Tintin: History of English Editions

The Adventures of Tintin:

A History of the
Anglo-American Editions

 
Copyright 1996-2004 by T.F. Mills
tintin@regiments.org
Last update:  14.05.2006
This page was created 1 February 1996,
adapted and updated from: T.F. Mills,
"America Discovers Tintin,"
The Comics Journal
no. 86 (Nov. 1983), p. 60-69.
 

     Hergé began writing the Tintin adventures in 1929, and by the 1950s he had attained legendary status in the francophone world. All of the Tintin adventures were eventually translated into English, but not without some difficulty and controversy. Apart from the Dutch edition for Belgium's Flemish population there had been almost no translation work prior to 1952, when two volumes were experimentally rendered in German, Spanish and English to keep pace with Tintin's broadening international appeal. The house of Casterman, Hergé's long-time publisher, issued all the first translations (Le Secret de la Licorne, and Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge), but they have lost track of the identity of the English translators. The 1952 editions are rare collectors' items. By the end of the decade several foreign publishers had taken the initiative in producing translations for their home markets. A notable early translation effort before 1952, perhaps the first, was undertaken in Portugal.

     Beyond coping with difficult idiomatic expressions, some translators have encountered insurmountable cultural problems. Hergé was particularly amused by the Japanese difficulty with Dupont and Dupond (Thomson and Thompson). The Tokyo publisher indicated that such a pair of blunderers in positions of public responsibility would have committed hari kari long ago. The translation process involves supplying foreign publishers with color plates in which the text balloons and captions have been left blank. Compressed fonts or excessive white space in the balloons are often of sign of idiomatic difficulties encountered by the translators. Lettering that is an integral part of the illustrations, such as street signs, are whited out and overlaid with translations if necessary.

     In 1958, Methuen Childrens's Books Ltd. of London undertook to publish an English edition, thanks in large part to the enthusiasm of Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner, who volunteered to do the translations. Their labor of love, although much praised by Hergé, has been overlooked by the critics. They initially selected titles for translation in an order that would introduce the principal characters in a logical sequence, and they saved those that presented difficulties until last.

     Lonsdale-Cooper and Turner enjoyed a unique working relationship with Hergé, consulting freely with him about the interpretation of difficult passages, and exerting an unusual influence on the revision of the French editions. At their suggestion, Hergé completely re-illustrated The Black Island since the original English and Scottish settings would not be altogether convincing to a British audience. Hergé sent a colleague across the Channel to do location sketches, and in the process updated the setting from the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s. He also took the opportunity to correct some errors, such as disarming the British police. Inflation also took a toll: the counterfeiters whom Tintin brought to justice were now printing £5 instead of £1 notes.

     The Land of Black Gold also presented problems. The translators felt that children would not understand the original allusions to the Irgun in nascent Israel at the end of the British Palestine Mandate. (Hergé started the book in 1939, was interrupted by the war, and completed it in 1948-50.) In the original version, Tintin was arrested by the British authorities in Haifa, and subsequently kidnapped by Jews and then by Arabs. Hergé reillustrated and rewrote part of the book, eliminating all references to the British and Jews, and setting the story instead in his imaginary emirate of the Khemed. The result was a simplified plot with which he was even more pleased. The delay in publishing this volume forced British readers to wait ten years for an explanation to the Thompsons' strange growth of multicolored hair during the lunar adventure, which stemmed from a mishap in the Arabian desert.

     From the start, Lonsdale-Cooper and Turner agreed that literal translations were not the best approach. They sought instead to produce an English version with literary merit in its own right. They had a completely free hand, but in seeking to convey the original intent of Hergé's jokes and Belgian-French puns, they repeatedly turned to the author for assistance. In some instances they even surpassed Hergé, as with the Gaelic dialect in The Black Island. In others, they have easily equalled the author's wit, as in the rendering of the South American "Arumbaya" tribal tongue in The Broken Ear and The Picaros.

