If you like globetrotting adventure, exotic places and mysteries –The Adventures of Tintin were made for you! Join the young Belgian journalist and his friends as he solves crimes & ancient mysteries all across the world. Tintin: The Blue Lotus by Hergé is an awesome introduction to the series.
This one is a treat. If Asterix is the heart of Franco-Belgian graphic novels. Then Tintin is its soul!
This time we meet our hero in India were he recovers from his last adventure. He’s been passing his time as an amateur radio enthusiast. A strange stations seems to be sending out nonsensical radio messages.
While trying to make sense of it, a Fakir warns Tintin of approaching danger. This is soon realized when a Chinese man, who comes looking for Tintin, is attacked with the dreaded poison of madness –the Rajaijah juice. This weapon was used by opium smugglers in Tintin’s previous adventure. Could there be a connection? Before the man’s mind is completely clouded by insanity he manages to say the words Mitsuhirato and Shanghai…
Never one to turn down adventure. Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy make their way to China. And find themselves trapped in a world where Western colonialism, the militant Japanese Empire and organized crime all want to see them dead. How will our Tintin fight his way out of this one? Read on…
Welcome to Foreign Occupied China
Tintin heads to Shanghai and is soon confronted by the ugliness of a city and people under occupation by foreign powers. While seeking out a Japanese businessman named Mitsuhirato, Tintin stops the assault of a rickshaw driver by American businessman Gibbons. Old Gibbons is the prototype of the ‘Ugly American’. He is the classic stereotype of the Western colonialist. Rude, racist, dumb and petty.
He will spend the rest of the story devising various ways of getting even with our hero. And represents all that is wrong with the foreign occupation of China.
Tintin meets Mitsuhirato just to be told that the messenger was sent as a warning. Tintin’s friend the Maharaja is in danger. Mitsuhirato urges Tintin to quickly return to India and guard him carefully.
This is strange… hmmm.
Introducing Opium: The Coke and Meth of the 1930s
Several attempts are made on Tintin’s life. And when he finally gets onboard of the ship going back to India –he is kidnapped. Returned to China, Tintin wakes up in a stately Chinese home. A dignified elderly scholar called Wang Chen-Yee introduces himself and welcomes Tintin to his home.
He and his comrades are part of a secret society called ‘The Sons of the Dragon’ –who are sworn to destroy the opium trade that is destroying China. Mr. Chen-Yee also reveals that Mitsuhirato is a Japanese spymaster and major opium smuggler. He begs Tintin to help him stop the Japanese drug smuggler.
While spying on Mitsuhirato in an opium den, the ‘Blue Lotus’, Tintin witnesses Mitsuhirato and his accomplices blow up a railway line. The Japanese Imperial government uses this as an excuse to invade all of Northern China and completely annex Shanghai.
Japanese Wars of Aggression and Professors of Madness
Mitsuhirato captures Tintin and gleefully tells him that he won’t kill him. He will just poison him with Rajaijah juice and see him turn into a madman. By some miracle Tintin dodges insanity and all of Mitsuhirato’s subsequent murder attempts. But not without giving the spy a good beating.
Mitsuhirato runs to the Japanese military occupation and claims Tintin tried to murder him. Also that our Belgian friend is a spy working for the Chinese.
Tintin is branded a spy and an order to arrest him is issued.
Hunted and with no leads on the opium smugglers. Tintin seeks out an internationally renowned expert on madness, Professor Fang Hsi-Ying. The Professor seems to have been kidnapped by gangsters. So Tintin decides to go past Japanese lines in order to find him. And ends up coming a lot closer to the heart of the opium conspiracy than he suspects.
The Art and Writing (and History) of Tintin: The Blue Lotus
The Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus is considered one of Hergé’s finest works. It’s easy to see why.
First of all the writing is fantastic. Hergé doesn’t just tell a good adventure story with plenty of action and a bit of comic relief here and there. It’d a scathing look at Western imperialism and the failures of politics that led to World War 2 in Asia.
It’s interesting to see such a clear indictment of how corrupt and brutal the Western occupation of China was. Gibbons and his cronies are all either British or American but other Western powers, including France and Germany had their finger in the occupation of China.
Hergé also goes out of his way to dispel the common Western stereotypes that people in the 30s had about Chinese. But he also shows the other side of the coin. Through a chance friendship with a Chinese orphan boy, Chang Chong-Cheng – Hergé explores the Chinese stereotype of the European as the ‘white devil’. Tintin tells Chang “You see, different people don’t know enough about each other”. Brave and prophetic words for Europe in 1936 (when the story was written).
Reason why I emphasize this part of the story is that Hergé has gotten a lot of criticism over the last few years for his earlier (1931) graphic novel, Tintin in the Congo.
Tintin in the Congo is as weak as The Blue Lotus is strong –both in terms of storytelling and subject.
While Hergé always claimed he was merely representing the attitude of Belgians to their African subjects at the time –the truth is simpler and much more embarrassing. Hergé didn’t know anything about the Congo (just like he knew nothing about the Soviet Union), researched his story very little and wrote a fictional tale about Africa using the stereotypes and myths of his day.
But with Tintin: The Blue Lotus things are different. Because a Catholic priest put Hergé in touch with two Chinese students studying in Belgium at the time. Thanks to this relationship, Hergé ended up with a much deeper and more nuanced story.
In terms of art, the Blue Lotus shines.
It was redrawn and colored in 1946 by Hergé and his assistants in the distinctive ligne-claire style that has become the hallmark of Franco-Belgian graphic novels.
It’s an important milestone in Hergé’s development as an artist. It is at this point that we see his powerful and confident minimalist graphic art emerge. Beautiful visuals, without the overproduced sheen that sometimes plagues more modern work from the US (anybody remember Extreme Studios during the 90s?).
I’m always amazed at the amount of details such clear, simple visuals with no shading can produce.
Yes! Get it!! A thousand times yes!!!
I am hopelessly biased. As a child in central Europe, I grew up on Tintin. His stories where in every school library and a great animated series was playing on TV at the time.
But for a series began in the 1930’s Tintin has had enduring success worldwide.
That’s because of its evergreen story of adventure, discovery of exotic locations and mystery.
The Blue Lotus is the best place to get started with the series. If you like adventure, mystery and want to get into one of the world’s great graphic novel traditions (the Franco-Belgian school) read this book!
You won’t be disappointed. And its family friendly enough, without being boring, to share with children of all ages. From 9-99!
Enjoy reading Tintin: The Blue Lotus. This one is a classic.
PS: You can get your copy of The Adventures of Tintin: The Blue Lotus in paperback here