Monday, July 1, 2013

Belgian Comics All Over Brussels

In addition to beer and chocolate, Belgium is famous for comic books. They have a high level of production (30 million books a year, 75% of which are exported) and a lot of familiar characters. The most famous have to be Tintin and the Smurfs, though Asterix is a strong contender, and plenty of other characters inhabit the shelves and the hearts of people across the world.

Brussels shows this national affinity for comics in various ways. The Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinee is a museum dedicated to comic book art and history. The building has three levels and is full of archives, life-size cartoon sets, art, and memorabilia from 20th and 21st century comics. Unfortunately we didn't make it to the museum, it just missed out on our hectic schedule.

Another museum, the Museum of Original Figurines, has many sculptures of comic and pop culture characters. It's located by the central train station and we walked by it twice, both times when it was closed. We saw Obelix, Asterix's companion, and a cutaway of the Millennium Falcon in the windows. It looked really cool though I probably would have spent too much, both time and money, there.

We couldn't miss the various bits of street art, however. Many buildings in the city center feature huge images of comic art. Maps are available from both the CBBD museum and the tourist information center to follow a route. We just happened on them as we could.

Art by Frank Pe

Noirish scene meant blend in

A comic tower  with Manneken Pis as the base

The Smurfs were created by an artist named Peyo (1928-1992). They were originally part of a medieval series Peyo was working on, and a minor part at that. They were quite popular and gained their own comic strip. By the 1980s there was a world-wide craze for the Smurfs. They are now seeing a resurgence in cinemas, but you can find them on the streets and in the shops all over Brussels.

Albino Smurf with the kids

Smurf Chess!

Tintin has a rather interesting history. His creator, Georges Remi, created a pen name by reversing his initials and pronouncing them a French way, so he became Herge. He started drawing comics at age 15 for a Boy Scouts magazine. Later, he worked on a children's supplement to the Catholic journal Le XXe Siecle (The Twentieth Century). Finally, he came up with Tintin the reporter, whose first adventure appeared in 1929 in the supplement. Like the Smurfs, Tintin became a breakout hit. During the Nazi occupation, Herge continued to produce comics though they were carefully edited to be as political neutral as possible. Once World War II ended, Herge was accused of being a collaborator. He was summoned for questioning but released the same day. The strong sense of justice in his comics, even during the war, demonstrated his innocence. He continued to write stories, often doing extensive research to make more accurate and more interesting Tintin stories.

Tintin, Snowy, and Capt. Haddock use a fire escape

Comic strips are known as the Ninth Art* (after number seven and eight, film and television) and are a popular form of storytelling to this day, maybe nowhere more popular than in Belgium.

Violence in the streets!

A rural mural!

*For those interested, the nine arts are the following (taken from here):
  1. architecture
  2. sculpture
  3. painting
  4. dance
  5. music
  6. poetry
  7. cinema
  8. television
  9. comic strips

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