TINTIN: THE BLACK ISLAND
REVIEW: The Black Island Tintin Adventure
LITTLE, BROWN AND COMPANY
Originally published 1956, reprinted infinitely since
Hergé is a master engineer of comic book pacing. He pushes his tales forward through their plots like a Swiss clock, though they constantly change location and often include fairly expansive casts of characters. In each adventure, a mystery emerges early and then off goes Tintin following the clues. This chain of events - defining the problem to solve, and then the footwork (and Tintin does quite a lot of running in these stories) seems to be the pattern for every Tintin story I have read. The sameness of the plot elements are as endemic to Tintin stories as they are to a whole comic book genre (say, superheroes); but it is in the quality of the writing and the superb draftsmanship (and the simple cartoonery of the characters) where Tintin has a consistently high level of quality.
The Black Island concerns itself with Tintin trying to discover why he was shot at (but only knocked unconcious) by a pair of pilots when he happened upon them and their stalled airplane in a rural Scotland field. The complications that develop after he recovers in a hospital soon suck in Thompson and Thomson, police detectives extraordinaire with apparent jurisdiction no matter what continent Tintin is on. As often happens in these tales when those two cops appear, it is not long before Tintin is in custody, framed as a mugger (certainly not as spectacular as when Tintin was framed as a heroin smuggler in Cigars of the Pharoahs!) A criminal syndicate is hard at work, using airplanes to move their illegal goods, and they mean to eliminate Tintin before he can figure out what they are up to.
The story takes Tintin from place to place, the criminals repeatedly failing in their efforts to render the "boy reporter" dead; meanwhile (this being Scotland) there are a number of visual jokes about the alcohol Scotch, which Tintin's sidekick (he is certainly is not just a pet dog) Snowy gets smashed on. Ever-loyal, but with a detached and bemused attitude toward the ridiculous complications Tintin hurls himself into, Snowy is a lot more helpful than most canine "pals," and despite his punitive size, will confront anything of any size in defense of his owner (except, in an ironic scene later in this story, spiders).
Finally tracking the activities of the criminal gang to a supposedly haunted island crowned with an abandoned castle off the coast, Tintin dressed in tartan and leggings buys a boat (no one will rent him one to go to the infamous isle) heads off for the tale's climax. A frightening gorilla named Ranko figures in the end, plus a great deal of slapstick comedy.
Altogether well-done and crafted page after page with a commitment to visual consistency without shortcuts and tricks. Detail in each panel goes toward depicting a physically real place (in this tale, parts of England and Scotland), but cast in a cartoon land all the same. The age level for these tales is young, perhaps five to early teens; however, any person, particularly adults, with a serious interest in the "comic book arts" would find these a fascinating display of excellence in craftsmanship.
Amazon sells the large-format Tintin The Black Island for approximately $9.00 USD
(The large format Tintin albums are far superior to the cheaper "mini" Little-Brown 3-album hardback collections, which market the material much in the same way a digest collection markets a regular-sized American comic book page, i.e., a minute format much harder to read and the art more difficult to explore.)
Tintin The Black Island Promotional Poster
Read about this unusual Black Island promotional poster here
Tintin- The Castafiore Emerald (1963)
Tintin and the Blue Lotus (1934)
Tintin and the Land of the Soviets (1929)
Tintin and the Black Island (1956)
Original review December 9, 2006; updated March 2011