I feel a little ashamed putting this book up on the list namely because it is the first time that I have read it, and I also scanned it into Goodreads as a reading-now book, which then goes onto my reading total for the year. I am not entirely sure whether one can consider graphic novels to be a book that one read, particularly since it generally does not take all that long to read them. However, with any further Tintin books that I read, while they will appear on the site, I will try not to list them as books read this year (particularly since this is the only Tintin book that I haven't actually read).
This was the first Tintin book ever published, but it did not appear in English until after Herge's death. It was suggested that Herge was embarrassed by this book (as with Tintin in the Congo), and it is not hard to see why. As far as Tintin goes, the artwork is in black and white and very basic. Some have suggested that in this story Tintin is quite arrogant, though I never picked this up off of him. What I did notice was that he was determined to do something about the Soviets, but it seemed that Herge got to a point where he had to finish it off, and further, he could not have such an Earth shattering ending, especially since the Soviet empire did not collapse until 1989.
We learn a lot about Tintin in the book though. The others in the series are very vague about where he comes from (it is suggested that in the English versions he lives in London, but I always found that difficult to accept since in The Black Island, he travels by sea to England), but in this story we learn that he is from Brussels and works as an investigative reporter for La Petit Vingnette. His job is to travel to the Soviet Union to report on the situation in the country. From the beginning he is being tracked by Ogpu (the foreunner of the KGB) agents, and in his investigations he discovers that the whole Soviet system is a lie.
The first indication is when he sees a factory that is being shown off to some British communists, and discovers upon investigating the factory, that it is an empty shell that has fires burning under the smokestacks and some guy repeatedly banging an iron sheet. We are taken to an election where a list of candidates are put forward, but the communists point guns at the peasants and tell them to vote for the communists. Finally Tintin stumbles on an underground base where food and other exportables are being stored for export so that while people in the country are starving, it appears to the outside that the Soviet Union is a highly productive country.
This last idea reminds me of a picture I saw one. It was of a African child, living in poverty, and holding a plate of food while sitting on a box marked 'for export only'. This picture was drafted as a criticism of capitalism where food is sold to only those who can pay, and those who can't are left to die of starvation. It is believed in some circles that WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules stipulate that a country's best produce must be exported before being distributed to the people. While there is endless debate about the availability of food, it is my position that there is a lot of food in the world, enough to feed everybody, it is just most of it lands up on supermarket shelves, and then slowly makes its way to the bin.
Tintin does get a lot better the further on one reads, and I do feel that the first few books are lacking the magic for which the other stories are famous. However, this is the beginning of a series that slowly developed into a cult following. I do not really consider this particular story racist (others are actually quite racist, particularly Tintin in the Congo), but more very critical of the Soviet regime. However, there is no difference between the ways that the Soviets ran their government and the way Mugabe runs his. However the big difference is that the Soviets put a man into space, where as Mugabe simply puts men into the ground.