Fundamental Comics: ‘The Adventures of Tintin: The Crab with the Golden Claws’ and Cosmopolitanism

“Fundamental Comics,” is a monthly editorial series that introduces readers to comics, graphic novels, and manga that have been impactful to the sequential art medium and the comic book industry on a foundational level. Each month, a new essay examines a familiar or less-known title through an in-depth analysis, exploring the history of the title, significant themes, and context for the title’s popularity since it was first released.


The Adventures of Tintin: The Crab with the Golden Claws
Writer: Hergé
Artist: Hergé
Colorist: Uncredited
Letterer: Neil Hyslop (English versions)
Publisher: Casterman
Publication Date: 1941 (black-and-white version), 1943 (colorized)
No. of Issues: 1 collection


Introduction

The ninth volume of the twenty-four-volume run of Hergé’s Tintin, The Crab with the Golden Claws is a milestone within the universally popular series. It was the first story to introduce Captain Haddock who would become Tintin’s best (non-canine) friend, and it continued to build upon Tintin’s image as a cosmopolitan (citizen of the world), an especially important and subversive quality, since the comic had been created during Nazi-occupied Belgium during World War 2. Though there are numerous volumes in the series, a reader curious about Tintin could easily start their journey with The Crab with the Golden Claws which hits all the beats of what makes a Tintin comic so standout and beloved.


The Plot of The Crab with the Golden Claws

Walking along the streets one day, a curious Snowy investigates a rubbish bin, only to get his nose stuck inside a tin of crab meat. After freeing Snowy, Tintin joins the detectives Thomson and Thompson for drinks who clue him in on their newest case: a dead sailor and counterfeit monies. While looking at the evidence, Tintin happens upon a scrap paper, one from a label torn from the tin of crab meat. Written on it is the name of a ship: the Karaboudjan.

Investigating the boat, Tintin is apprehended by the ship’s crew who are using the boat as part of an opium smuggling operation: hiding the opium in the crab meat tins. Tintin escapes from his binds with the help of Snowy and enlists the help of the ship’s captain, Haddock, who is kept in a perpetual state of drunkenness from his mutinous crew. The trio flee on a lifeboat, which a drunk Haddock sets aflame in order to keep warm. A seaplane from the Karaboudjan finds Tintin and company and opens fire on them. An ace shot from Tintin’s gun brings the plane down; they commandeer it and attempt to fly it to land. Being caught in a thunderstorm, they crash land in the deserts of Morocco.

The three are eventually rescued by the soldiers of a French outpost. There, they learn of the supposed sinking of Karaboudjan which, in reality, has been disguised as a new ship. The soldiers escort Tintin, Snowy, and Haddock to the port city of Bagghar, so they can investigate further.  

In the city, Haddock identifies his old ship while Tintin and Snowy infiltrate the opium smuggler’s hide-out, spearheaded by a local dignitary. With the aid of the local police and Thomson and Thompson, the smugglers are eventually apprehended after a few rounds of fisticuffs, gun fights, and boat chases.


Reception

Prior to the publication/serialization of The Crab with the Golden Claws, Hergé and Tintin were enjoying much success in Europe. The publication of The Crab with the Golden Claws arrived at a time of transition for Tintin. Firstly, there was the change in format that Hergé had to adapt for the comic. Prior to the war, when Tintin was serialized in Le Vingtième Siècle, Hergé had greater artistic freedom with the layout, height, and width of his panels and art. After Nazi occupation, Tintin moved to the Le Soir publication, where it was the victim of encroaching ad space and artistic constraints, causing the strip to shrink (Sanders, 128-131).

Despite this setback, the comic would eventually be reformatted, colorized, and collected for the international market. The volume found success in the United Kingdom with The Times Literary Suppliment, calling it “a really first-rate comic strip” (Perrone). Conversely in the U.S., The Golden Press edition of the comic was met with poor sales, although it was reviewed favorably by Newsweek (Owens).




Critical Analysis

The Crab with the Golden Claws brings many qualities to the Tintin canon, in particular its introduction Captain Haddock, a primary and important character, and its solidification of Tintin as a cosmopolitan character and a globetrotting reporter.  Initially, Haddock was a well-intentioned foil to Tintin, as his drunken shenanigans often caused (unintentional) setbacks to Tintin and Snowy, such as setting their lifeboat on fire to keep warm and clubbing Tintin on the head with a bottle while piloting an airplane causing them to crash. In subsequent comics, Haddock becomes Tintin’s best friend and, aside from Thomson and Thompson (who were introduced prior in Cigars of the Pharaoh), the first major addition to the Tintin cast, eventually followed by the likes of Professor Calculus and Bianca Castafiore.

Early volumes and strips of Tintin have been the source of controversy in regards to racism and colonialism, particularly in Tintin in the Congo and Tintin in the Land of the Soviets. Hergé would often revisit these early works, updating them not just to have them colorized and re-lettered, but also to excise the offending elements from them. Though some of these colonial elements persist in the Tintin comics, scholar Rashmila Maiti takes a different stance on the subject, classifying Tintin as a cosmopolitan character: “Tintin is citizen of the world and believes in doing good for everyone: classic characteristics of cosmopolitanism. He helps strangers outside his immediate circle of associates and fellow countrymen and learning from other cultures” (Maiti).

