In February 2001 two Belgian smugglers met their contacts in the town of Doornik. There was some small talk, a few jokes, then the smugglers showed off the merchandise. Copies of a comic book called Tintin in Thailand. The buyers flicked through a few pages and pulled out handcuffs. They were undercover police.
Shortly after, Antwerp police raided the home of the mastermind behind the operation: Baudouin de Duve, 50-year-old former expat and member of a prominent Belgian family. His uncle had won the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
Tintin is a comic book hero created in Belgium but globally famous. Hergé (aka Georges Prosper Remi) first drew the adventurous boy detective for the kids’ section of Brussels newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle in 1929. For the next 54 years the Belgian cartoonist sent his creation exploring a ligne claire world, from the African jungle to outer space. Most readers encounter Tintin in the elegantly slim hardback versions of the comic strips. Tintin in the Congo, Tintin in Tibet, Tintin and the Picaros, and 21 more.
But Hergé never wrote a book called Tintin in Thailand.
The Man Behind The Pen
De Duve had only been back in Belgium a few months when the black police BMW drew up outside his door. Since the mid-1980s he had spent most of his time in Chiang Mai, a warm city in northern Thailand discovered by the Belgian while working on a film shoot. De Duve liked the weather, the beer, the Thai prostitutes, the bars, the massage parlours. He had a few different jobs and some money from home. Life was good.
Around 1994 he got hold of a bootleg Tintin book called Tintin en Suisse (Tintin in Switzerland), a pornographic parody of the Hergé strip secretly published twenty years earlier.
“It really disappointed me,” said De Duve, “because it was very vulgar and badly designed.”
The Belgian was a keen cartoonist, although not too interested in Hergé’s work, and told friends he could do better. They encouraged him to write his own parody.
He got to work, faxing finished artwork to fellow expats as he completed it. The 62 pages took him six years, as the pressures of work and private life got in the way. When the book was finally completed in 2000, De Duve had it printed locally in an edition of a few hundred softcover copies, using the name Bud E. Weyser.
A Gay Tintin
The thick-lined artwork in Tintin in Thailand is passable but not great. You’ll find the comic funny if you like the idea of Captain Haddock swearing (“You’re a bloody wanker”), Professor Calculus visiting brothels (“I want you to put this little hat on before we start the Siamese wheelbarrow”), and Tintin hanging round gay clubs (“I’m a bit fed up with girlie bars …”).
The plot involves the trio being hired to track down Séraphin Lampion who has gone missing on a trip to an insurance convention in Thailand. Cue bar and brothel crawling for 60 or so pages.
Thai girls are portrayed as tee-heeing happy hookers, Thai men as grumpy cab drivers or silicon injected ladyboys. Everyone wants money. Expats are stereotypes and lots of characters from previous Tintin adventures turn up: General Alcazar runs a go-go club, opera singer Bianca Castafiore fronts rock group The Blue Lotus, and Snowy rapes a Siamese cat. A dish of Belgian rabbit plays a central but never very well explained role.
The sex never crosses into the explicitly hardcore and the local colour must have got a chuckle from Chiang Mai expats. There’s a fair amount of meta commentary. People keep mistaking the heroes for other fictional characters (“Aren’t you Mickey and Goofy?”, “How’s Miss Piggy doing?”) and Mrs Lampion persuades Tintin to take the Thai job with the argument that he won’t have to pay the Hergé estate, which is already taking the bulk of the royalties for his other adventures. Another character shows Tintin his favourite Tintin comic book: it’s called Tintin in Thailand … .
No-one could ever confuse it for a genuine Hergé.
Smuggling Comic Books
At first De Duve gave the book to his friends and sold copies in local bars popular with French speakers. Then, according to De Duve, it got bootlegged. He wasn’t sure how, but had his suspicions.
“In particular,” said De Duve, “a former French mercenary who had served in Burma one day offered to swap one of my albums for a copy of a biography written by his brother, also a mercenary.”
Two weeks later a bootleg edition credited to Farang Editions was on the streets. An English translation followed. De Duve claimed it had nothing to do with him and found the bootlegging so shocking he moved back to Antwerp with his Thai girlfriend. The next thing he knew Belgian police were knocking at his door. De Duve told them he had no connection with the Doornik book smugglers.
Not everyone believed him. The police only got involved because Hergé copyright holders Moulinsart SA had been alerted by booksellers. Someone was offering Tintin in Thailand for under the counter sales. When police arrested the pair who had smuggled in the books (from De Duve’s original printing, not subsequent bootlegs) both claimed to be working for the book’s author.
The Eyes Of The Law
Moulinsart was notoriously litigious in defending its intellectual property. All three men were arrested and charged with forgery. There was a possibility of jail time or at least sharp fines but De Duve’s love of beer saved them. By signing his work Bud E. Weyser he was able to claim Tintin in Thailand was parody. The judge agreed.
All confiscated copies of Tintin in Thailand were destroyed, although ones sold before the arrest escaped and bootlegs back in Chiang Mai continue to circulate. De Duve gave up on Belgium and returned to Thailand where he eventually got a job as a cartoonist with local magazine Gavroche. These days his work parodies expats.
Tintin in Thailand is officially still banned but curious readers can find copies in the bars of Chiang Mai or the darker corners of the internet.
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