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The Black Island is the seventh book in the series of Tintin adventures by Belgian writer and illustrator Hergé. There are three versions of The Black Island and the one I'm reviewing here is the 1943 edition. After it was originally published in b&w in the newspaper supplement Le Petit Vingtième in the 1930s, The Black Island was coloured and released again in 1943. In 1965, the book was updated again with new art after Hergé dispatched his assistant Bob de Moor to Britain (where the story is set) with a sketch pad in order to make it more accurate and bring the art into line with books like Explorers on the Moon and The Red Sea Sharks. The 1965 version of The Black Island is by far the most well known and circulated today but some Tintin fans believe that, despite the spectacular new art, the sixties version of The Black Island doesn't quite have the charm of the forties version.
The Black Island was inspired by suspense/adventure thrillers like The 39 Steps and begins with Tintin taking a stroll in the countryside with his dog Snowy. When a small red plane makes an emergency landing nearby, Tintin rushes to see if they need any help but is shot by one of the pilots, who are obviously up to no good (their plane is unregistered for starters). Our plucky hero is not badly wounded and, while he is recovering, is told by the detectives Thomson and Thompson that an unregistered plane crashed the night before in Sussex. Tintin's curiosity is sufficiently piqued for him to take a ferry to Britain to investigate matters further. However, his journey has barely began before he realises that someone is out to stop him and his trip to Britain will see him come face to face with a famous Tintin villain and stumble across a very elaborate criminal scheme indeed...
There a number of differences between this version of The Black Island and the much more widely read sixties version. The art here is in the spirit of early Tintin adventures like Tintin and the Broken Ear and Tintin wears a brown suit rather than his familiar blue jumper and white socks (which he wears in the sixties version of The Black Island and most of the other books). There are more guns in this version with Tintin, the villain and the British police all wielding firearms at various points. The later version of The Black Island toned this element down and took many of the guns away. On the whole, this version seems a little more violent with Tintin and (especially) Snowy, taking more of a battering at times. Some in-jokes from the sixties version of The Black Island, like the appearance of journalists from (the then recently published) The Castafiore Emerald are obviously absent in this book too.
I suppose the biggest change has to do with the art and background details. Methuen felt The Black Island was out of date in the sixties and didn't portray Britain in a very accurate manner so Hergé's assistant Bob de Moor was sent to Blighty (everywhere from Sussex to the Highlands of Scotland) to do sketches and take photographs of trains, cars, buildings, even getting hold of a police uniform as part of his research. So in this early version of The Black Island the cars, planes and fire engines are all much more old-fashioned and the spectacular backdrops (most notably Tintin arriving in Kiltoch) of the sixties update are not present. I adore the sixties version of The Black Island because it's the one I grew up with (and the new art is wonderful and in line with the classic Tintin stories like Tintin in Tibet and Explorers on the Moon) but I can understand why some feel the forties Black Island is a little more charming.
The argument is that the forties version gives us a 'Hergé imagination' Britain whereas the sixties version presents a 'Studio Tintin' Britain based on research and collaboration. The forties version is therefore a more artistically 'pure' work and less diluted. My own view is that any version of The Black Island is great fun and while this version perhaps has a little more atmosphere, the sixties version is superb too because of the extra details. Both seem like period pieces to modern readers anyway now and any Tintin fan worth his salt should just make sure they pick up both versions of the book sooner or later. The most important thing is that the premise and story remains a lot of fun in either version, a funny and entertaining yarn packed with intrigue and incident on every page. This is a great old fashioned adventure with plenty of twists and turns, cliffhanger situations, memorable villains, and many funny moments and jokes.
It's interesting to read the book in this form and although this is still The Black Island and rattling good fun, it does have that early aura of books like The Blue Lotus which makes it enjoyable to read and a slightly different experience. The Black Island doesn't include Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus because they had yet to be introduced to the series but the story is so fast moving you never really miss them. The story here is constantly propelled by Tintin's curiosity and eagerness to investigate. Although it obviously doesn't have the slickness and intricate detail of the sixties version, this is still a lovely book in its own right and the more vintage period trappings undoubtedly add some charm into the mix.
I don't have any axe to grind against the sixties version of The Black Island because I grew up with that one and love it. It is (unavoidably) to me the standard version of The Black Island. The coloured forties version of The Black Island is just as good though, just slightly different and Tintin fans should definitely get hold of both versions if they can (and the first colour editions of Cigars of The Pharaoh, Tintin and the Broken Ear, King Ottokar's Sceptre, Tintin in America and The Blue Lotus). While I personally slightly prefer the sixties version for the more accurate depiction of Britain and the fantastic backdrops, there isn't much to choose between them and this is still a wonderful book in its own right.