How Do the French have Fun in India: A Study of Representations in Tintin and Asterix

Anurima Chanda, JNU, New Delhi, India


From the times of Ctesias and Megasthenes down through to today, there have been many representations of this exotica in other literatures. Mostly these are serious recounting of travelers aimed at raising the commercial and political interest of their fellow countrymen. In contrast, the writings of Herge or Gosciny and Uderzo are aimed at entertainment. While not discounting the rise of sensibilities of the west with the intervention of postcolonialism, the paper will argue that the othering of India continues in modes of production that are more exclusively western than others. In situations where the west is the producer as well as the consumer of cultural products, these seem to crawl back to stereotypes and projections that demand interference. The paper will try to show how the picaresque interference of the comic heroes serves to turn the nation, that is India, into a mere destination which has little or no sovereignty. In a world of post colonialism, the continued ideological challenges that comics, with their popularity with children poses, cannot be taken for granted. The paper will try to read the comics with the hope of problematising the ideas of comics and fun in relation to depictions of India.

 Keywords: Postcolonial, Stereotype, Tintin, Asterix

The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences (Said 20). This ‘invention’ has played a crucial role in the project of European imperialism. It was not simply ‘the other’ against which the West found its own definition. It, in fact, provided them the fodder around which an entire discourse was built, through which certain images of the Orient are repeatedly sold as a system of knowledge with impressive resilience. With the advent of postcolonial studies, there has been a renewed interest in rereading these images as continuing the project of colonialism through cultural hegemony. A majority of these images were distributed and maintained through texts, a reason why Greenblatt has suggested them to be the ‘invisible bullets’ (Ashcroft, et al. 93) in the arsenal of empire. Today, the way we read Robinson Crusoe or perceive the character of Bertha Mason in Jane Eyre, has changed completely. Texts and textuality are no longer seen as an innocent medium through which the Europeans exercised their ‘civilising mission’, but rather as weapons which have played a major role in both conquest and colonization. These texts – be it fiction, histories, anthropologies – have all captured the non-European subject as the ‘other’ of the European man, prominent in his alterity or lack from the latter. Not only did these images provide material to the Europeans, but also polluted the mind of the colonized through formal education or other cultural relations, making them believe in these projections as authoritative pictures of themselves. Evidently, the celebrated norm in all of these images was that of the white European man who had to be followed and emulated, while the image of the ‘other’ became a signifier of what the colonizer’s own past had been like – to quote Marlow from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: ”And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth” (Conrad 6).

Bhabha takes this argument one step further when he looks at these images as stereotypes which reiterate the position of the colonized as a fixed reality “at once the ‘other’ and yet entirely knowable and visible” (Bhabha 41) that needs no proof. The stereotype becomes the primary mode of identification, penetrating human consciousness as a reality, through which one claims knowledge over the other race and culture. Having been consumed unquestioningly over time, stereotypes that have been fed repeatedly create an illusion of reality. One fails to realize that it is merely a false representation of a given reality that has become a fixity without giving space to its evolving differences. The stereotype assumes the role of a fetish, which according to Bhabha has an ambivalent relation with the source that generated it. It is at once an object of desire in its alterity, as it is an object of terror. The image of the subject becomes more important than the problematisation of the way the subject was formed. The colonial power continues to exert its power through the knowledge of the stereotype that it has created instead of questioning the “function of the stereotype as phobia and fetish that, according to Fanon, threatens the closure of the racial/epidermal schema for the colonial subject and opens the royal road to colonial fantasy” (Bhabha 43). Reading against this grain, one can specifically take up the case of comic books which generally exploit stereotypes within their storylines. For the sake of this paper, I will be looking at two of the most popular comic characters of all time, Tintin and Asterix and their adventures in India.

Assouline, who has traced the timeline of Herge: The Man who Created Tintin, mentions an episode from the writer’s life:

George and his parents rarely spoke; they communicated with drawings. Herge remembered it was by this means that he understood what he had common with, and how he was different from, his father. One day both were drawing airplanes; his father gave his the lightness of dragonflies, while George’s versions carried the whole weight of the aeronautics industry. From that Georges deduced the fact that his father was an idealist and that he was a realist… (Assouline 6)

The George here is Georges Remi, who wrote under the nom de plume of Herge, and the creator of The Adventures of Tintin, one of the most influential comic-strip art of the 20th century that changed the face of European comic scene forever. With the usage of high quality illustration where special attention was given to minute details and the introduction of speech bubbles inspired from American novels, Herge (the word which comes from reversing Georges’ name and pronouncing them in French) received almost instantaneous popularity. However, how much of a realist was he, is a question one has much to debate about…Access Full Text of the Article

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