Many know that the July 14 bridge — a convenient route to the US Embassy and government offices in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone — marks a 1958 coup when Iraq’s last king, King Faisal II was murdered, but not many know that the slain king lives on in the classic Tintin comic books.
On the morning of July 14, 1958, King Faisal II, who had just turned 23, was led into the palace courtyard with several family members. All were executed under the command of Captain Abdul Sattar As-Saba’a, a leader in a coup d’etat led by Colonel Abdul Karim Qassim. The young King Faisal II, however, had captured the imagination of the West — as well as Tintin creator Prosper Remi, who goes by the pen name Herge — when he succeeded the throne at the age of three (after the death of his father King Ghazi in 1939).
From childhood until death, the life of Iraq’s “boy king” was chronicled in photos and articles in popular US magazines like Time, Life and National Geographic. Herge quietly drew on the anecdotes to fashion [his King Faisal II inspired] character Prince Abdullah of the imaginary kingdom of Khemed. The mischievous Arab prince and practical joker both exasperated and charmed boy reporter Tintin and his irascible friend Captain Haddock, first in the Land of Black Gold (1950) and later in The Red Sea Sharks (1958). The real-life Faisal shared the same playfulness and sense of humour.
According to Frank Madsen, a Danish writer and illustrator of children’s books “In the story, Herge needed Abdullah to be kidnapped by the villain Dr Muller, so that his hero Tintin could go rescue him. But as always Herge wished to surprise his readers, so he made his character Abdullah into a spoiled kid, who did not want Tintin to rescue him at all.”
Despite Tintin’s real-life connection with Iraq, his comics remain virtually unknown to Iraqi teenagers, or even to an older generation.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 18th, 2011.