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'The Crab With The Golden Claws' first published in 1941 is the 9th instalment in the adventures of Tintin a series of comic strip albums written and illustrated by Belgian artist Georges Rémi better known by his pen name Hergé. The series of comic books have proved hugely successful over the years and are still in print. Apart from anything else this particular story is an important landmark in the Tintin series in that is the first to feature Captain Haddock who would quickly become one of Tintin most well known sidekicks. The strip was completely redrawn and a colour version was published in album form in 1943. The one I am reviewing is a later colour publication from 1960. In later version of the stories some of the characters were changed, the henchmen on the ship were originally black but became white and Arabic for the 1960's American publication to appease racial segregation sensibilities of the time. Surprisingly these changes were not reversed in later publications.
'The Crab with the Golden Claws' is an epic tale spanning adventures on the high seas, in aeroplanes and in the sandy deserts of North Africa. Tintin has to battle against a gang of money counterfeiters and drug smugglers.
We begin with the bungling Scotland Yard detective duo the Thompson Twins (loosely based on Hergé's father and uncle who were identical twins who wore matching bowler hats) tell their friend the famous teenage reporter Tintin about the strange case of a murdered man found with a scrap of paper on him with the word Karaboudjan scrawled on it. The paper seems to come from the label off a can of crab meat. The various clues lead Tinitin to a ship captained by the drunken Captain Haddock and soon he is on the trail of a gang of drug smugglers.
The story is very ambitious and Hergé takes us on a fantastic journey from the seas of the Atlantic to the rather different seas of sand in the Sahara. The themes and setting for the stories deal with what was at the time seen as exciting and exotic. Before the advent of the cold war and international terrorism providing ready-made baddies for adventure stories, international criminals and smugglers usually were cast in this role. The nature of the story gives the illustrator ample opportunity to show off his skills as a cartoonist depicting rough choppy ocean scenes with as much ease as the sun baked sandy landscapes of the desert. The illustrations are a real treat in this story the use of vibrant colours is no better used than in the desert scenes where the deep blue cloudless sky contrasts wonderfully with the golden Saharan sand. It is probably the variety of the illustrations that lead this story to be the first of the Tintin adventures to be made into a stop motion-animated feature film in 1947.
As with all the later Tinitin, certainly after 'The Blue Lotus' the story has enough complexity to keep both adult and younger readers entertained. The action takes place at a break neck pace and as usual the story is beautifully illustrated in colour. The pace of the story comes largely out of necessity since it would have originally appeared in two full page weekly editions thus a cliff hanger at the end of each double page would help keep the readers interested. The story itself had problems being published since it appeared in 1940-41 at a time of paper shortages during the war which led to some of the editions being delayed.
The most interesting thing about this story is the introduction by Hergé of Captain Archibald Haddock. The Captain Haddock of this story is rather different form the later version all fans have come to know and love. This captain Haddock is a good for nothing drunk that is easily manipulated by those around him. On more than one occasion in the story because of his addiction to drink Haddock rather than helping Tintin lands him in mortal danger. Originally Captain Haddock wasn't going to feature very much but in this story although hardly a fully heroic character Hergé did spot something in the Captain that his readers were sympathetic to. The character most readers are familiar with took time to develop. In many ways Captain Haddock is the perfect foil to Tintin, Captain haddock's cantankerous demeanour and his healthy slice of cynicism balances out Tintin's unbounded courage and gun-ho attitude. We are also introduced to the Captain's colourful vocabulary when he utters such phrases as "billions of blue blistering barnacles", "ten thousand thundering typhoons", "ectoplasm", "sea gherkin", "anacoluthon", "pockmark", "nincompoop" and many more.
The arrival of Captain Haddock also meant a slightly different role for Tiitin's other loyal sidekick Snowy the white Wire Fox Terrier. In the early stories Snowy would be the cynical one making side comments when Tintin embark on his most foolhardy course of action frequently, speaking to the reader through his thoughts, which are not heard by the human characters, in later stories with Captain Haddock snowy forgoes this role to the Captain and adopts a more comic presence in the stories, although he still is ever-present in all the subsequent adventures. One thing that Captain Haddock and Snowy both share is a love of Loch Lomond brand Scotch whisky!
