Land of Black Gold
|Land of Black Gold
(Tintin au pays de l'or noir)
Cover of the English edition
|Series||The Adventures of Tintin|
|Date of publication||28 September 1939 – 8 May 1940 (unfinished) / 16 September 1948 – 23 February 1950|
|Preceded by||Prisoners of the Sun (1949)|
|Followed by||Destination Moon (1953)|
Land of Black Gold (French: Tintin au pays de l'or noir) is the fifteenth volume of The Adventures of Tintin, the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. The story was commissioned by the conservative Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle for its children's supplement Le Petit Vingtième, in which it was serialised from September 1939. The story was interrupted by the German invasion of Belgium in May 1940. Hergé later returned to the story, completing its serialisation in Tintin magazine from September 1948 to February 1950. The story is set on the eve of a European war, fueled by concerns over oil supplies. Hoping to unmask a militant group responsible for sabotaging oil supplies, the reporter Tintin sets off for the Middle East.
Over two decades later, in 1971, parts of the story were again redrawn to move the setting from the British Mandate for Palestine to the fictional state of Khemed. Land of Black Gold was published as a book by Casterman shortly after its conclusion. Hergé continued The Adventures of Tintin with Destination Moon, while the series itself became a defining part of the Franco-Belgian comics tradition. The story was adapted for the 1991 animated series The Adventures of Tintin by Ellipse and Nelvana.
Across Belgium, car engines are spontaneously exploding; a result of someone tampering with the petrol at its source. With Europe on the brink of war, Captain Haddock is mobilised into the navy while Tintin and detectives Thomson and Thompson set off for the Middle Eastern kingdom of Khemed on board a petrol tanker. Upon arrival, the three are framed and arrested by the authorities under various charges. Thomson and Thompson are cleared and released, but Tintin is kidnapped by the Arab insurgent Bab El Ehr. He escapes and encounters an old enemy, Dr. Müller, sabotaging an oil pipeline. He reunites with Thomson and Thompson and eventually arrives in Khemed's capital city of Wadesdah, where he meets his old friend, the Portuguese merchant Oliveira da Figueira.
When the young son of the Emir Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab, Prince Abdullah, is kidnapped, Tintin suspects that Müller is responsible. With Figueira's help he enters Müller's house and knocks the criminal unconscious. He discovers the prince imprisoned in a dungeon and rescues him, as Haddock arrives with the authorities. Müller is revealed to be the agent of a foreign power responsible for the tampering of the fuel supplies, having invented a type of chemical in tablet form that increases the explosive power of oil by a significant amount. Thomson and Thompson find the tablets and swallow them, thinking them to be aspirin, causing them to grow long hair and beards that change colour. After analysing the tablets, Professor Calculus develops remedies for Thomson and Thompson and a means of countering the affected oil supplies.
Background and influences
In creating Land of Black Gold, Hergé adopted many elements from a previously aborted idea about militants blowing up prominent buildings in Europe; rather than European buildings, this story would involve industrial sabotage.
Hergé introduced the character of Dr. Müller, a German villain who had previously appeared in The Black Island, into the story. He also included the character of Oliviera da Figueira, who had first appeared in Cigars of the Pharaoh. Hergé also included a reference to the recurring character Bianca Castafiore, whose singing appears on the radio in one scene. The newly introduced character of the Emir Ben Khalish Ezab was based largely on Ibn Saud, the king of Saudi Arabia, whom Hergé had learned about from a 1939 book by Anton Zischke. It has also been suggested that the character was partly inspired by the deceased Iraqi leader, Faisal I. The character of Prince Abdullah was inspired by the King of Iraq, Faisal II, who was appointed monarch in 1939 aged four. He was also influenced by an obnoxious child character that appears in the work of O. Henry.
The idea of European nations rivaling each other for oil supplies was inspired by a February 1934 issue of Le Crapouillot magazine. The fictional Arabic names that Hergé integrated into the story were parodies based on the Marollien dialect of Brussels; "Wadesdah" translated as "what is that?", while "Bab El Ehr" was Marollien for chatterbox, and Khalish Ezab derived from the Marollien term for liquorice water.
"Boum !", an iconic song by Charles Trenet, appears in parody as the car breakdown repair company's advertising jingle, which plays on Thomson and Thompson's car radio at the very beginning of the story.
