Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Occupy Tintin

Tintin is copyright Herge! These images were taken from an underground publication, and used without permission. Their use here is in a non-commercial capacity.

Breaking Free is credited to J. Daniels. As if.

This blog has been a self-obsessed mopefest for quite some time. I've been trying to write something sensible on the subject of genre and literary fiction, and have been producing drivel. Let's try some other critical writing to get up to speed.

So here's my favorite volume of Tintin. I used to like the shooting star one because of the giant mushrooms and the spider and so on but in this one?

We can tell, Tintin. Everyone sees your boner.

Tintin is an unrepentantly vicious thug.

That's not all there is here, though. This is a genuinely fascinating volume. On one hand, you've got the crudely rendered ripoff of Herge. That's why this one is so hard to find -- this one move both made the volume immediately appealing and incredibly hard to distribute. On the other hand, the substance of the work is remarkably solid. This is not a case of shock for shock's sake. This is seriously intended literature. This is a practical guidebook for revolution.

Thatcher-era Britain. Tintin, a violent lowlife, gets caught up in a worker's revolution through his connection with Captain Haddock, a laborer and dedicated family man. Despite the crudity of the technical execution -- this is a classic example of cartooning as a practical rather than a creative art -- the story and characterization are well-done and effective, and skillfully interwoven with the story of the revolution. As a graphic novel, this is worth attention and study.

It's also a clear-eyed view of the politics of revolution, probably the best I've seen in fiction. While it blessedly eschews Marxist jargon, it follows the nuts-and-bolts of organizational work with real fidelity. The low-key, convincing dialog is a genuine pleasure, and the whole thing is grounded in a sense of community you don't find often in comics.

There are some union-related passages that startled me with their conviction and realism. And Tintin's growth as a person is convincingly lopsided and limited, and cleverly used as a means of demonstrating an ideology holding internal growth as being part of the revolutionary process.

The classism and violence are difficult to stomach at times. Let's be honest. My take on revolution? I don't want one, but if the possibility isn't on the horizon, we aren't going to see change. I'm one of those guys, figures Martin Luther King wouldn't have gotten nearly as far if if it hadn't been for Malcolm X.

So if my dad shows up one morning and says, "Get dressed. It's leg-breaking time," I'll be grumpy, but I'll go put on my leg-breaking pants. But I ain't starting anything because I don't have the stomach for it. Big, violent political movements always claim victims. You can't make an omelet without breaking legs.

Breaking Free makes it plain that revolution requires the willingness to force people to support your position. That change is going to be resisted by people who should embrace it, and that those people need to be goaded into the proper stance. And as I said, I don't have the stomach for that.

The ethics here are fascinating. Inside of one's social class, racism, sexism, and homophobia are to be opposed on principal, with the practical result of community solidarity. But anyone with too much income is not perceived as fully human. They are deserving receptacles for abuse and violence simply on the basis of their privilege. I have trouble demonizing the rich that way. I mean, I'm very practiced at it, I do it all the time, but I don't approve of it. Classism can resemble racism more closely than I feel comfortable with.

But despite my ideological differences, I found this an engaging and intelligent volume that succeeds both as a political work and as a story of character. I'm not a big fan of appropriated art, but in this case? Whoever did this was not an artist, or at least did not approach this job as art. This is commercial art used for revolutionary propaganda. What's not to love?


EFKelley said...

Kind of amazing how much things don't change. Asked the grandparents about all the vitriol in the public discussion these days and they said it's been about the same for the last fifty years. The only difference being how much I'm paying attention.

Sean Craven said...

There's no such thing as stability, is there?

Andrew said...

The problem with revolution is that a huge percentage of the revolutionaries don't want fair, justified changes. They're actually just seething with envy. They end up simply stealing and destroying. Unfortunately, there are no "Home - Sincerity Tests" at CVS.

Sean Craven said...

That's exactly it. The desire for an equitable society is rarely experienced in conjunction with the desire to pitch a brick into a mass of faceless strangers.

Sean Craven said...

Or soak a line of kneeling protesters with pepper spray.

Sean Craven said...

The minute you stop treating people like people, you lose me. That simple. I'm a very narrow-minded person.