Once again Hergé introduces lots of slapstick comedy to the story mostly at the expense of the accident prone Thompson twins and the inebriated captain Haddock. Tintin is as intrepid as ever proving he can match the villains in a fist fight or with a gun and show lots in ingenuity in getting out of some tight scrapes.
'The Crab with the Golden Claws' is a fine addition to the series and maintains the high standards of storytelling and illustration that and earlier adventure the 'The Blue Lotus' began. As it is also the debut of one of the series most enduring and likeable characters Captain Haddock it is a must for all Tintin fans.
'The Crab with the Golden Claws' is available from Amazon.co.uk in large format paperback (29.7 x 22 x 1.2 cm - 64 pages, ISBN-10: 1405206209/ISBN-13: 978-1405206204) for £5.49 at the time this review was written.
© Mauri 2011
The Crab with the Golden Claws is the ninth book in the Adventures of Tintin series- and one which would serve as a major turning point for the other books to follow. This episode was first published in serial comic strip form in 1941 before it was turned into a book in 1943. In all the Tintin series, I think that this is the first to touch upon the matter of drug smuggling; I myself first learned about drugs and drug smuggling from this book when I first read it when I was ten! The Crab with the Golden Claws is my second favorite Tintin book, mainly because of the introduction of my favorite character- Captain Haddock.
Thompson and Thomson discover a scrap of paper with the word Karaboudjan scrawled messily upon it. Tintin decides to investigate and soon learns that a man has been kidnapped and held onboard a ship called the Karaboujan. He decides to go onboard and hides on the ship after it leaves port. Tintin is soon caught in the middle of some very dangerous drug smugglers and in trying to escape; he meets an alcoholic, depressed Captain. Will Tintin escape? How will he solve the case of the smugglers and drug trafficking?
I do believe that this was a brilliant introduction to Captain Haddock, and I have no idea how Hergé did it but he somehow managed to depict an instant chemistry between Tintin and the Captain. I think that the first meeting between them was quite artfully done- especially in terms of how these two characters will relate to each other in the books to come. Moreover, this is also the book when readers first get to experience the Captain's choice of explicit swear words. This was according to me, quite a nice way to slice through the bleakness of them theme and add some comic dimension. Actually, it was more of a hilarious than mere comical dimension. I think that Captain Haddock is definitely one of the best-developed characters in the Tintin series- maybe even more than Tintin himself. While the main protagonist is somewhat limited and fixed in his mannerism and facial expressions, Captain Haddock is extremely expressive with a very interesting, very amusing feisty personality.
Adventure-wise, there was lots of intrigue and interesting twists and turns to the story. It even had a slight dose of suspense and unpredictability to it and I think that the concept of drug smuggling was handled in such a way that both children and adults alike will be able to read and enjoy the episode- albeit in different ways of course.
Overall, very, very highly recommended. This is the second Tintin book I ever read and I enjoyed every single page of it. Fans of Tintin will really delight in this first introduction of Captain Haddock.
All Tintin books are available on Amazon and eBay for £ 6.49 (aprox) and are around 62-64 pages.
~Thanks for reading~
The Crab with the Golden Claws is the ninth book in the classic series of Tintin adventures by Belgian writer and illustrator Hergé and was first published in serial comic strip form in 1941. The story is most famous for introducing Captain Haddock to the series and showing us his first ever meeting with Tintin. The Crab with the Golden Claws begins with Tintin and the accident prone detectives Thomson and Thompson drawn into investigating a puzzling mystery that revolves around counterfeit coins, tins of crab and a drowned sailor. The trail eventually leads to a ship called the Karaboudjan where Tintin is quickly abducted by the crew for sticking his nose into their business, finding himself tied up with rope in the bottom of the hold.
