Hey, kids, it’s me, Betty, your friendly neighbourhood forum moderator and web-mistress. Karen’s still on vacation, so this week I am your guest columnist! Due to circumstances that may or may not have involved the dog eating my homework, this column is a little late: please forgive me.
I can’t remember the first comic I read. I don’t think I noticed that comic books were any different than the picture books I picked up when I first learnt to read. It may have been a free Spider-man comic handed out by the police at the mall with a message about staying drug-free. It may have been a collection of rebound Prince Valiant that the library kept on an accessible lower shelf. But odds are very good it was actually either (a translation of) Asterix, or Tintin.
I won’t claim these were my favourite books to read; I’d certainly read any and all available, but that was my approach to any kind of written literature from the moment I learnt to read. But I did read and enjoy them, so I was somewhat surprised when some forum users pointed out that there are no female characters in Tintin who are of Tintin’s age.
In fact, upon reading this, I was seized by a sudden fear that there were no female characters. I wasn’t sure I could remember any. So I went to the library* and took out their entire selection of Tintin books: all two of them.
As a result of this randomized selection process, I borrowed ‘The Red Sea Sharks’ and ‘The Black Island,’ both of which I dimly remember reading in my youth. (What I did not remember was the racist caricatures on display in ‘The Red Sea Sharks.’ I don’t feel equal to going into it in the depth it deserves, but for now let me say that Herge seems to have a very clear melanin based hierarchy of character, where more melanin means less courage, wits, and dignity. I read this as a child?)
Regarding appearances by women, however, which had been my purpose in this project, I am happy to report there are several! In ‘The Red Sea Sharks’ there are possibly as many as twelve distinct women appearing in twenty-five panels, and in ‘The Black Island’ there are eight women, nine if I count a hat as a woman, in fifteen panels. Out of a total 122 pages.
And if I demand speaking roles,** my numbers go down. I haven’t counted Tintin’s concussions, but I’m confident in claiming that Tintin receives more comical blows to the head in The Black Island than there are women in appearing in both volumes together. Need I mention that Bechdel’s law is not a pass?
I begin to feel something other than nausea at the prospect of the romantic subplot that will almost inevitably be shoehorned into the Tintin movie (since apparently viewers need a comfortably formulaic plot, and there’s always a side-romance.) Either we’ll get a queer romance or an additional woman, and either way it’s a win.
As it is, I can’t think of a female character in Tintin that isn’t there for comic relief, or in a crowd scene, barely visible. When I was a child, I read myself into this story, but always as Tintin, never as any of the women. There were no women for me to be. I don’t know if quantum-Betty in the universe next-door, the one who read the version of Tintin that had plenty of well rounded female characters, is happier or better off, but I’m jealous of her all the same.
Discuss this column in the forum, here.
- For some reason, my library had all Tintin books filed under ‘Juvenile non-fiction.’ I imagine this may confuse some young readers, not to mention causing them some difficulties in geography.
** And if I’m counting speaking roles, is this a speaking role or not? Can anyone tell me if that’s actual written Arabic or a parody? I’m very embarrassed to confess, I can’t tell.