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The one with the Beastie
on 14 June 2010
It all starts off innocently enough, as it often does in a Tintin adventure, but before long, our young investigative journalist is embarking on a journey that takes him to the British Isles and ultimately to the mystic Black Island in Scotland. He has good reason to make the journey, having witnessed an unmarked plane landing in a nearby field while out for a walk and, by the end of page one Tintin is shot by the pilot as he goes to investigate. Recovering in hospital, he learns from Thompson and Thomson that the same plane has been reported crash-landing in Sussex, and Tintin accordingly sets out with Snowy to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Like many of Tintin's earliest adventures, the ones initially serialised in the Petit Vingtième in the late 1920s and 1930s, the story takes the form of a linear line, with a rolling series of events taking Tintin from one place to the next, getting involved in mishaps and picking up clues along the way. Reworked for colour album publication, the story in The Black Island still doesn't get any more complex than Tintin following a trail, being hampered by criminals trying to shake him off along the way - permanently if possible - with a bit more slapstick than usual (Tintin even knocking himself out by standing on a rake at one point). The pacing however is excellent, with twists and thrills on every page and lovely clear-line artwork that has a wonderful sense of openness and movement.
Like all of Hergé's Tintin work, the use of locations and the evocation of mood is superb. Although the book followed the usual route of publication for the early Tintin adventures, moving from a 128 page black-and-white strip to a redrawn and coloured 62-page book, Hergé went to the trouble of revising The Black Island again in 1965, prior to the book's first UK publication, sending an assistant to gather reference materials to ensure relevance and correct some basic errors in the previous editions. You could still criticise the sometimes clichéd olde-worlde mysticism and the fact that Tintin dons a kilt to better blend in with the locals, but the drawings in The Black Island are beautiful and they do capture an essence of Scotland in a manner that would fire the imagination of its young readers and still have resonance for some older Tintin fans.