Maiti provides multiple examples of Tintin’s cosmopolitan qualities, including fighting opium smugglers in Cigars of the Pharaoh, which, of course, mimics Tintin’s actions in The Crab with the Golden Claws. Within this specific comic, Tintin is shown mingling with the populace of the fictional Moroccan port city of Bagghar and traveling with Islamic soldiers in the desert. There are no hints of xenophobia from any of Tintin’s interactions. This quality of Tintin is particularly subversive considering Hergé had written it during Nazi-occupied Belgium in 1940/41, when they controlled the papers (and thus the content) that Hergé was published in. Even in today’s society of increasing xenophobia, in particular Muslims (or any race for that matter), Tintin’s cosmopolitan traits and mutual respect for other cultures are something that should be taken to heart.



Tintin’s adoration for other cultures goes hand in hand with his globetrotting escapades and thus his occupation as a reporter is apropos. Scholar Vanessa Meikle Schulman points out a sentiment shared by Tintin critics: “Constantly described as a ‘reporter’ but rarely appearing to do a report” (Sanders, 68). The idea here is that Tintin, as a reporter, should be engaged in the act of reporting (interviewing, photojournalism, etc.), tasks which he does in the early volumes, but apparently abandons further in the Tintin run. The Crab with the Golden Claws appears to be lacking in reporting, as Tintin’s adventure begins innocently enough with him stumbling across the discarded crab tin and being swept up in the adventure. At the end of the comic though, a radio broadcast states “it is thanks to the young reporter, Tintin, that the entire organisation of the Crab with the Golden Claws today find themselves behind bars” (Hergé, 61). It can be surmised that Tintin has completed his actual reporting off the panel and after the fact, which then can be extrapolated that Tintin’s reporting occupation and tasks are also done off the panel between the volumes. This makes sense, as panel real estate should be focused on Tintin’s adventure proper, and not the occupational tasks. This is an idea fully explored and parodied in the film, Hot Fuzz (2007, Wright) in which paperwork and other tedium of police work is portrayed. A policeman bogged down with reports doesn’t make much for an exciting film, just as a reporter chained to his typewriter and fact-checking doesn’t make an exciting comic book adventure. Besides, who has time to pen their op-ed piece when being shot at by opium smugglers?


Relevancy Today

From its beginnings as a strip in the Belgian Le Vingtième Siècle and its subsequent serialization in Le Soir before finally finding its home in Le Journal de Tintin and collected editions, Tintin has become one of the most popular European comics. Though not as popular in the States as it is in Europe, the Tintin media empire is quite prevalent: There are books, cartoons, films, boutiques, figurines, art, toys, and so on. The Crab with the Golden Claws enjoys quite a bit of privilege when compared to other volumes in the Tintin line. Young American Millennials growing up watching Nickelodeon in the early '90s would’ve been able to catch the Nelvana-produced The Adventures of Tintin cartoon which faithfully adapted stories from the comic’s volumes, including The Crab with the Golden Claws which encompassed the first two episodes of the first season.



More recently, interest in Tintin was rejuvenated when Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg teamed up to produce and direct the computer-animated, feature-length film, The Adventures of Tintin, in 2011. The film adapts and combines plot elements from three Tintin adventures: Red Rackham’s Treasure, The Secret of the Unicorn, and of course, The Crab with the Golden Claws. In regards to The Crab with the Golden Claws, the film adapts the sequences of Tintin meeting Captain Haddock onboard the Karaboudjan, and like in the comic version, the captain is in a perpetual state of drunkenness due to his mutinous crew. The film, as in the comic, has Tintin, Snowy, and Haddock escape the ship on a life raft, where they are then pursued by a plane. The trio are able to commandeer the plane and fly it to the Moroccan desert where they crash land due to a thunderstorm. The character of Omar Ben Salaad is also present in the film; however, instead of being a mastermind behind the opium ring, he is instead one of the owners of the model ship that contains a scroll fragment. The film was commercially and critically successful, though plans for subsequent films have been in various states of limbo for the past seven years.




Bibliography

Hergé. The Crab with the Golden Claws. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1974.

Maiti, Rashmila. “Cosmopolitanism in Tintin.” Paper presented at the Popular/American Culture Association Conference, Albuquerque, NM, February 2014.

Owens, Chris. “Tintin Crosses The Atlantic: The Golden Press Affair.” Tintinologist. Last modified January 2007. http://www.tintinologist.org/articles/goldenpress.html.

Perrone, Pierre. “Michael Turner: Translator and publisher who brought Tintin to a British audience.” Independent. Last modified October 2, 2009. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/michael-turner-translator-and-publisher-who-brought-tintin-to-a-british-audience-1796284.html.

Sanders, Joe Sutliff. “Hergé’s Occupations: How the Creator of Tintin Made a Deal with the Devil and Became a Better Cartoonist.” In The Comics of Hergé: When the Lines Are Not So Clear, edited by Joe Sutliff Sanders, 126-140. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi, 2016.

Schulman, Vanessa Meikle. “Alph-Art, B-Movies, Cast Corpses: Death by Sculpture and Hergé’s Middle Ground.” In The Comics of Hergé: When the Lines Are Not So Clear, edited by Joe Sutliff Sanders, 62-76. Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi, 2016.


Last modified on Wednesday, 26 September 2018 15:19

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