Tintin en Amérique, the third album installment of the world famous series of realistic comics drawn by Hergé, was first serialized in the Brussels-based Petit Vingtième, between 3 September 1931 and 20 October 1932. The colour version of the album dates from 1945. Tintin en Amérique is therefore, both for Americans and for Europeans, a contemporary of early noir novels. Not only does Tintin visit America just after the noir genre was invented there in the 1920s pulps (the first “hardboiled” novel considered to be Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest, published in 1929), but the colour edition coincides with the genre’s real discovery and vogue (in film and publisher’s series such as Gallimard’s Série Noire) in post-war Europe, when curiosity for America was at its peak. Of course, the plot of Tintin en Amérique owes more to the spectacular gangster-film tradition (and, in parts, to the western) than to the cultural malaise associated with the noir genre. Himself a product of media culture, Tintin was born in the newspapers. He works, diegetically, as a journalist (although he never sends any articles): his is a newsreel vision of America. Not by coincidence, his American adventures are set in Chicago and feature Al Capone.
(1945 version) (1931 version)
His America is dystopian, a society ruled by crime, where policemen salute armed gangsters. In keeping with the political agenda of Vingtième Siècle, of which Le Petit Vingtième was a supplement, America crystallises fears about industrialisation, machines and the future of European civilisation. Published between Duhamel’s Scènes de la vie future (1930) and Céline’s Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932) the first comic strips of Tintin en Amérique are indicative of the same anxieties. There are similarities too with Fritz Lang’s 1931 film, M., in which a congress of the city’s gangsters shows the underworld taking control of society.
But there are other levels of social critique in the Album, which brings it closer to classic noir territories. The representation of a local Sheriff, for example, seems to announce Jim Thompson.
The satire is present throughout the book, as exemplified in the strips below, which show gangsters organised in limited liability companies, and the opposition of the criminals who run the factories, and the workers who strike. Such a dark vision of America, the negative side of the American dream, is an essential part of the success of the noir genre in Europe. European Existentialists and Marxists counted amongst the most adept readers of American Crime novels and have contributed to the genre’s popularity
Tintin’s comics were often judged too violent for children, even though they were ostensibly designed for them. One reason for this violence is the hardboiled code and cultural context to which the Tintin series owe their themes, characters, and action. In terms of the crime genre, Tintin shows clearly his sympathy with the hardboiled-style action novel, as opposed to the mystery genre. The treatment of a parodic American version of Sherlock Holmes is hilarious, and telling. After making outrageous claims and boasting impossible deduction skills, the old school detective is shown the door by Tintin. He is a waste of time, and the hero indicates here that he will take the action in his own hands
The entire series of the Tintin en Amérique strips published in Le Petit Vingtième, scanned by Daniel Bellier, can be accessed at http://www.bellier.org/tintin%20en%20amerique%20petit%20vingtieme/vue1.htm
An interesting pedagogical dossier on Tintin en Amérique has been established for the Université du Québec in Rimouski by Esthère Marilou Giasson, Karine Mathurin, Jessica Langevin, Maxime Paquette & Marie-Laure Paradis and can be accessed at http://entredeuxguerres.e-monsite.com/pages/tintin-en-amerique.html