As a child, I used to rummage through the shelves of comics and graphic novels in the public libraries, for copies of the comic album “The Adventures of Tintin”. And to some extent – because I did not yet appreciate the satire and the socio-cultural or political commentary – given the features of “whodunit” and “howcatchem” throughout the 24 comics, as the young Belgian adventurer and reporter uncovered sinister plots, oftentimes in the fashion of a detective, Hergé’s series partly explain my eventual fascination with detective stories. Yet, even though the anti-communist “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets” is the first volume of the album, and the only story to be published in black-and-white, I never did read it previously.
Whereas the subsequent books have an ensemble of familiar characters, this first book centres solely on Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy. The overall pacing is speedy, moving from one brawl to the next espionage attempt to the capture as well as the escape (after a fight or a tussle, with Snowy coming to the rescue, or a stroke of luck or ingenuity), which – based on what I remember, of the other books – functions as the standard template too. The infallibility of the young protagonist comforts but also takes away the sense of suspense, since there is rarely doubt that Tintin would make it in the end.
And finally – given its title, “Tintin in the Land of the Soviets” – central to the comic is Soviet Russia and its socio-political stereotypes, and in this vein Tintin embodies “the West”, pitted against Joseph Stalin’s Bolshevik government. In other words, “the little bourgeois” that is Tintin is working to expose the ills of Communism in “the real Russia”: “Look what the Soviets have done to the beautiful city of Moscow: A stinking slum”, Tintin said. Which should come as no surprise, since Hergé published this during the interlude between the First and Second World Wars, and the volume itself was intended as anti-Communism propaganda. This is not my favourite book, with its one-dimensional characters and the somewhat disconnected plot points, and instead it is the promise of the 23 comics to follow that should prove to be more exciting.