The French name for comic books, bandes dessinées , differs from the English in a very important way; literally translated, it means ‘drawn strips’ and, unlike the English, makes no reference or suggestion to humour or comedy. As such, they are viewed quite differently in francophone countries, not necessarily as something for children but rather as an art form their own right. Indeed, this field is known (in French speaking countries) as le neuvième art, the ninth art (after architecture, sculpture, painting, dance, music, poetry, cinema and photography). In no country is this more obvious than Belgium. The Belgian love – and talent – for comics is obvious upon a visit to their capital, Brussels.
One of the oldest “proper Belgian” comics is the world famous Tintin, by Hergé. His first adventure, Tintin in the Land of the Sovietswas published in 1929 and he has since gone on to feature in a canon of 24 stories, published in over 50 languages, two full-length animated films and three live-action feature films and, just last year, Steven Spielberg’s award-winning contribution to the canon.
Since then, many beloved characters have come out of Belgium. These characters are not limited to the bookstores, however: Brussels has dozens of huge murals depicting their favourite characters. Rather than being seen as graffiti, these enormous frescos bring a sense of light playfulness to the European capital. Originally painted to cover unsightly walls, the idea quickly caught on and now you can find one on virtually every street corner.
Find Lucky Luke, the perpetually smoking cowboy who is faster than his own shadow, catching the notorious Dalton Brothers on a building on the Rue de la Buanderie. Fans of Asterix and Obelix, those brave Gauls fighting off the Roman conquests, can find their (admittedly French, not Belgian) heroes charging a Roman fort just down the road. Tintin makes many appearances throughout the city.
Alongside the famous characters are some lesser known ones (at least lesser known outside of Belgium). Witness a young Batman-fan fleeing a giant Yeti from Mezzo’s Le Roi des Mouches (The king of the flies), or a scene from the acclaimed XIII, by Jean Van Hamme.
The centre of the city is littered with these massive monuments to the ninth art: it is impossible to miss them on a city tour of Brussels. Fans of the art, or anyone who is curious, should head over to the Belgian Comic Strip Centre (Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée), amusingly dubbed the CéBéBéDé, after the French initials. The museum, housed in a beautifully restored Art Nouveau department store, promises to delight anyone who appreciates good art.
See these characters in 3D at the MOOF, the Museum of Original Figurines, below the Central Station. The MOOF houses over 780 models of famous comic book characters. The smallest one is only 2cm tall, but the largest is a troll who towers over you at two and a half metres.So, if you’re in Brussels, make sure you don’t miss out on this big part of Belgian culture. Whether you were a fan of the books as a child (or an adult!), or are simply interested in exploring a newer artform, Brussels is the place to see it all.