Yet Peeters squarely faces two issues that hang over Hergé’s career: his resort to ethnic and racial stereotypes, mainly in the early stories, and his record of accommodation in German-occupied Belgium.
The issues can’t be avoided. In both word and picture, the depiction of Africans in “Tintin in the Congo” makes your jaw drop. (“It’s very nice of these blacks to bear us triumphantly to our hotel!”) The villainous financier in “The Shooting Star” has a hooked nose and has been given the name Blumenstein. Some of this work was later revised, imperfectly. And “Tintin in the Congo” has been gingerly treated by publishers and libraries. As for accommodation, Hergé published “Tintin” throughout the war in the collaborationist newspaper Le Soir. Peeters doesn’t excuse any of this (who would?), though he does try to put it in context. He observes that Hergé’s prejudices were those of his time and place, and notes that the cartoonist, as he matured, acquired a more enlightened sensibility. In “The Blue Lotus,” Chinese ideograms on signs in the background say things like “Abolish unfair treaties!” and “Down with imperialism!” (These were drawn by an influential assistant, a French-speaking native of Shanghai named Zhang Chong Ren.) Hergé was not in essence a political man, publishing in Le Soir because collaborationist newspapers were the only ones allowed to exist.
I haven’t read the book, and I hope Peeters explores Herge’s misogyny in it, but if he does, why would Cullen leave that out of his review? Why does Peeters “squarely face two issues” but not that one? If Herge’s sexism is indeed left out, why doesn’t the reviewer ask the reason for the omission? Are women as unimportant in this story to the reviewer and biographer as they were to Herge?