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"Tintin," a popular comic book in the 1930s, is at the center of a 21st-century controversy about race. Borders books in the U.K. removed a newly released copy of "Tintin in the Congo" from its children's book department after a customer complained that it's full of racial stereotypes. Now, Borders USA says it will place the book in the graphic book section of its stores.
NPR's Lynn Neary reports.
LYNN NEARY: David and Gifty Enright were browsing through the kids' section of their local Borders bookstore with their two young boys when they came upon "Tintin in the Congo." First published in 1931, the book was later an embarrassment to its creator, Herge, who made some changes after it was first published.
But he didn't remove all the offending scenes. And even fans of the "Tintin" series have described this book as full of racial prejudice. Gifty Enright, who is originally from Ghana, says it only took a glance to see that the images in the book were demeaning.
Ms. GIFTY ENRIGHT: And I immediately just saw that caricature of this little black boy sitting next to Tintin with these, you know, huge (unintelligible) of monkey lips. And I was just shocked that in 2007, a book like that was to sell in the children's section.
NEARY: David Enright, a human rights attorney, contacted Britain's Commission for Racial Equality, a watchdog agency for civil rights issues. The agency reviewed the book and determined that it was filled with hideous racial prejudice. In response, Borders U.K. made its decision to remove the book from the children's section. Borders USA quickly followed suit.
A spokeswoman for the company declined to be interviewed on tape, but said Borders wants to be responsive to sensitivity surrounding the book, but also wants its customers to have the right to choose whether or not to buy the book.
Karen Holt is a deputy editor at Publishers Weekly.
Ms. KAREN HOLT (Deputy Editor, Publishers Weekly): That's a very clear statement, that this is not a book that parents or grandparents should be going into a store and buying for children. I mean, this is saying this is a book for a more mature audience. And that is very likely to have an effect, you know, on sales.
NEARY: The book is due to be released by Little, Brown, in September. On its Web site, the publishing company says "Tintin in the Congo" may be considered somewhat controversial because it reflects colonial attitudes at the time. The company says it plans to contextualize the book in an explanatory preface.
British publishers of the book tried to do the same, but, says Holt, it's not so easy to do that.
Ms. HOLT: I think what makes it more stark is that this is a graphic novel, so it's not just the words, but it's the pictures, which really are rather shocking. And it's hard to imagine how children, in early elementary grades, could contextualize this sort of racist imagery and racist language.
NEARY: "Tintin" will be getting even more close attention in the next few years. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson have teamed up to direct and produce a trilogy based on the books.
Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.