Welcome to an extra edition of From Friendly Ghosts To Gamma Rays! We here are counting down the days to the big motion picture comic book adaptation of Herge’s The Adventures of Tintin, directed by Steven Spielberg. In these months approaching the big release of December here in the States, we are going to look at the body of work that was Herge’s entire run of the comic he worked on until his death. Today we start Part 1: In the Land of the Soviets.
In January 1929, Georges Prosper Remi under the pen name Herge started The Adventures of Tintin in the newspaper supplement Le Petit Vingtieme. The first story, Les Aventures de Tintin , reporter du “Petit Vingtieme,” au pays des Soviets (translates as The Adventures of Tintin, Reporter for the Petit Vingtieme, In The Land of The Soviets), introduces us to Tintin and his dog Snowy, as they travel to the Soviet Union to report on the new socialist state. However, even before Tintin can get off the train, the OGPU, the Soviet secret police, begin numerous attempts to stop Tintin reporting. Tintin makes it off the train, only to be detained, chased, tortured, etc., numerous times by the Soviets. With the help of Snowy and just plain luck, Tintin somehow makes it out alive and returns home.
Published from January of 1929 to May of 1930, Herge’s first adventure with Tintin is a lot simpler with more of a traditional comic strip feel than the later tales he’d take us on. The art is simpler than later stories, with the pages mostly each divided into three to six simple blocks, composed of a start, a laugh, and cliff hanger ending, until the final page of the tale. It was collected and first published in book form in 1930, however, after that, In The Land of The Soviets kind of disappeared. Herge himself thought little of the anti-Marxist piece, dubbing it a “transgression of my youth.” So later on starting in 1942 when Herge began to touch-up and color many of the
Tintin stories, he skipped this one. However, as time went on numerous pirated editions of the book appeared, and so finally, although it would not be redrawn or colored, it was reprinted in 1969 for its 40th birthday in a limited number of copies. However, the limited copies just caused more piracy all over Europe, and so in 1973 it was released again as part of the collection. Also interesting, even though Tintin was becoming known world wide, it took until 1989 before it was translated into English, far after other Tintin tales in our language.
A “transgression” of his youth or not, In The Land of The Soviets is still a great piece, and an example of why Herge would become the most beloved artist in Europe until this day, many years after his death. Although some items are inaccurate of the Soviet Union at the time, many things in the story, such as members of the party using guns to oppress the citizens voting against them to stay in charge, are a page out of history. The humor is universal, as well, with many of the gags being great silent movie slapstick-like, like Keaton and others of the time. Amazing sequences include this brilliant section where a trail of oil coming from Tintin’s car is on fire, catching up to him as he speeds along, running into all sorts of hysterical issues along the way. Action-packed and funny – the lasting charm of what would become Tintin right there. And yes, the art is early Herge, with Tintin looking a bit plumper and not as defined, but it’s there and worth the read. A nice bonus for comic historians, is on the final page of the adventure you can spot a cameo by Totor from Herge’s very first comic strip Totor, Chief Scout of the Cockchafers (which ran from 1926 to 1930), going with the crowd to see Tintin arrive safely home in Brussels.
Here in the states, In The Land Of the Soviets, as well as the next adventure Tintin In The Congo, is not included in the collected editions. You can still find it easily in plenty of comic shops, book stores, online, etc., as it was published in an individual volume some time ago.