I'm amazed that Herge drew/wrote Cigars of the Pharaoh
in the early 1930s and not the 1960s or later. The story's all about drug smuggling. Tintin gets threatened with arrest when someone plants heroin in his cabin aboard ship. And the analysis of the whys behind hungry farmers choosing to grow poppies instead of food could have come out of today's headlines:
"The poppy from which opium is made flourishes in this region. The drug traffickers terrorise my people. They force the peasants to grow poppies instead of food, and purchase the crop for a miserable sum. Then, when the unhappy people need the rice they should have grown for themselves, they have to buy it from the smugglers at exorbitant prices."
In addition to being topically relevant, there's plenty of wit on display in Cigars of the Pharaoh
. One of my favorite examples is Tintin using the name "Ali-bhai" (alibi) to disguise himself in Arabia. With some of Herge's wit comes discomfort, however. Racial stereotypes play an important role in Herge's humor. A scene where Snowy fights and bites a "sacred cow" and as a result is to be sacrificed on the altar of Siva is particularly offensive to me. Arabs and Subsaharan Africans receive suspect treatment as well. I've been critical of Herge's somewhat muted racism found in both Tintin books I've read thus far.
In the end, I found the topic of drug smuggling to be handled fairly well, and Herge's treatment of Hinduism, though still inappropriate, seemed less harmful than the handling of Native American culture and speech in Tintin in America
. Additionally, the coloring and artwork appeared more refined to me. My kingdom for a reduction in death-defying last second escapes, however.