June 10 2012
Last weekend the cover of a Tintin comic book was auctioned for more than a $1.6m! Yes, a human being, breathing and blinking like you and me, blows up such a vast amount of sweet-candy dollars for a book cover. Not a book, get it right, a book cover!
This world of creatures of God is truly a strange place. It is inhabited by sober human beings, like you and me, and by some hay-wired weirdoes. But then hay-wired side by side with balanced, that’s the million-dollar question. And the answer: maybe that’s why there are money baggers and then skint suckers – like you and me.
We don’t think economics; we think stomach. We only buy the value we see – now. We do not see what creates value; we do not ‘soupechulate’ (speculate) as a president of a certain neighbouring country used to say, before sanitising his pronunciation. ‘Soupechuleitahs’ (speculators) see wealth spinners.
A book cover, auctioned in 2008, fetched $764,218. In previous years, it fetched less. What’s the wisest guess? So, when this anonymous speculator earns more than $3m in a few years to come, other millionaires who denied themselves this opportunity will be gnashing their teeth.
But that group, if I had similar cash, wouldn’t include me – over a Tintin comic book. Book, not book cover. Me, I’d throw a trillion dollars at any Tintin comedy any time, if I had it. That’s how much I enjoyed those comic strips.
Interestingly, my fist acquaintance with them came late in the day. That, therefore, meant that I read them at a time when I was saddled with serious books, in secondary school. Still, I made sure I found time for them, besides volumes on English grammar, Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Geography, History, the collection. During the whole first year of secondary school, I read all the 22 copies that existed.
I enjoyed all the main characters. Tintin, the crafty, eponymous hero of the gang. Snowy, his faithful but naughty fox terrier dog. The brash, cynical Captain Haddock and his string of swear expressions. Prof Calculus, highly intelligent but hearing-impaired. The incompetent pair of sleuths, Thomson and Thomson.
I loved the engaging, well-researched plots of all the comics. Me, I could not miss an opportunity to devour them.
But when it came to language, I was in Captain Haddock’s paddock. I remember one time when I was sitting at the back of the class. The class was making a ruckus, as the teacher was late, and I was reading aloud to myself, trying to hear the sound of the words. It was difficult so I was shouting: “Billions of bilious blue blistering barnacles!” Then silence.
When I looked up, all eyes were on me. The teacher, also staring at me, growled: “Ingina, come here!” I obediently went to the front of the class and faced Mr. Rwabibi, our harsh Maths teacher.
When he asked me to repeat what I’d shouted and I repeated it, he looked at me blankly and asked: “What gibberish is that?” I politely told him I’d been straining to read a book while the others were shouting and, with a contented face, he told me to go back to my seat. He was happy that, unlike the others, I’d been using my time profitably. I thanked my Tintin!
I’d been saved punishment because my teacher thought it was a serious book; he’d not read it. The language of any comic would have been easy to understand and, even as a Maths teacher who read only serious stuff, he’d have known that I actually was reading comics in class. That’s how I took to swearing by Cpt. Haddock’s innocent swear phrases. Ten thousand thundering typhoons! Freshwater swabs! Blundering bazookas! Miserable molecule of mildew! Abominable snowman! Misguided missile! The catalogue.
But the stories were equally exciting. For instance, I enjoyed “Tintin in Congo”, even if there was a touch of racism. Racism manifested itself in the way black characters were treated like slaves, all of them carrying loads for white characters. It could also be seen in the dress method: black characters donning only white collars and cuffs, over bodies that looked like black, bow-tie suits.
Still, the fun of seeing a leopard running away from its own reflection in a mirror erased all evil thoughts of racism. To be fair to the creator of these comics, also, we must consider that he reflected the picture of what his people took Africa to be. That may have translated as a man who was laughing at his own society which had limited knowledge of the rest of the world.
That explains why a Congolese man who thought he’d make a windfall out of the money the comics were earning lost the case when he sued.
Tintin won the day, as sure he should. The good teacher he is, he could not lose. He is a teacher of English, Geography, History, Politics, Sociology, name it.
I hope our youths will one day realise this. Comics are a trillion times better than today’s computer games that only teach ‘grunt language’ and ‘sound bytes’! Floundering oath, they are!