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At the end of The Broken Ear (one of the Tintin adventures), the villains Alonso and Ramón are chased, presumably to hell, by a gaggle of winged, horned, merry devils.

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It, as far as I can tell, is one of the few fantastic scenes ever featured in the comics; though the rate and scope of Tintin's exploits are quite improbable, they are, in the end, at least plausible. But this scene with the devils stands out.

Has Hergé ever commented on this scene and justified/explained its inclusion? Does it have some sort of deeper meaning? Was the imagery ever objected to by audiences or publishers?

2 Answers 2

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I am not aware that Hergé commented on this scene specifically, but its incongruity has been widely noted. In Tintin: The Complete Companion, Michael Farr notes that:

as The Broken Ear nears its conclusion, Hergé allows his imagination to run away in a truly medieval manner. The villains of the adventure, the bungling Ramon Bada and Alonso Perez sink to the bottom of the sea and in the most fanciful image in all Tintin - except for dreams - Hergé portrays three winged, horned and cloven-footed demons, armed with two-pronged forks, dragging the unfortunate pair down to hell. Such treatment is more typical of a medieval illuminated manuscript than a twentieth century strip cartoon, and as such remains an anomaly in the Tintin adventures.

Farr hypothesises that this scene was included to appeal to the young readers of the comic strip. At the time (long before the strips were published in albums as comic books in their own right) Tintin was serialised in Le Petit Vingtième, a conservative, Catholic newspaper distributed in Belgium. Farr writes that:

Devils and hell, however, would have seemed to the young Roman Catholic readers of Le Petit Vingtième to be just and expected retribution for evil

The two characters were responsible for an unusually high level of crime (at least two, and possibly three murders), which possibly accounts for their special fate.

Concerning the second part of the question, "Was this imagery ever objected to?", this did happen at least once. Tintin was syndicated to a French newspaper aimed at Catholic children, called Coeurs Vaillants. In Tintin and the World of Hergé, Benoît Peeters relates how the manager of the newspaper, Abbot Courtois, visited Hergé in Brussels to complain about this strip.

[Hergé's] relations with Abbot Courtois were never simple. He often felt that Hergé's stories did not place enough emphasis on "Divine Providence"; in some cases he went so far as to edit dialogue himself. At the end of The Broken Ear, when the two bandits die, he actually asked Hergé to redraw the scene, and we see Tintin add with a faraway look on his face, "God have mercy on them."

Original and modified frames from "Coeurs Vaillants" showing the deaths of the two bandits in "The Broken Ear"

(graphics taken from the webpage https://tintinomania.com/tintin-cv-oreille-cassee-dieu-ame )

Hergé naturally resented this kind of meddling, commenting "On the surface it cost me nothing, but that kind of addition was really difficult for me."

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The last we saw of Ramón and Alonso is that they drowned each other under the mistaken belief that they were still fighting Tintin.

Three comic-book panels. In the first, Tintin, Ramón and Alonso are struggling with each other underwater. In the second, Tintin is being pulled from the sea by three sailors in a rowboat. In the third, Ramón and Alonso are still struggling as they reach the seabad.

So the panel with the devils should be understood as symbolic or allegorical rather than directly representational, indicating that the villains are destined for Hell, as suggested in the question.

Symbolic panels like the one in the question are rare in the Tintin albums, but here are three from Tintin in Tibet, where angel and devil versions of the dog Snowy symbolize his superego and id respectively:

Three comic-book panels. In the first, the head of the dog Snowy appears in from of a bubble containing Snowy as an angel saying, “You unhappy creature! It was whisky! Alcohol! Dragging an animal down to the level of man!” In the second, a red version of Snowy as a devil appears, saying “So what? Feels good, doesn’t it? Warms the cockles of your heart, eh?” In the third, the angel version of Snowy is weeping, and the devil version is pointing and saying, “What about some more? Look—all that whisky, dripping away”. Snowy’s gaze follows the devil’s gesture and his tongue hangs out.

Tintin magazine sometimes had covers that were not intended to represent “real” events in the Tintin universe. In the cover below, the one-year-old Tintin in the pram symbolizes the magazine itself, which was celebrating its first anniversary of publication. Note the use of angels and a devil, parodying Christian allegorical art.

Cover of Tintin magazine for 25 Septembre 1947. Tintin and his dog Snowy are tucked up in a giant pink perambulator, attended by Captain Haddock, Professor Calculus, and an Inca boy. Detectives Thomson and Thompson are represented as angels with wings, one playing a lute and the other a straight trumpet. A banner reads “Tintin a un an! …et il grandira encore!…” In the bottom right a small red devil walks away disgusted.

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  • Useful nswer. Small nitpick: " ... parodying ... " seems somewhat off target. Hard to find an apposite term, but more a fun reflction than the sense of somewat ridicule that is usually associated with parody. More celebrating / reflecting / drawing on / ... . Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 1:01
  • I'm an olde antipodean. I'm well versed in the use of the term generally in its several senses. I suggest that while it can definitely mean "comedic immtation" it also often carries a sense of ridicule, and it is nor certain that this meaning can be fully escaped when it is used, regardless of the intention. || Merriam Webster: " ... in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule ... 2 a feeble or ridiculous imitation." || A web-wander provides examples in both directions. Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 12:05
  • Fatal embrace :-) . || My "seem to understand" is concisely covered in my above: " I suggest that while it can definitely mean "comedic imitation" it also often carries a sense of ridicule, and it is not certain that this meaning can be fully escaped when it is used, regardless of the intention." [2 typos fixed]. I'm saying - you may well mean xxx but I feel that a hint of yyy may be inescapable. IF you do not wish yyy to be sensed then some other word may be better. If you do not care if some readers may get the impression that I do, then, lay on :-). Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 12:48
  • Great answer. For me, it's a great way of introducing 'death' into the story without actually dealing with the horror of what occurred or what might be suitable for a comic format.
    – Sid James
    Commented Sep 8, 2023 at 13:34

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