First version: 1939–40
Following the German invasion of Poland, Hergé was conscripted into the Belgian Army and temporarily stationed in Herenthout. Demobbed within the month, he returned to Brussels and began Land of Black Gold. Land of Black Gold began serialisation in Le Vingtième Siècle on 25 September 1939. He was re-mobilised in December, and stationed in Antwerp, from where he continued to send the Tintin strip to Le Petit Vingtième. However, he fell ill with sinusitis and boils and was declared unfit for service in May 1940. That same day, Germany invaded Belgium, and Le Vingtième Siècle was shut down part way through the serialisation of Land of Black Gold. It was interrupted on 8 May 1940. The point at which the story was ended corresponds to page 30 of the current book edition, when Tintin is about to be caught in a sandstorm following his battle with Muller. Given its portrayal of Germans as the antagonists of the story, it would not have been appropriate for Land of Black Gold to continue serialisation under Nazi occupation.
It then began serialisation in France in the magazine Coeurs Vaillants-Ames Vaillants from 4 August 1940, but after an interruption continued in Message Aux Couers Caillants in June 1945. From December 1945 to May 1946 it then appeared in Tintin Et Milou under the title of Tintin Et Milou Au Pays De L'Or Liquide ("Tintin and Snowy in the Land of Liquid Gold").
Second version: 1948–49
By the late 1940s, Hergé was continuing to produce new installments of The Adventures of Tintin for the Belgian Tintin magazine, of which he was the artistic director. After completing serialisation of Prisoners of the Sun in April 1949, he ordered his staff to re-serialise one of his old stories, Popol and Virginia, while he took a three-month break. At this point, Hergé was depressed, and suffering from a range of physical ailments, including boils and eczema on his hands. Although fed up with The Adventures of Tintin, he felt great pressure on him to continue producing it for Tintin magazine. Hergé was planning on producing a story in which Tintin travels to the moon, but his wife Germaine and close friend Marcel Dehaye both advised him to revive Land of Black Gold instead, recognising that it would entail less work and thus cause less stress on him at the time. Thus, Land of Black Gold was revived after an eight-year hiatus. In a letter to Germaine, he stated that "I don't like to restart things that are already finished, or to make repairs. Black Gold was a repair, and I abandoned it."
The story began serialisation in Tintin magazine from 16 September 1948, before beginning its serialisation in the French edition of the magazine from 28 October 1948. Rather than continuing at the point where he had previously left off, Hergé started the story from the beginning again. He nevertheless made revisions to the early part of the story, namely by reworking the characters of Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus, as well as the location of Marlinspike Hall, into the narrative, all of which were elements that had been introduced to the Adventures of Tintin during the intervening eight years. Hergé was contractually obliged to produce two pages of comic for each issue, and in the previous adventure, Prisoners of the Sun, had fulfilled this by producing two pages of new Tintin stories each week. Seeking to limit his worklaod, he would only produce one page of Land of Black Gold per issue, with the other page being filled by a re-serialisation of old stories from his Jo, Zette and Jocko series.
On 4 August 1949, the story was suspended part way through its serialisation as Hergé left Belgium for a holiday near to Gland in Switzerland. The magazine used this as a publicity stunt, posting a headline in their next issue declaring "Shocking News: Hergé Has Disappeared!" to encourage speculation as to his whereabouts among the young readership. His co-workers and staff at Tintin magazine were increasingly annoyed by unplanned absences such as this, which affected the entire production; his colleague E. P. Jacobs sent him letters urging him to return to work. After an absence of twelve weeks, Land of Black Gold continued serialisation on 27 October 1949. Following its serialisation, Land of Black Gold was collected together and published in a 62-page colour volume by Editions Casterman in 1950.
Third version: 1971
After Hergé had redrawn The Black Island for publication in the United Kingdom, his British publishers, Methuen, suggested that alterations be made to Land of Black Gold before they would release it into the UK market. Whereas in the original versions Tintin arrived in British-occupied Palestine, where he was arrested by British police before being captured by Irgun, who mistake him for one of their own agents, in this revised version Tintin arrives in Khemed, where he is arrested by Arab military police before being captured and taken to Bab El Ehr. The inclusion of forces from the British Palestinian Mandate and the Irgun were no longer seem as relevant and so were removed from the story. Background detail was changed accordingly, with Jewish shop fronts with Hebrew signage being removed. A number of characters were also dropped, including the British officers Thorpe and Lieutenant Edwards. Whereas earlier versions had contained fictional Arabic script, for the 1971 version this was corrected to real Arabic.
