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Tintin will mark his 90th birthday this year with a return to controversy as his Belgian creator’s heirs release a new edition of ‘Tintin in the Congo’, a work from 1930 that draws accusations of racism.

The boy reporter’s adventure in the then Belgian colony was among the first Tintin stories to be serialised by the artist Herge, and his widow’s firm is launching a remastered digital version in colour to celebrate 90 years since the strip cartoon character first appeared in a Brussels newspaper in 1929.

The publishers dismissed suggestions that the story, which features charicatural black Africans with fat, red lips and wearing loincloths, was problematic: “Dialogue is most important and the work of deconstruction, decolonisation, is just as important,” Robert Vangeneberg told reporters on Thursday.

However, one Congolese, noted Brussels-based comic book artist Barly Baruti, said that he felt that bringing out a new edition of the work at a time when nationalist and racist groups appear to be on the rise in Europe was questionable: “We really ask ourselves if it is the right moment,” he said.

First issued as a complete album in book form in 1946, ‘Tintin in the Congo’ features Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy grappling with diamond smugglers and big game hunters.

A Belgian court reject an attempt by Congolese campaigners a decade ago to have the book banned. The judges said it reflected the colonial attitudes of its time and there was no evidence that Herge — who died in 1983 aged 75 — had held racist views.