The Red Sea Sharks

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The Red Sea Sharks
(Coke en stock)
Tintin, Snowy, Haddock, and Skut are on a raft in the Red Sea, waving at us. We are viewing the scene through a telescope.
Cover of the English edition
Date 1958
Series The Adventures of Tintin
Publisher Casterman
Creative team
Creator Hergé
Original publication
Published in Tintin magazine
Date of publication 31 October 1956 – 1 January 1958
Language French
Publisher Methuen
Date 1960
  • Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper
  • Michael Turner
Preceded by The Calculus Affair (1956)
Followed by Tintin in Tibet (1960)

The Red Sea Sharks (French: Coke en stock) is the nineteenth volume of The Adventures of Tintin, the comics series by Belgian cartoonist Hergé. The "Coke" referred to in the original French title is a code name used by the villainous antagonists of the story for African slaves.

The Red Sea Sharks is notable for bringing together a large number of characters from previous Tintin adventures, going all the way back to Cigars of the Pharaoh: General Alcazar (The Broken Ear and The Seven Crystal Balls); Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab and Abdullah (Land of Black Gold); Rastapopoulos (Cigars of the Pharaoh and The Blue Lotus); Oliveira da Figueira (Cigars of the Pharaoh and Land of Black Gold); Dr. Müller (The Black Island and Land of Black Gold); J.M. Dawson (The Blue Lotus); Allan (Cigars of the Pharaoh and The Crab with the Golden Claws); Bianca Castafiore (King Ottokar's Sceptre, The Seven Crystal Balls and The Calculus Affair); Jolyon Wagg (The Calculus Affair). Additionally, Patrash Pasha (Cigars of the Pharaoh), Bab El Ehr (Land of Black Gold), and General Tapioca (The Broken Ear) are all referred to but don't appear.

The story was adapted for the 1991 animated series The Adventures of Tintin by Ellipse and Nelvana.


In Brussels, Tintin and Captain Haddock bump into an old acquaintance, General Alcazar. They exchange contacts and Alcazar rushes off, dropping his wallet. Tintin attempts to return it only to learn he gave them a false address. Examining its contents, they find photos of De Havilland Mosquitos and other military aircraft. They also find a proper address and return the wallet to the hotel's front desk, where they see Alcazar in conversation with arms dealer J.M Dawson, and notice Thomson and Thompson listening in.

When they return home to Marlinspike Hall, they discover that the Emir of Khemed, Mohammed Ben Kalish Ezab, has been overthrown by his nemesis Sheikh Bab El Ehr. The surprise coup was successful due to air support in the form of Mosquitos. The Emir has sent his son, the disobedient Abdullah, to stay at Marlinspike for his own protection. Abdullah proceeds to cause chaos at Marlinspike with his practical jokes. Later, the detectives visit and accidentally inform Tintin that Alcazar has been involved in arms dealings with Dawson. Following an ad in a newspaper offering military equipment for sale, Tintin finds Dawson and learns that he sold the Mosquitos to Bab El Ehr.

Tintin decides to go to Khemed and rescue the Emir, which Haddock reluctantly agrees to join in in order to avoid Abdullah's tricks. Arriving in the country, the duo narrowly survive a bomb planted aboard the plane to kill them, and are able to slip into the city of Wadeshah unobserved. There they meet an old friend, the Portuguese merchant Oliveira da Figueira, who helps them to escape the city and ride on horseback to the Emir's hideout. They are pursued by armoured cars and fighter planes ordered to intercept them by "Mull Pasha", who is actually Tintin's old antagonist, Dr. Müller. However, Müller's orders are misinterpreted and the planes strafe the cars instead of the riders.

