Publishers of "Tintin in Congo" denied racism charges against the controversial comic book Friday, telling a Belgian court it reflected the "kind paternalism" of the 1930s, when it was penned.
As film buffs await this month's release of Steven Spielberg's Avatar-style blockbuster, "The Adventures of Tintin", a years-long case for racism against the 1931 comic book by Belgian-born Herge (real name Georges Remi) held its last hearing, with a ruling due next year.
Lawyers for Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo, a Congolese citizen who brought the charges, claim the book to be "a justification of colonisation and of white supremacy" that should be deemed racist under Belgian law and pulled off shelves.
Rejecting the charge as "a totally twisted reading" of the book, which has sold 10 million copies worldwide, the lawyer for the publisher and the copyright firm, Alain Berenboom, said Herge's book was a mere reflection of his times.
Herge, who was only 23 when he wrote the comic, which was later revised in 1946, had never left Belgium and drew his inspiration from reports by missionaries, museum artefacts and articles in the "bourgeois and conservative press".
"Herge was part of his times, it wasn't racism but kind paternalism," Berenboom said.
He said that should the book be banned or the publisers ordered to add a warning to a new edition, they might as well take the knife "to (Charles) Dickens on the Jews, Jules Verne on blacks or the Bible's attitude towards women."
Counter-attacking the plaintiff's claims, the lawyer, who is acting on behalf of French publishing house Casterman and Belgian firm Moulinsart which holds the Tintin franchise, said he would ask the court for 15,000 euros ($21,000) in damages.
The judge said she would issue a final ruling by mid-February in the case, which first opened in 2007 in a criminal court before being heard in a civil court from April last year.