Tintin makes $1.4 million at auction (and waves in court)

Bronze statue of Tintin and Snowy by Nat NeujeanA Paris auction of original Tintin art by Belgian creator Hergé and memorabilia has taken in almost $1.4 million (1.09 million euros). The May 29th sale at the Drouot-Montaigne auction house offered 230 Tintin-themed pieces from 70 collectors, some of which even Moulinsart, Hergé’s foundation and a partner in the sale, had no idea existed.

The most expensive lot was an original inked and water-painted two-page spread from “King Ottokar’s Sceptre”, which sold for 243,750 euros ($299,620), 43,750 euros above its top estimate. It was bought by a Belgian collector, as were many of the items on sale.

An extremely rare life-size bronze statue of Tintin and Snowy by artist Nat Neujean sold for 125,000 euros ($153,650), well within the estimate price range but a world record for a Neujean piece. There are only four other copies of this statue in the world. It’s going to live in Belgium too, although it was purchased by a French gallery owner. He’s going to put it on display in his gallery in Brussels. Prediction: he’s going to get a lot more Belgian visitors to his gallery from now on.

Tintin and the Sea ShellsOne of the most unique items on sale was an original Hergé gouache called “Tintin and the Sea Shells” that he made in 1947 as a birthday present for a friend of his who had a large sea shell collection. It shows Tintin, Captain Haddock and Snowy wandering on a beach littered with huge sea shells. Professor Calculus and walks behind them holding his trusty pendulum while looking at the ocean. It’s surreal and whimsical and generally awesome. The piece was priced at 70,000 euros but sold for almost twice that, 131,250 euros ($160,800).

There were also a variety of more affordable items on the block, including original lithographs and panels priced at 2,000 – 3,000 euros, plus personal belongings of Hergé’s, like scarves, paperweights and colored pencil boxes.

It’s not all happy sea shells and wads of cash in Tintinland, however. Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, a Congolese man who lives in Brussels, is suing Moulinsart and Tintin comic book publishers Casterman to get “Tintin in the Congo” taken off the shelves in Belgium and France.

The book is hugely racist, of course, packed with offensive caricatures of Africans, and particularly offensive to the Congolese given the ugly history of Belgian colonialism which became a poster child for the most brutal, bloody European exploitation of African people and resources. When Hergé wrote the book in 1931, the Congo was still a Belgian colony and would remain one for 3 decades or so.

From a Time magazine article on the lawsuit:

Hergé, who had never visited Congo, was just 23 when he wrote the book, which he was persuaded to do as part of a government-led initiative to encourage Belgians to take up commissions in Congo. But Mbutu Mondondo says it served — and still serves — to prop up a sanitized account of Belgium’s colonialism. “It twists history to suggest that everything was happy and fun,” he says. “In reality, it was a tragic, hurtful time.”

Belgian Congo was one of the most bloody and cruel colonial regimes in Africa. The original inspiration for Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, it was claimed for King Leopold II in 1885 by the explorer Henry Morton Stanley. For 23 years, the area — the size of France, Germany, Norway, Spain and Sweden combined — was the King’s personal possession. Leopold’s agents pioneered a ruthless forced-labor system for gathering wild rubber: villages that failed to meet the rubber-collection quotas were required to pay the remaining amount in amputated hands. Some estimates say Congo’s population fell by 10 million during that time.

Mondondo has already pressed criminal charges, but the case has been winding its way through the courts for 3 years, so last month he upped the ante and filed the civil suit. Moulinsart’s lawyer Alain Berenboom considers the legal case the equivalent of book burning.

Fair enough, but Berenboom also denies that “Tintin in the Congo” is racist at all. “It has never caused public order problems, including in Africa” he says, as if racism were defined by “public order problems” the images cause. Even Hergé himself acknowledged that he had depicted a naive fantasy of Belgian colonialism in the comic. Later in life he would refer to the book as “the sin of his youth.”