The Emir welcomes Tintin and Haddock. He reveals that there is an ongoing slave trade through Khemed, and the traders organized the coup when the Emir threatened to reveal them. The ring is operated by international businessman the Marquis di Gorgonzola, who falsely offers transport to African Muslims on the pilgrimage to Mecca and then sells them into slavery. Tintin and Haddock leave for the Red Sea coast and board a sambuk for Mecca to investigate. They are attacked by the Mosquitos; Tintin shoots down one of the planes and rescues its mercenary Estonian pilot, Piotr Skut. The three are picked up by di Gorgonzola's yacht, the Scheherazade, but they are soon offloaded onto the SS Ramona, a tramp steamer. Di Gorgonzola turns out to be another of Tintin's old adversaries, Roberto Rastapopoulos.

Unbeknownst to Tintin and Haddock, the Ramona is one of di Gorgonzola's own ships, used in the slave trade. A fire breaks out at night and Allan, Haddock's former chief mate and commander of the Romana, abandons the ship with the crew in the middle of the night to escape the fire igniting the explosives in the forward hold. Awakening, Tintin, Haddock, and Skut discover the fire and put it out with the help of a huge wave. Examining the ship, they find that the other holds are full of pious Muslim Africans enslaved on their way to Mecca. Haddock releases them and asks for volunteers to help run the ship, heading for Djibouti. Allan and the crew notice the fire go out and attempt to return to the ship, only to see it start up and pull away.

Haddock's disbelief of Tintin's conclusion that the Africans in the hold are to be sold as slaves, ends when a dhow flags down the Ramona and a trader comes aboard and asks to see the "coke". Haddock states they are not carrying any; the trader laughs and begins to examine one of the Africans. Haddock expels him from the ship with a flurry of his trademark insults, and the trader contacts di Gorgonzola, who dispatches a U-Boat to destroy the Ramona and the evidence it carries.

In the meantime, Skut tries to repair the ship's damaged radio, but an unexpected accident shakes it into working order: hurrying to inform Haddock, Tintin accidentally spots the submarine's periscope just prior to the attack, allowing Haddock to carefully outmaneuver a number of torpedoes while Tintin sends out a distress call. At the height of the battle the engine room telegraph breaks, interfering with his orders. The submarine captain is lining up for another shot when they are depth charged by aircraft from the cruiser USS Los Angeles, who Tintin had successfully managed to radio. A last attempt is made to destroy the Ramona with a limpet mine, but the frogman is hit by the ship's anchor and drops the mine. The Los Angeles chases down the Scheherazade and attempts to capture di Gorgonzola, but he fakes his own death and escapes via a mini-submarine.

Tintin and Haddock return to Belgium and learn that the Emir has recaptured Khemed and that Abdullah can return home. Their relaxation is cut short by Jolyon Wagg, who arranged to use Marlinspike for an auto rally as he expects that their life is too boring.


Background and publication[edit]

Hergé was inspired to develop the plot for The Red Sea Sharks after reading a magazine article detailing the continued existence of the slave trade within the Arab world, in which it was claimed that African pilgrims headed to Mecca were being enslaved during the journey.[1] Hergé included a reference to this slave trade in the story's original French title, Coke en Stock ("Coke on Board"), which referred to the slave smuggler's use of "coke" or "coal" as codeword for their trade. .[2]

The Treasury (Al Khazneh) in Petra depicted in the book

Hergé had read Balzac et son monde ("Balzac and His World"), a 1955 book written by his friend Félicien Marceau.[3] Intrigued by the work of Honoré de Balzac, Hergé was inspired by Balzac's introduction of characters from his earlier work in The Human Comedy, adopting this trait for The Red Sea Sharks.[4]

To produce accurate illustrations for the Ramona, Hergé and Bob de Moor traveled aboard a Swedish cargo vessel, the MS Reine Astrid, from Antwerp to Gothenburg and back, during which they took photographs and drew sketches.[5] Rastapopolous' ship, the Sheherezade, was based on Aristotle Onassis' Christina, a motor yacht which Hergé had collected press clippings of.[6] The aircraft, cars, and machinery that appear in the story were drawn by Roger Leloup.[7] Hergé's illustration of a frogman in the story was based on a press clipping of Lionel Crabb which he had collected.[8] His depiction of the Emir's hideaway palace cut from the rock was based on the Al Khazneh in Petra, Jordan, which he had discovered in an issue of National Geographic Magazine.[9] Hergé's growing interest in art was reflected in the story, as he included a copy of Alfred Sisley's Le Canal du Loing at Marlinspike Hall.[10] He also included paintings by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró aboard Rastapopolous' Scheherazade.[6]