     The translators also anglicized the home setting of Tintin's adventures in order to make the stories more palatable to a "rather chauvinistic audience." Thus Captain Haddock's Chateau de Moulinsart became Marlinspike Hall, but no readers have complained of such anomalies as Belgian police patrolling the "English" countryside.

     Tintin in America, which first appeared in 1931, was not published by Methuen until 1978, after Hergé had partly altered the objectionable representation of Blacks. Despite the obvious period setting, a leading Canadian bookseller refused to stock the book, and the American publisher waited for a year before marketing the controversial volume. Lonsdale-Cooper and Turner saved Le Lotus Bleu for last since they felt that presenting the context of the Sino-Japanese War to today's children would be a major hurdle. When it finally appeared in 1983, they included an unprecedented historical disclaimer to establish the complex setting. Although these last problematic books had been translated into other languages without stirring up significant adverse criticism, Lonsdale-Cooper and Turner felt that English-speaking world -- with its racism and sexism watchdog committees -- was more chauvinistic, and would require considerable cultivating before it could accept and understand Hergé's earliest works.

     By the late 1970s it was clear that Hergé no longer had the energy or interest to extensively rewrite and re-illustrate his books, so the translators shelved any intent to work on Tintin au Congo with its embarrassingly paternalistic colonialism (written in 1930) for fear of "producing a furor among our liberal friends." (The book was nevertheless a great hit in Zaire, the former Belgian Congo.) They likewise refused to touch the crude anti-communist polemic of Tintin au Pays des Soviets, which even Hergé had refused to re-issue in color (as he did after 1943 with all his other pre-war books). In 1973 Hergé gave in to popular pressure, and reissued an archival edition of the original Soviets volume. Demand for all manifestations of his work continued to escalate even after his death in 1983, and the translators also gave in to the pressure. Casterman published their translation of the archival black and white version of the Congo in 1982, and the Soviets appeared in English in 1989. Hergé died leaving a twenty-fourth book unfinished and strict instructions that Tintin was to die with him rather than be continued by others. After some controversy and squabbling, his executors published Tintin et l'Alph-Art in its rough, unfinished form in 1986. This too finally appeared in English in 1990. Lonsdale-Cooper and Turner had completed a thirty-year labor of love in translating Hergé's works.

     Shortly after Tintin's first appearance in Britain in 1958, Golden Press of New York began publication of an American edition. Deciding that U.S. readers required an American idiom, they hired Danielle Gorlin to translate five books and Nicole Duplaix a sixth (King Ottokar's Sceptre). After a poor reception by an unresponsive public, Golden Press abandoned the venture. Pierre Servais of Casterman felt that the American publisher simply gave up too soon, since it took the British edition five years to become a staple part of the children's book market there. The Gorlin-Duplaix versions, although noticeably inferior to the British editions, are now rare collectors' pieces.

     Tintin's initial appearance in English coincided with a wave of hostility from educators and librarians against the comic strip form. The campaign was originally directed at American horror comics but soon embraced even upstanding characters like Little Orphan Annie. In England, where comics were viewed with contempt, Tintin received an unexpected boost from the august Times Literary Supplement, which devoted a front page article to a scholarly and praiseworthy analysis of the Tintin phenomenon. "Here's a good comic," was Newseek's announcement to the U.S. in 1960, but Albert Leventhal, president of Golden Press, was quoted as saying that the United States was as far behind in the Tintin race as it was in the missile race. No more Tintin books appeared under his imprint after that pessimistic statement.

     In 1974, Peter Davidson, director of Atlantic Monthly Press, initiated a new American edition. Relying on his own children to decide which titles would initially put Tintin's best foot forward, Davidson issued four titles that year under the Atlantic-Little, Brown imprint, using the Lonsdale-Cooper/Turner translations without alteration. By 1979 Little, Brown had issued all the then available English translations and they had secured a solid foothold in the American market.

