In the comic book Land of Black Gold originally drawn in 1939 but finished or redrawn some time in 1948 by the Belgian author Hergé (Georges Remi), one of the bad guys can apparently detect from the soles that a person is a police officer of sorts. Here is an excerpt from the comic in question, with the relevant setting:

enter image description here

The location is an oil tanker on its way to a fictional middle eastern kingdom. The man in the first panel is the "bad guy", and the man searching the drawer is Thomson, a Belgian detective, a fact unknown to the bad guy.

Since this is featured in a comic book, my guess is that it would be common knowledge for a teenager in 1939, but definitely not to me. My question is then, what is it actually he reacts to here?

Did the police back then always wear a certain type of shoes, or is it that every sailor had to wear special shoes, and the shoes he sees are instead "normal" shoes?

  • 2
    Europe... Any particular part?
    – Ne Mo
    Feb 4, 2017 at 16:04
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is a question about a fictional, alternate history. Historical sources and methods cannot be applied to fictional universes.
    – MCW
    Feb 4, 2017 at 21:51
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    @NeMo: Belgium, presumably, since that is where the comic book was written and (initially) published. Feb 4, 2017 at 22:33
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    FWIW there is some tradition of police being described by their gait or footwear: Gumshoe for detectives, flatfoot or plod for beat cops. The comic might be making a play on a similar slang term.
    – Flambino
    Feb 4, 2017 at 23:57
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    @MarkC.Wallace this is specifically a question about life imitating art on a historical context so perfectly appropriate. Very much like a lot of the background detail in Sherlock Holmes being general knowledge of the time.
    – Stevetech
    Feb 6, 2017 at 22:47

1 Answer 1


Not sure if specifically a police issue - but the image seems to indicate Thompson as wearing hobnail shoes (the dots patterning his soles). They were common in military shoes, but also for other purposes.

However, they are not appropriate on ships with steel decks (especially in wet conditions), as the wearer would skid on the surface as they walked, so that might be a giveaway that Thompson is not a sailor.

  • 1
    I believe they were in a spaceship though :D
    – Ant
    Feb 4, 2017 at 18:28
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    @Ant Spaceship? "Across Europe, car engines are spontaneously exploding; a result of someone tampering with the petrol at its source. With Europe on the brink of war, Captain Haddock is mobilised into the navy while Tintin and detectives Thomson and Thompson set off for the Middle Eastern kingdom of Khemed on board a petrol tanker." Feb 4, 2017 at 21:14
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    My internet sleuthing indicates that Scotland Yard (London Metro Police), where these two characters purportedly worked, tended to employ a "rougher" sort of man, former laborers and military men, who favored high-traction hobnail footwear instead of everyday shoes with flat leather soles. However, as mentioned above, wearing hobnail shoes on an oil-stained steel deck would be dangerous and cause the sort of slapstick pratfalls these characters were known for.
    – rolfedh
    Jun 9, 2020 at 10:43

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