Tintin in America will be returning to shelves in Winnipeg, Canada, public libraries after it was pulled entirely from the system based on numerous complaints received regarding its dated and controversial depictions of Native Americans, but it won’t be going back to the kid’s section — it will be shelved in the adult section of the library.
In March, Herge’s classic comic was pulled from the public library system after the Canadian bookstore chain Chapters temporarily pulled the book from their sales floor for the customer complaints that they received. After it was determined that the book did not meet the chain’s removal policy it was returned to stores, but pending further review, the Winnipeg Public Libraries did not lift their ban right away. It wasn’t until last week that the book and was returned to shelves in the “adult graphic novel collection along with other similar material” noted officials.
Like many comics and graphic novels from the 1930s, several of the Tintin collections have come into question in recent years for their dated and frequently derogatory portrayals of certain ethnic groups. Tintin in the Congo and Tintin in America, which have the most archaic depictions of indigenous peoples — portrayals commonplace to Herge when he was originally creating the books — have seen the most negative reactions. In 2014, Tintin in America was placed in a restricted access section of the Jones Library in Amherst, MA in 2014 for its “racist imagery.”
International communities have also questioned where and how these volumes can be sold. In 2012, a Stockholm library temporarily banned the Tintin in the Congo for its “caricature of a colonial perspective.” That same year, Belgian courts debated if the same book violated laws against racism and if their inclusion on store shelves and in libraries incited racial hatred. In both cases, the books were determined to be examples of a past, biased mentality and returned to shelves, but controversy still follows the series today, as exemplified by the almost 3 months that Tintin in America was removed from Winnipeg libraries and the decision to reshelve it in the adult section.
The ultimate decision to return the volume to libraries is something to celebrate, but being added to the adult section raises questions itself. Is this classic comic series, beloved by many, something that needs to relegated to a section of the library where it will be undoubtedly more difficult to locate? Shouldn’t the book instead stay in the children’s section, where it can be used as a tool for parents and children to start discussions about stereotypes and racism?
According to University of Manitoba professior, Niigaan Sinclair, the book should be used to incite discussion about this archaic viewpoint of certain peoples and what these images mean in a greater historical context. Furthermore, in the case of children reading the books, there has to be an element of context provided so that they understand that they are reading something that is fiction — and old fiction at that.
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.
We celebrate the fact that this book has not been banned from a library system and are reminded by these recent events that books remain at risk of censorship.
Contributing Editor Caitlin McCabe is an independent comics scholar who loves a good pre-code horror comic and the opportunity to spread her knowledge of the industry to those looking for a great story!