Tin Tin in America, a comic in book form, is part of a series written by Helge in the 1930’s that depicted the adventures of a red headed hero and his dog Snowy. The comics were meant for a young audience and have been successful for over 60 years and translated in 70 languages. The title that has offended certain people in Winnipeg is Tin Tin In America, which reflects the 1940’s Hollywood representation of Native people as bloodthirsty savages who capture poor Tin Tin. Keep in mind this is a comic book; it doesn’t come close to John Ford’s brutal depiction of First Nations in his movies that had John Wayne as the star and are seen on television frequently.
“Following yesterday’s media coverage of this topic, we proactively ask that copies of Tin Tin in America be sent to our selectors for review,” Winnipeg communication officer Michelle Finley told the CBC. One can understand the library’s stance. Winnipeg recently received some bad press from Maclean’s magazine, and the Winnipeg Library didn’t want to add fuel to the fire. Professor Niigaan Sinclair gave an explanation of their decision: “The problem is when you show Indians carrying weapons coming out of the 15th, 16th centuries always invested in violence, deficiency, and loss, then [children] think that is what First Nations culture is. When they see a First Nations person riding the bus, going to a job, they can’t conceive the reconcilability of those two things.”
Perhaps professor Sinclair is right, but if you start with a comic book, where does it stop? Children can handle cell phones today with more dexterity than their parents, and their understanding of the world is a lot more developed than any generation that came before them. Does a child being made aware of the last World Wars also look upon Japanese and Germans as evil people? I doubt it. Once introduced to history, children come to accept the bravery and the atrocities of the past as simply the past. There is an intuitive understanding of history that age and advanced schooling will turn into knowledge. Censorship has no place here. We are talking about a comic, a form of expression that uses exaggeration as a tool.
George Remi was a Belgian cartoonist who’s pen name was Helge, famous for his ligne claire (clear line) style. His main character Tin Tin was a young reporter/adventurer who found himself in trouble in exotic countries. The plots were well crafted, usually a synthesis of the adventure/action hero that was popular in movies and books the 1930’s and 1940’s, mixed in with eccentric characters such as his best friend Captain Haddock. There was also a dash of slapstick humour usually supplied by Professor Calculus and the bungling twins a.k.a. private eyes Thompson and Thompson. If you took Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones and crossed it with the Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther, the result would be an adult version of Tin Tin.
Unfortunately, Helge never visited America or most of the countries in which he set his stories. His knowledge of First Nations people would have been taken from the movies of the period and perhaps from the German author Karl May, who became a successful writer in Europe with stories of Old Shatterhand and the American frontier. The book in question, Tin Tin in America, is set in the late thirties, but the Natives depicted in the comic belong in the 1870’s when American Indians were at war with the US Calvary. It’s a rather large mistake that is beyond creative licence, but was it intentionally racist? Perhaps not, and considering it was written more than a half century ago by an author who had never met a First Nations person, the question remains, should the Winnipeg Library have taken off the shelves? No, because if you do, then you should also remove The Last of the Mohicans.