The Black Island by Hergé (Georges Remi).
L’île noire (1956) translated by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner (1966).
Young reporter Tintin doesn’t find trouble, trouble finds him. Like Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot he just happens to be on hand when dastardly deeds are being committed; yet despite setback after setback he remains intrepidity personified.
This is no more evident than when his efforts to help those in a stricken aircraft during a casual stroll in the Belgian countryside are viciously rebuffed, leading in time to an impromptu cross-channel trip to Sussex followed by a flight to Scotland.
And all the while we are left to wonder how a teenage newspaper reporter somehow always seems to be the subject of press reports but never the writer of them, and how the long arm of the law seems to always be grasping the wrong end of the stick.
This version of the graphic novel, the last of several revisions, first appeared in 1956 and the English translation (by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner) ten years later. Our hero and his wire fox terrier Snowy feature from the start, of course, soon joined by the two identikit English detectives Thomson and Thompson. Ranged against them are an assortment of villains, Dr J W Müller, his chauffeur Ivan, the counterfeiter Puschov and other ne’er-do-wells. As all readers of Tintin’s adventures will surmise the story proceeds through Tintin and his friends somehow surviving a series of hazardous though usually comic situations, picking up clues along the way and ending with the reporter’s triumphant defeat and capture of the criminals.
Hergé exhibits all his well-worn but satisfying tricks here. Tintin is frequently concussed but avoids lasting brain damage; Snowy expresses himself in canine language though, luckily, translations are always provided; the villains are completely unscrupulous, but their bad deeds are always found out; the English detectives are comically incompetent but always close on the tail of any action. Oh, and look out for Ranko!
A principal delight of the comics is of course the artwork, visually very clear and precise, with a deliberate absence of shadows or indeed shading. Storytelling is of the essence, and that’s what is delivered. The author apparently drew all the characters himself, but in this particular strip cartoon the Anglophile writer had a team of artists who researched scenes and features of British life and drew the technical aspects of motor vehicles, planes and so on. In fact, Tintin’s journey from continental Europe to the top of the British Isles is a succession of journeys by train, plane, boat and foot, and so it must have been important to Hergé that all the details were as authentic as possible.
My last comments must rest with the translation, which seems to me quite seamless even if the language is quite stilted for 21st-century tastes. Why names in the Tintin series are changed from the French I don’t know (Snowy was originally Milou, for instance, Puschov was Wronzoff) but presumably what now appears arbitrary may be perfectly well justified somewhere, somehow. However, Muller’s characteristic imprecation — Kruzitürcken! — is curiously misspelled (there should be no intrusive ‘c’) and I understand that in the original he swears … in French.