Tintin au Congo is Hergé’s second album of cartoons in the series ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ about a Belgian investigative journalist reporting on world affairs. Tintin’s trip to the Congo is sandwiched between his investigative journeys to the Soviet Union and to America.
There are three versions of the Tintin au Congo album. The first was published in 1931, in black and white. The second is a coloured version from 1946, from which Hergé pruned his prejudiced view of the Congolese. The third version appeared in 1975, and contained changes aimed at making the story more animal-friendly.
One of Hergé’s 1946 modifications is a box in which Tintin, together with his faithful dog Snowy, stands in front of a class of Congolese schoolchildren. In the 1931 version, Tintin is giving them a history lesson about their fatherland, Belgium. In the 1946 impression, this history lesson is changed to a lesson in arithmetic. The text has been changed from ‘My dear friends, today I am going to talk to you about your country: Belgium!’ to ‘We’ll start, if you don’t mind, with some sums. Who can tell me what two plus two is. … No one? … Here it is, two plus two … Two plus two equals …’. In spite of the dropping of the national subjection, Tintin is still clearly very much in control, and the associated national pride is still very much present. The master-pupil relationship remains the same, and what’s more the pupils – unlike Snowy the dog – remain mute in this frame.
Tintin’s superiority in this comic album is indicative of the prevailing colonial relations at the time Tintin was created. As a role model of the ideal Belgian, Tintin is able to improve the lot of the Congolese with help from God and Western values and inventions. As a doctor, teacher, leader, engineer, military leader and peacemaker, Tintin purposefully leads the way along the path of progress – and the Congolese idolise him for it. The popularity of this comic, which was originally published in the weekly youth supplement to Belgian daily newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle, played a significant role in the formation of young people’s ideas about the Congo. The story, and this specific frame, are far removed from forms of education that take the basic equality of all as their starting point.