Sunday, November 22, 2009

Cigars of the Pharaoh

Biblio Bits Cigars of the Pharaoh by Herge; Little, Brown, 1975 (ISBN 0316358363) [First published in Belgium as a comic serial between 1932-1934, then as a black-and-white album in 1934, then redrawn in color and published in 1955.]

Reading Level/Interest Age Ages 9+ (really, All Ages)

Genre Graphic Novel, Adventure

Plot Summary
Tintin and Snowy are relaxing aboard a cruise through Asia, "for a change." Pretty soon, as per usual, the two are embroiled in a new adventure. They meet Professor Sarcophagus on board, who is absent-minded and eccentric, as well as the hot-tempered film tycoon, Rastapopoulos. When unseen evil forces identify the "young journalist" as a nuisance and demand his disposal, the detectives Thomson and Thompson are brought in to arrest him. (This is the first time in the series that we meet this bumbling pair.) Tintin escapes, of course, and follows Sarcophagus into the Port town to the tomb of Kih-Oskh where they are all drugged and disposed of in coffins and set to sea. The adventure unfolds with almost non-stop action from here, including Tintin and Snowy's rescue by a gun-running captain, capture by a vengeful sheik (who is a Tintin fan, we find out), thwarted firing-squad death and burial of Tintin, escape by plane into the Indian jungle, learning elephant language, an evil fakir who is a hypnotist, poison blow darts, etc. Until, finally, Tintin solves the mystery in an intense conclusion, uncovering an international crime ring in the process.

Critical Evaluation
Herge's art is masterful, and in this installment those moments of beauty and clean composition come during the desert and ocean scenes. Cigars of the Pharaoh is one of the earlier stories, so Herge is still pretty tied to the narrative boxes. Sure, as referenced above, the plot is pretty predictable: capture, escape, capture, escape, repeat until Tintin thwarts the evil forces in a stunning conclusion. There are many readers who, especially as they are building their fluency and skills, find Tintin stories accessible and engaging. This is also true for reluctant readers, for the fast pace and simple text. Unlike some comics, Herge's are easy to navigate in terms of the flow of the boxes and text.

Reader's Annotation
Great snakes, it's Tintin! He's on another global adventure with Snowy, on the trail of an international crime ring, that begins in the Middle East and ends up in the jungle of India. (For the Tintinologists out there: What other Tintin adventure is visually referenced in this installment?)

Author Information
The Belgian author/illustrator known as Herge was born Georges Prosper Remi in 1907 and died in 1983. He is best known for his Tintin adventures, but began his career as a journalist and illustrator for the Catholic newspaper Le XXe Siecle. This position soon began to include more illustrative work and then a comic strip called Totor. Herge was the recipient of many awards, both within his lifetime and posthumously, and in 2009 the Herge Museum opened. (Information in this author biography is from Wikipedia and

Challenge issues
Oh, Tintin, how tweens (and others) still love you, though you are dated in your sexist and racist ideas. Somehow Tintin adventures continue to captivate readers of all ages, though we know these things, and that is what makes this book a classic. Racist: nonwhite people are usually portrayed stereotypically in their features. They are also likely to be "bad guys" or servants and to speak in a simplistic manner. Sexist: Bianca Castafiore is the only female character in the whole series who has any significance. There are also frequent references to drugs and smuggling and some violence.

Booktalking Ideas
Again, another book that won't need a booktalk. But I think any booktalk on graphic novels would be incomplete without some sort of Tintin presence, since Herge is considered the godfather of the graphic novel. Since these are books that are pretty much entirely in the genre of adventure (a little humor!), any Tintin book would also work in an adventure booktalk.

Curriculum Ties
This would be a great series to use to identify stereotypes and bias and to discuss the historical context that created them. Is it still OK to read them today, when we know differently? How might these books be offensive and to whom?

Why this book?
What kind of tween list would this be without Tintin on it? Tintin books are read to death in the library, until their pages are falling out, and they've been repaired until they can't be repaired any more. My twenty-three year-old brother still returns to his collection of Tintins, particularly when he's sick, re-visting stories that he has known since before he could read them himself.

Herge's awards include Adamson Awards for notable cartoonists, Sweden,1971; Grand Prix Saint-Michel comic award, Belgium, 1973; Hall of Fame, Harvey Awards for notable cartoonists, 1999; Eisner Award, Judge's Choice, 2003; 2007 commemorative coin motif, 20 Euro value, to celebrate the anniversary of Herge's birth.

Rockport Public Library owns?
Yes. (Volume 1, which includes three adventures.)

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