Muller's pseudonym in the story, Mull Pasha, was based upon the British soldier Glubb Pasha.[11] Hergé also introduced a new character, the Estonian pilot Piotr Skut, who would later reappear in Flight 714.[12] In the final scene, Hergé included cameos of both himself and his friend and colleague Edgar P. Jacobs.[13]

The story began serialisation in Tintin magazine in October 1956.[14] It was then serialised in the French edition of the magazine from December 1956.[14] It was then published in book form by Casterman in 1958.[14]


Upon the story's British publication in 1960, it was renamed The Red Sea Sharks from Coke en Stock ("Coke on Board").[15]

Hergé had been accused of exhibiting a racist attitude toward Africans in his earlier story, Tintin in the Congo, and potentially hoped to exonerate himself from such criticism by depicting Tintin and Haddock freeing African slaves in The Red Sea Sharks.[16] He had consulted a colleague who worked at L'Afrique et le Monde ("Africa and the World"), who translated some of the passages that he wished to include in the story into Yoruba.[17] However, in January 1962 an article in the magazine Jeune Afrique criticised Hergé for a racist depiction of Africans in the story,[18] an accusation that would be echoed in other publications.[19] These claims focused on the African characters' simplistic use of pidgin language, which was similar to the speech patterns used in Tintin in the Congo.[20]

African: "You speak well, Effendi. Wicked Arab, very wicked. Poor black men not want to be slaves. Poor black men want to go to Mecca."
Haddock: "Naturally, I realise that. But I repeat if you go there, you'll be sold as slaves. Is that what you want?"
African: "We not slaves, Effendi. We good Muslims. We want to go to Mecca".[20]

Hergé biographer Benoît Peeters expressed the view that "for the most part these attacks were extremely unfair".[20] Hergé was emotionally affected by the accusations, and made changes to the book for its 1967 reprint accordingly; here he changed the Africans' speech patterns, giving them improved grammar.[21] However, he left Haddock speaking pidgin in response to the Africans.[20]

For this version he also made changes to the Emir's letter to Tintin; the former version had been formal in its prose, stating "Most esteemed and well-beloved friend, I entrust to you my son Abdullah, to improve his English. Here the situation is serious. Should any misfortune befall me I count on you, my friend, to care for Abdullah". In Hergé's revised edition, he adopts a more florid prose style: "This is to tell you, oh highly esteemed friend, that I entrust to you Abdullah, my adored son. Because here the situation is serious. Should misfortune descend on me like the hawk on an innocent gazelle (for the world is made of life and death) I am sure that Abdullah will find you with warmth and affection, refuge and peace. And in doing this you will be performing a fragrant act before Allah."[22]

He also expressed regret that he depicted the death of a shark in the story, later stating that "I still believed that sharks were big evil beasts" when writing The Red Sea Sharks.[13]

Critical analysis[edit]

Commenting on the inclusion of a wide range of characters from The Adventures of Tintin, Harry Thompson referred to the story as "a Tintin family reunion", commenting that it was "a story unusually full of the type of people Captain Haddock liked to avoid".[23] Michael Farr believed that in reviving so many older characters, Hergé had given The Red Sea Sharks "a marked retrospective quality".[12] Jean-Marc Lofficier and Randy Lofficier thought that the story was too crowded, leaving little room for Professor Calculus or Thomson and Thompson, and leaving the introduced figure of Skut as "a nice supporting character, but nothing more".[24] The Lofficiers stated that "Hergé was doing some house-cleaning of his past works and characters before embarking on something more serious and with more personal resonance", Tintin in Tibet.[25]

