. After many hardships the intrepid boy and Snowy discover villainous spymaster Doctor Müller (last seen in The Black Island) is trying to ingratiate himself with the oil-rich Emir. Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab is wise and tolerant, but “blessed” with a wilful and spoiled son, Abdullah, who is kidnapped when he rejects the doctor’s offers. Tintin befriends the Ruler and goes undercover to find the Prince.

Tracking down Müller, Tintin attempts to rescue the prince (whose incessant practical jokes have made him a most unpopular but un-chastisable captive), only to be trapped in a brutal fire-fight in the catacombs beneath the spy’s villa. From nowhere, Captain Haddock (a supremely popular mainstay of latter adventures but unknown at the time of the first iteration) effects a rescue and the plot is revealed and thwarted. He bombastically first appeared after the original Land of Black Gold was abandoned, in The Crab with the Golden Claws and would increasingly steal the spotlight from his goody-goody juvenile partner…

Action-packed and visually delightful, this breezy mystery-thriller is full of humour and chases, with only the last-minute arrival of the dipsomaniac sea captain to slightly jar the proceedings. Presumably the original pages were recycled as much as possible with the popular Haddock inserted at a new breakpoint.

Studio Hergé was formed in 1950 to produce the adventures of Tintin as well other features and Bob De Moor became an invaluable and permanent addition to the production team, filling in backgrounds and most notably rendering the unforgettable Lunar landscapes that feature in the next extended adventure. He was also a vital component of Tintin’s gradual domination of the book market. Frequently despatched on visual fact-finding missions, De Moor revised the backgrounds of The Black Island for a British edition, and repeated the task for the definitive 1971 release of Land of Black Gold. The 1950s book was set in British-Occupied Palestine, but history and taste dictated the creation of a fictitious nation and erasure of many dated and contentious background scenes…

Surviving a troubled genesis, this short tale remains a grand adventure romp, full of epic events and hilarious moments once seen can never be forgotten. This so-modern yarn is a high point in the series, blending heroism and drama with genuine moments of irresistible emotion and side-splitting comedy.

Land of Black Gold: artwork © 1950, 1977 Editions Casterman, Paris & Tournai.
Text © 1972 Egmont UK Limited. All Rights Reserved.