The natives take Tintin to see their leader in "Tintin in the Congo"

11 thoughts on “Tintin makes $1.4 million at auction (and waves in court)

  1. He’s also wrong. I clearly remember the US having a problem with “Tintin in Congo” a few years ago and got it banned from the shops (at least in the New York area I believe).

    For a clear understanding: you don’t find the comic here in Belgium unless you specifically go looking for it in specialised shops… I’m from Belgium and haven’t seen it at all. I picked up some panels and that’s pretty much it.

    It IS incredible racist and Belgium should not hide behind the fact that king Leopold II started the butchering, however I do believe that the spirit of that age was just that: racist. They needed to show an unrealistic Congo to lure people to their colonoy.
    I, personally, do not believe you can sue a comic book from 1931 because by your “modern” standards it is racist, just the same as you cannot sue Leni Riefenstahl for filming Triumph des Willens three-four years later.
    In that sense, I understand mister Berenboom’s comparison to a bookburning: whatever doesn’t fit your modern standards gets sued… it has been done in the past and it always brought trouble.

    Again, it does not mean that the book should be read by everyone as it is indeed very racist. To my knowledge (but I do not tend to venture into Brussels a lot) the comic book is hard to find and people have to take special effort to even get near a copy.

    1. Regarding the modern standards issue, I’d be amazed if there weren’t people who thought it was racist even in 1931. There were plenty of people who thought slavery abhorrent back when Thomas Jefferson was having sex with Sally Hemmings, for instance; they just aren’t the voices that got the most attention then or now.

      As far as the lawsuit and criminal case are concerned, I have no idea what the applicable Belgian laws are. Do y’all have hate speech statutes?

    2. Must’ve just been in New York, I’m in Seattle and I’m 99% sure that ‘Tintin in the Congo’ adventure is included in one of the trade books I have as a set (Each trade has three stories in it.) Unfortunately, they are all in storage at the moment so I can’t check. I’ve definitely read it before, so if it isn’t I have no clue where would have seen it; definitely don’t know anyone else who has any Tintin books. Most people I’ve asked have no clue wtf I’m talking about when I try to explain how awesome Snowy is.

      I still don’t think you should destroy a book for being offensive, regardless. Shit, Mein Kampf is still running around isn’t it? I read a bit of the Marque De Sade (sp?) the other day on Google Books, now that is offensive! Yet is allowed to exist in a completely free format, lol. Also, one could argue that any religious text not their own is offensive to them…does that mean it’s burn time?

      Standard old horseshit, I want none of it on these shoes thank you kindly.

      1. I’m not in favor of book bannings either, especially if as Roy says the book is so rare a find on Belgian shelves. Ultimately I think the guy is suing to make a point more than anything.

        I have a copy of the 1970 edition of Tintin au Congo, incidentally. I have almost all of them, also all the original Asterixes.

  2. I’m not familiar with the ideas of 1931 but I would believe there were many people who indeed saw it as a piece of racism, yes.

    We have quite an active Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism but considering this tidbit didn’t filter through the media I follow, I would think they are not involved (either as a consultant or as a fellow sue-er). That should give a clear signal that those involved on a daily basis with equal rights (like that Centre) understand that a book of 80 years ago can’t be sued. However, it might be different if the comic was widely available overhere…
    I believe that if mister Mondondo succeeds (which I highly doubt) in his attempt, the ban wouldn’t do much. I checked in three specialised comic book stores in my city (comic book stores are pretty rare, btw, we just buy our comics in supermarkets) and none of them had them nor had any intend to ever sell them.

    1. I think you’re right that the ban would be a symbolic gesture rather than effectuate any actual change. I would hope that’s Mondondo’s point, to make some noise, to get attention paid, because neither of these cases are likely to go anywhere.

      Book bans are shady no matter which side you’re on. More often than not what gets banned is something you wouldn’t want to see banned, and even if you do dislike the book in question, erasing history never works.

  3. Yeah, like Harry Potter. Bunch of stupid idiots (who happen to be Christians go figure), attempted to have all the Harry Potter books banned from my niece and nephew’s PUBLIC elementary school. :facepalm:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.