Hergé biographer Benoît Peeters described The Red Sea Sharks as a "complex, ambiguous, even labyrinthine" story which was "undoubtedly the book in which Hergé ventured furthest into the creation of his own universe."[26] He thought that "Hergé enters a new phase" with The Red Sea Sharks, as its author "seems to know his family of characters better and better, and he enjoys playing with them and his readers."[27] Peeters noted that the book was "in some respects a continuation" of Land of Black Gold,[28] an assessment shared by Thompson, the Lofficiers, and Michael Farr, all of whom described it as a partial sequel to the earlier book.[29] Thompson added that The Red Sea Sharks "atoned for the relative failure" of Land of Black Gold,[30] believing that although it had a "rather hasty finish", it was "a first-rate thriller".[31] The Lofficiers awarded it four out of five,[25] stating that it was "very effective as a modern political thriller and far more believable than The Calculus Affair".[24] They also opined that it provided an effective political commentary on the West's relationship with the Arab world. In their analysis, Tintin and Haddock seek to aid the Emir not because he is a good leader, but for their own selfish purposes (to get Abdullah out of Marlinspike), just as Western governments and corporations build alliances with Arab leaders guilty of human rights abuses in order to benefit their own interests.[25]

Thompson felt that the inclusion of slavery as a key theme led to this book being "one of Hergé's more adult-oriented adventures".[30] Nevertheless, Farr noted that the story contained "a good measure of humour" to balance out these darker elements.[6] Farr drew comparisons with Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, a series of novels that was contemporary to The Red Sea Sharks and which was similarly inspired by Balzac's The Human Comedy.[12]

Hergé biographer Pierre Assouline believed that The Red Sea Sharks represented "the culmination of his golden age", which had begun with The Blue Lotus.[32] He also commented that "it almost seemed as if Hergé had regained the pace and rhythm of his most creative period" with this story.[33]


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. 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.[34]



  1. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 165; Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 71; Assouline 2009, p. 177; Goddin 2011, p. 72.
  2. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 165; Farr 2001, p. 152; Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 70; Goddin 2011, p. 74.
  3. ^ Goddin 2011, p. 63; Peeters 2012, p. 256.
  4. ^ Farr 2001, p. 151; Peeters 2012, p. 256.
  5. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 165; Farr 2001, p. 155, 157; Goddin 2011, pp. 79–80.
  6. ^ a b c Farr 2001, p. 158.
  7. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 165; Farr 2001, p. 157.
  8. ^ Farr 2001, pp. 157–158.
  9. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 166; Farr 2001, p. 152; Goddin 2011, p. 82.
  10. ^ Farr 2001, p. 158; Goddin 2011, p. 82.
  11. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 165; Farr 2001, p. 152.
  12. ^ a b c Farr 2001, p. 151.
  13. ^ a b Farr 2001, p. 155.
  14. ^ a b c Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 70.
  15. ^ Farr 2001, p. 152; Goddin 2011, p. 74.
  16. ^ Farr 2001, p. 152.
  17. ^ Goddin 2011, p. 93.
  18. ^ Peeters 1989, pp. 106–107; Thompson 1991, p. 166; Farr 2001, p. 152.
  19. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 106; Thompson 1991, p. 166.
  20. ^ a b c d Peeters 1989, p. 107.
  21. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 107; Thompson 1991, p. 167; Farr 2001, p. 155.
  22. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 107; Farr 2001, p. 155.
  23. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 164.
  24. ^ a b Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 71.
  25. ^ a b c Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 72.
  26. ^ Peeters 2012, p. 256.
  27. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 106.
  28. ^ Peeters 1989, p. 105.
  29. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 165; Farr 2001, p. 151; Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 71.
  30. ^ a b Thompson 1991, p. 165.
  31. ^ Thompson 1991, p. 166.
  32. ^ Assouline 2009, p. 179.
  33. ^ Assouline 2009, p. 177.
  34. ^ Lofficier & Lofficier 2002, p. 90.


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