Chronological Bibliography

(presented in the order of the French canon)
To find any of these books, in print or out of print, use various online book search facilities.
 
Original
French
1
English Editions 2
Methuen
Ltd.
3
Golden
Press
4
Little,
Brown Co.
5
Sundancer 3
Tintin ... in the Land of the Soviets
Tintin au Pays des Soviets
(1929)
1929



1989
Tintin ... in the Congo
Tintin au Congo
(1930)
1946



1991
Tintin in America
Tintin en Amerique
(1931)
1946
1978

1979

Cigars of the Pharaoh
Les Cigares du Pharaon
(1932)
1955
1971

1975

The Blue Lotus
Le Lotus Bleu
(1934)
1946
1983

1984

Tintin and the Broken Ear
L'Oreille Cassée
(1935)
1943
1975

1978

The Black Island
L'Ile Noire
(1937)
1966
1966

1975

King Ottokar's Sceptre
Le Sceptre d'Ottokar
(1938)
1947
1958
1959
1974

The Crab with the Golden Claws
Le Crabe aux Pinces d'Or
(1940)
1943
1958
1959
1974

The Shooting Star
L'Étoile Mystèrieuse
(1941)
1941
1961

1978

The Secret of the Unicorn
Le Secret de la Licorne
(1942)
1942
1959
1959
1974

Red Rackham's Treasure
Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge
(1943)
1943
1959
1959
1974

The Seven Crystal Balls
Les Sept Boules de Cristal
(1943)
1943
1962

1975

Prisoners of the Sun
Le Temple du Soleil
(1944)
1944
1962

1975

Land of Black Gold
Tintin au Pays de l'Or Noir
(1939)
1971
1972

1975

Destination Moon
Objectif Lune
(1950)
1950
1959
1960
1976

Explorers on the Moon
On a Marché sur la Lune
(1952)
1952
1959
1960
1976

The Calculus Affair
L'Affaire Tournesol
(1954)
1954
1960

1976

The Red Sea Sharks
Coke en Stock
(1956)
1967
1960

1976

Tintin in Tibet
Tintin au Tibet
(1958)
1958
1962

1975

The Castafiore Emerald
Les Bijoux de la Castafiore
(1961)
1961
1963

1975

Flight 714
Vol 714 pour Sydney
(1966)
1966
1968

1975

Tintin and the Picaros
Tintin et les Picaros
(1975)
1975
1976

1978

Tintin and Alph-Art
Tintin et l'Alph-Art
1986



1990
Books derived from Films
Tintin and the Golden Fleece
Tintin et la Toison d'Or
(film 1960)
1962
1965



Tintin and the Blue Oranges
Tintin et les Oranges Bleues
(film 1964)
1965
1967



Tintin and the Lake of Sharks
Tintin et le Lac aux Requins
(animated film 1972)
1973
1973

1989

Footnotes:

1. The dates of the French editions are that of first serialization, followed by that of the edition currently in print. The latter dates, except for Tintin in the Congo, are the copyright date of the artwork for the English language editions.

2. In addition to the above table, Casterman (Paris/Tournai) published English editions (translators unknown) of The Secret of the Unicorn (1952), Red Rackham's Treasure (1952), and Tintin in the Congo (black and white edition, translated by Lonsdale-Cooper/Turner, 1982).

3. All Methuen Children's Books (London) and Sundancer (London) translations are by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner. Magnet is a paperback imprint of Methuen. Sundancer editions are the original black and white illustrations.

4. All Golden Press (New York) translations are by Danielle Gorlin, except King Ottokar's Sceptre by Nicole Duplaix.

5. The Little, Brown Co. (Boston) editions were originally published in association with Atlantic Monthly Press, and later under the Joy Street Books imprint. Translations are the same as the Methuen editions.

 
 

A copy of this article is reproduced with the author's permission on Rob's Burgundy pages.

 
 
Other Sites About Tintin in Translation:
 
 
 

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