Walls born to be comic strips
Belgium has a famously sweet tooth. It’s no coincidence that Zaventem Airport, just outside of Brussels, reportedly sells more chocolate than any place on earth. But pralines and chocolate are not the sole passions of the Belgians, nor even their only claim to a world record. This small Northern European country boasts the largest number of comic strips per square kilometre, proof of their unconditional love of the ninth art. And, with a route of more than 50 façades traversing the city, Brussels is now paying tribute to leading comic book creators and characters.
Broussaille had the honour of being the first character to decorate a wall, in 1991.PHOTO: O.van de Kerchove
Modernist architecture and the ninth art come together at the Belgian Comic Strip Centre. Tintin and the Smurfs have their own rooms. More than 1,500 m2 dedicated to the characters, history and creators of comic strips. The giant rocket from Destination Moon presides over the entrance to this emblematic building, the work of Victor Horta.
Comic strips have a long tradition as an artistic language in Brussels. Their origins are linked to the press, and go back to the early 20th century. In 1929, the first Tintin comic strip was published in Le Petit Vingtième magazine. That is considered the start of the ‘Brussels school’, which would create a tidal wave of cartoonists in the 40s and 50s. From the 60s, characters like Blueberry (1963), written by Jean-Michel Charlier and illustrated by Jean Giraud ‘Moebius’, brought us the bold graphics characteristic of Belgian comics, still used today.
In Brussels, schools, museums and shops that buy, sell and exchange comics, interweave with street murals and galleries, like Petit Papiers, which exhibit the latest trends in the sector. Tintin and The Smurfs have their own spaces at Boutique Tintin and the Smurf Store. Comics, or BD (short for Bande Dessiné) as the graphic novel is known in French-speaking countries, represent more than 80% of turnover for publishers in Belgium. With more than 230 million copies sold, and his tales translated into 100 languages, Tintin is also the most coveted: 2.5 million euros is how much a Chinese ink illustration of Tintin and the Shooting Star fetched at auction. The idea of painting façades in Brussels came about in 1991, as an alternative solution for decorating the walls left bare at the ends of rows of buildings. The highest concentration of these murals can be found in the city centre, between Grand Place, the Saint Géry quarter and the Palace of Justice viewpoint. You can come across them by accident or go hunting for them, following an organised route on a map.
If the murals had a homepage, it would be the Broussaille mural (Hergé). The teenager and his girlfriend rule Rue du Marché au Charbon. Retouches were made to the original mural in 1999, to make the character of Catherine more feminine, since both of them were painted with short hair and trousers. Since it is located near the gay district, it was thought to be a male couple.
Just opposite, Victor Sackville, the famous World War I spy, steps out of another time to confront the onlooker. Hergé’s most irreverent characters are the subject of the mural dedicated to Quique and Flupi (Rue Haute). Not many people know that the two young scoundrels appear in a cartoon strip in Tintin in the Congo and another in The Shooting Star.
The half-metre statue of a urinating child, that Brussels icon known as Manneken Pis, can be found next to one of the most popular murals: Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock (Rue de l’Étuve) descend emergency stairs in a scene from The Calculus Affair. The adorable character Nero (Place Saint-Géry), is looking for problems near Les Halles market. Lucky Luke, and the Dalton gang occupy an entire building (Rue de la Buanderie). In the same street, you will find the mural of Asterix and Obelix, ‘those crazy Gauls’, fighting against the Romans.
Humour in homages to Manneken Pis can be found in the Spike and Suzy, and Cubitus murals (Rue de Flandre). The most adventurous bell-boy around, Spirou, is conspicuous in red, among the second-hand stores of the Marolles quarter.
But the city streets are not the only places to be adorned with illustrations. Frescoes can also be found at Metro stations. For Tintin enthusiasts, Stockel Station is unmissable, with its 140 characters escaping from 22 strips about the best travelled reporter in the history of the comic book.
Source: Passenger 6A.