The reason for this is that opium is hidden in the crab tins held on the Karaboudjan - as Tintin finds out for himself onboard - and the chief villain behind this drug smuggling scheme is the crooked first mate Allan, who would of course become a recurring baddie in later Tintin books. Allan has been keeping his drunken but honest boss - a certain Captain Haddock - topped up with whisky so he'll be easier to manipulate and fool but when Tintin and Haddock accidently meet on the Karaboudjan they are soon involved in the first of what would be many extraordinary adventures together...
A stirring adventure with some great moments, The Crab with the Golden Claws is only slightly hampered by artwork that - while still superb - is not quite as crisp as the later Tintin volumes and a plot/story that requires an awful lot of exposition from some supporting characters in the third act to tie everything up. Like many of the Tintin stories, The Crab with the Golden Claws begins in a relatively innocuous fashion and then quickly embroils our reporter hero in a globetrotting adventure full of intrigue and danger with some enjoyably wicked villains up to no good. We do of course get the first ever meeting between Captain Haddock and Tintin in The Crab with the Golden Claws and, interestingly, Haddock is a rather weak and sad character when we first meet him. He's permanently sozzled and practically being held captive on his own ship by Allan while the opium operation secretly goes on around him. Haddock is really put through the mill in The Crab with the Golden Claws, a book which seems to have some echoes of the troubled times that it was conceived in.
In his inebriated state, the Captain is completely unaware of the Karaboudjan's secret cargo and only concerned with where his next drink is coming from. When Tintin makes off in a small boat with Haddock in tow and then takes a nap when he is too tired to continue rowing, the Captain drinks the rum ration and sets fire to the oars to keep warm. 'I'm sorry! I drank the rum from the locker. I'm a miserable wretch.' Haddock is a hindrance and source of irritation and trouble to Tintin for much of the story but The Crab with the Golden Claws is about his redemption as much as anything and does have an arc that shows how they became friends who would look out for one another in the future. Tintin's patience and friendship eventually saves Haddock from himself and brings forth flashes of the brave and decent - if accident prone - character that we would come to know in future books and explains why he always felt obliged to go on Tintin's numerous adventures to lend support even if he didn't particularly want to. Captain Haddock is essentially a very human counterpoint to Tintin.
The escapades at sea here are very nicely done and there is an exciting set of panels as Tintin desperately attempts to keep control of a plane during a violent storm that is atmospherically conveyed by billowing grey clouds across a black sky with electric bolts of yellow lightning. The Crab with the Golden Claws also features four wonderful giant 'splash' page illustrations that are like posters, including a spectacular one of a sea plane buzzing over the boat our heroes are trying to escape in, two street picture scenes set in French Morocco and - my own personal favourite - Tintin and Captain Haddock wearily trudging through the endless Sahara desert.
The Sahara section is probably the strongest in The Crab with the Golden Claws with several inventive flourishes by Hergé and some nicely drawn desert panels under a huge blue sky. Captain Haddock thinks they are in Spain (!) at first but keeps muttering 'The land of thirst!' when Snowy finds a giant bone from a camel skeleton and it dawns on them where they actually are. The parched and doolally Haddock keeps imagining Tintin as a bottle of champagne in the unbearable heat and Hergé's art is enjoyably surreal at times in these moments. Haddock has a famous moment later on too when a bottle of drink he swiped from a fort is smashed during a gun battle in the sand dunes and he charges in the general direction of the culprits waving his rifle above his head with his usual volley of colourful insults soon filling the desert air. 'Rats! Ectoplasms! Freshwater swabs! Bashi-bazouks! Cannibals! Caterpillars!'
Thomson and Thompson return to the story later on and provide their usual quota of comedy as they hopelessly try to blend into the Moroccan surroundings (with bowler hats still on of course) without standing out and there are some good moments as Tintin and Captain Haddock move towards a final showdown with Allan and his goons. A bit where they both become intoxicated from the powerful fumes caused by wine barrels with bullet holes in them in an underground cellar is quite amusing and once again Tintin proves to be a master of disguise when he goes undercover. The art in the Morocco scenes is very detailed at times with some nice drawings of old cars and vans. The Crab with the Golden Claws is a lot of fun on the whole with some great moments and - as this story introduces Captain Haddock - one of the first Tintin volumes that anyone should seek out before they read on.