The Blue Lotus (The Adventures of Tintin) Paperback – 26 Sep 2012
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About the Author
Hergé (Georges Remi) was born in Brussels in 1907. Over the course of 54 years he completed 23 albums of The Adventures of Tintin series, which is now considered to be one of the greatest, if not the greatest, comics series of all time. With translations published in over 80 languages, more than 230 million copies sold worldwide and a Hollywood movie to its name, Tintin dominates the Comics and Graphic Novels chart even today. Sadly, Hergé died in 1983, leaving his 24th album, Tintin and Alph-Art, unfinished, but his hero continues to be one of the most iconic characters in both adult and children’s fiction.
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There's also some continuity in terms of characters, with Rastopopolous (who debuted in the previous adventure) reappearing, and two new characters who will recur later in Tintin's adventures making their entry, namely Dawson (here police chief in the international settlement in Shanghai, and cropping up again later as an arms dealer in The Red Sea Sharks), and Chang, who Tintin will search for in Tibet.
Whilst the artwork is still not Hergé's best, it is improving (although the extensive redraws the series went through by Hergé and his team make this aspect harder to track accurately), as is his storytelling prowess. This said, he falls back on Tintin's war against drug-smuggling again, as a central plot theme, but at least the transparently patched together episodic nature of his adventures in Africa and America is replaced by a more structured narrative.
Hergé' and/or Tintin's relationship to other races and cultures remains a little tricky in places, but he's making improvements. Some black characters shown in frames depicting the League of Nations still resemble antiquated caricatures (not much different from his In The Congo stuff), and his portrayal of the Japanese is quite harsh. But he makes an effort, especially on page 43, to draw attention to the issue of cross-cultural understanding, in what looks now a rather heavy-handedly didactic series of frames in which Tintin and Chang discuss the inaccuracy of each other's cultural stereotypes.
But all in all, the transformation from the ill-drawn, ill-scripted, patchily episodic propaganda of In The Land Of The Soviets to the much higher standards of The Blue Lotus is both massive, remarkable, and more or less complete. So much so in fact that by the time Hergé gets to his fifth instalment in what was to be 24 finished stories (not counting the unfinished Alph-Art), the series from then on would maintain a more less consistent level of excellence: after the sharp climb of the first five books, there would be a steady but gradual shallow slope of improvement.
Certainly a must for any serious Tintin-ophile, and arguably the first 'classic' adventure.
This Tintin adventure was first published in Belgium in 1934-35, although the story is actually set in 1931, which was when Japanese troops were first occupying parts of China. Shanghai, the great northern seaport on the Yangtze river, had an International Settlement that served as a trading base for Western nations. Hergé incoprorates several actual events in this narrative, including the blowing-up of the South Manchurian railway, which served as an excuse for further Japanese incursions into China, and led to Japan walking out on the League of Nations.
Of course, it is the Japanese invaders who are after Tintin, who is pretty much on his own for most of this adventure until the Thom(p)sons show up with orders to arrest him (of course the duo don native dress, wanting to avoid causing a scene by walking around dressed in European clothes). The title of the story comes form an opium den that figures prominently in the resoltuion of the tale. "The Blue Lotus" finds Hergé fully committed to providing accurate cultural details in is stories, although this story has the added virtue of being the most "realistic" in terms of portraying current events in a world poised on the brink of war. His drawings of Asian figures can certainly be considered caricatures, but then this is pretty much true of the way he draws everybody in these stories, with the simplistic look of Tintin being the exception that proves the rule.
"The Blue Lotus" is also the adventure in which Tintin meets Chang Choug-chen, a young orphaned Chinese boy our hero saves from drowning. Chang is surprised a white devil would bother to save his life and Tintin haas to explain how not all white men are wicked. The character of Chang is based on Chang Chong-Chen, a young Chinese student who became Hergé's friend in 1934, as is the case with Chang and Tintin. When the Communists took over China the two friends lost touch. Decades later Tintin would race across half the earth to help rescue his friend in "Tintin in Tibet" in 1960. Even though he does not appear in the interim, Hergé makes it clear that Chang is a very special friend to Tintin. "The Blue Lotus" is a first rate Tintin adventure, made all the more special because once World War II began Hergé made a concerted effort to distance his stories from the horrors of the real world. After the war Hergé would deal with East-West tensions on a completely fictional level, making this early adventure of more than passing interest in Hergé's career.
Oh, and in 1981, Georges Remi (a.k.a. Hergé) and Chang Chong-Chen were reunited.
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