Bob de Moor was responsible for making many of the alterations. De Moor was sent to the port at Antwerp to sketch a 1939 oil tanker that would provide a basis for a ship that appears in the story, the Speedol Star. For this version, Hergé transplanted the events of the story from Palestine to the fictional Emirate of Khemed and city of Wadesdah. This was a setting that he would reuse in a later adventure, The Red Sea Sharks. He also played down the British-German rivalry in the story. This modernised third version was issued by Casterman in 1971.
Hergé biographer Benoît Peeters stated that "no book has gone through more ups and downs" than Land of Black Gold, adding that it carries a "mood of foreboding" caused by the impending war in the story. He also felt that the introduction of the Emir and Abdullah was "the most striking innovation in this story", and elsewhere declared that the earlier versions of the story contained "not the slightest trace of anti-Semitism", despite allegations that a number of other Adventures featuring Jewish characters exhibited anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Jean-Marc Lofficier and Randy Lofficier believed that Land of Black Gold suffered from having been "rebaked", being "pulled between the 'old' pre-war Tintin and the more modern one." The Lofficiers believed that the story's "clear concern about war and rumours of war" enable it to fit well after King Ottokar's Sceptre, at the point at which Hergé had initially developed it. They felt that this pre-Second World War atmosphere also pervaded the second, coloured version of the book, but that they had nevertheless been partly removed by the creation of the third version. Despite this, they felt that the third version of the story was "better" because it incorporated elements from the spy thrillers that had become increasingly popular in Western Europe during the 1950s. Despite its problems, they thought that the Thom(p)sons ingestion of Formula 14 was "virtually inspired", showing that Hergé "had lost none of his touch when it comes to creating unforgettable images". They opined that the character of Abdullah "indisputably steals the show" in Land of Black Gold, commenting on his "love-hate" relationship with Haddock and suggesting that he is "possibly the only character to have ever succeeded in driving Tintin so batty that he loses his cool." They ultimately awarded the story two stars out of five, feeling that Hergé had been unable to develop its "greater potential".
Michael Farr believed that Land of Black Gold illustrated how "shelved material could be usefully resuscitated." He added that in making revisions to the story for the 1971 version, "the result is disappointing, lacking the pungency which the contemporary allusion gave the earlier version". Farr felt that in this story, the Thom(p)sons "have a splendid adventure" with the various scenarios that they get into. Harry Thompson described Land of Black Gold as a "patchwork effort", believing that the final result owed little to the "story's original satirical thrust". He praised Khemed as Hergé's "most successful imaginary country", something that he attributed to its "geographic accuracy" and to the "realistic parody" of Arabic names. However, he criticised the way in which Haddock had been integrated into the story, deeming this to be "the least satisfying aspect" of it. Believing that it offered a "fine swansong" for the decline of the Thom(p)sons as central characters in the series, ultimately Thompson felt that Land of Black Gold retained a "somewhat fragmentary air".
Literary critic Tom McCarthy believed that in the story, the desert represented "a space of multiple misreading", which included the mirages, fake documents, and cases of mistaken identity. Focusing on those fake documents, he believed that it represented the theme of fakery which recurs throughout the series. Describing the scenario in which Thomson and Thompson are lost and driving around the desert, he refers to it as a "brilliantly allegorical scene", before highlighting Hergé's "wishful retroactive wiping out of history" by evading the war.
In 1991, a collaboration between the French studio Ellipse and the Canadian animation company Nelvana adapted 21 of the stories into a series of episodes, each 42 minutes long. Land of Black Gold was the thirteenth episode of The Adventures of Tintin to be produced, although it ran half as long as most of the others. Directed by Stéphane Bernasconi, the series has been praised for being "generally faithful", with compositions having been actually directly taken from the panels in the original comic book.
- Thompson 1991, p. 90.
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- Farr 2001, p. 133.
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- Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 60.
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- Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 90.
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