The capital of Belgium and even of Europe, Brussels is also (and why not above all?) the capital of comics. The ninth art is showcased everywhere in the birthplace of Tintin and Spirou, and for several years, has taken over the streets of the Belgian city. The bubbles and boxes can be discovered with its now-famous Comic Tour.
By Catherine Vanesse
Many museums, galleries, markets, festivals and specialized magazines in Brussels are expressly dedicated to comics, but they can also be discovered at street corners, in other museums or even in cafés. Blind walls are covered with monumental murals representing the paper heroes. On these giant-format boards, visitors and locals alike can follow the adventures of Asterix & Obelix, Tintin, Blake & Mortimer, Yoko Tsuno, Thorgal or Lucky Luke.
To get off the beaten path and present the legendary heroes and authors of Belgian and French comics, the city of Brussels and the Belgian Center for Comics have created the Comic Strip Wall Tour. Initiated in 1991, the project originally was meant to only cover up or beautify certain walls in the city. The idea quickly took off. In the city center alone you can find some forty murals, a dozen of which are in the neighborhood of Marolles and in Laeken, and double that scattered throughout the city. Nothing compares to standing at the corner of Wavre Road and Boulevard General Jacques in Etterbeek, reading a few panels of the famous Le Cat, by Philippe Geluck.
But before leaving the center, first, visit the tourism office located at the Grand-Place in Brussels to get your map of the Wall Tour for one euro. At the size of a subway ticket, the card can be easily carried in your pocket and always be reached. It presents a photo of each mural and a short explanation to find out what comic the panel you’re looking at comes from. A mobile app is also available. Once you complete this step, hurry to Rue de l’Etuve, known as the home of the Manneken-Pis, the symbol of Brussels located at the heart of the capital.
Tintin was born in Brussels in 1929 from the pencil of Hergé, and thanks to all his adventures, Belgian and European comics took off. Also, they’re here, rushing straight out of The Calculus Affair, Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock invite visitors to follow along.
You take off for a nine-kilometer adventure in the city center alone, from Place Sainte-Gudule to Place Sainte-Catherine, passing through the neighborhood of Bruxelles-Chapelles and the banks of the Senne. If you can follow the path by the bubble, you can also take a few shortcuts. Few Bruxellois know the path precisely, so not many of them can accurately give you directions to the next mural since they’re used to seeing them at random around the city.
From Grand-Place, you can take one of the “Gates” of François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters. The artists confirm that Les Cités Obscures (published in English as Cities of the Fantastic) do exist and there are many gates between Earth and Counter-Earth, between Brussels and Brüsel. Is the comic wall on Rue du Marché one of these Gates? The bell tower in the middle of the mural looks just like the one on Notre-Dame du Bon Secours that rises in the distance. This Gate will lead you straight to the Broussaille comic wall. Based on an original project by Frank Pé, the first mural on the tour was inaugurated in July 1991 and covers a surface area of 45m². If you look closely, you’ll realize the character from Broussaille and his girlfriend Catherine are walking in the street where the mural is located. In fact, this is one of the special features of this tour: every drawing tells an anecdote, a story of the neighborhood it stands in, a fun way to discover Brussels and see how the city is present in the authors’ works, whether it’s Frank Pé’s story, which takes place in Brussels, or even for François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters’ Grande Halle de Zarbec, which is not unlike the Schaerbeek train station. after a visit to the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken, and the Hall of the Three Powers in Brüsel refers to the Poelaert Hall of Justice. The Hall of Justice is being painted by the character Léonard from Turk & Degroot, and that appears as a background scene in a life-sized episode of Odilon Verjus with Josephine Baker by Yann Le Pennetier and Laurent Verron.
Most of the murals cover between 20 and 50 square meters, but some spread out over hundreds of square meters, like Lucky Luke and Asterix and Obelix on Rue de la Buanderie. Still, the biggest one is that of the famous adventurer Corto Maltese by Hugo Pratt, which makes its home on Quai des Péniches along the Senne, extending to 850m², inviting guests on an imaginary adventure! This is really what’s so fun about the Brussels Comics Tour– adventures and stories told by the panel.
WOMEN IN COMICS
Since 1991, Brussels has seen three murals per year appear on their walls, a permanent homage to the Ninth Art, which has still led to controversy, like the one that struck the 2016 edition of the Angoulême Comics Festival: the absence of women. The socialist deputy burgomaster of the City of Brussels, Ans Bersoons (SPA), announced to the Vif l’Express that this needs to change: “Every year, the City of Brussels creates three comic murals. From now on, I propose that at least once a year, we should have a drawing by a female author. In Belgium, we have authors famous within the country and internationally.
They deserve a wall in Brussels and they include several women, such as Judith Vanistendael, Ilah and Dominique Goblet.” While walking the Comic Strip Wall Tour, the most famous Belgian characters are indeed represented, except for the Smurfs, which should be arriving soon. Yet they’re practically exclusively males, and whenever you do see women, “they usually serve to feed the stereotype of the voluptuous woman accompanying the intrepid hero,” says the deputy burgomaster.
Fortunately, in 2015, the electronics engineer from Roger Leloup, Yoko Tsuno appeared near the Bruxelles-Chapelle train station, and in June 2016, the characters Kinky and Cosy by Belgian author Nix set up home near the footpath. For female authors, we’ll still need to wait a bit. In the meantime, and to find out more about the history of comics, three museums are available for visitors.
THE COMICS ART MUSEUM
A museum entirely dedicated to comic strips can only be found in Brussels! The museum is located in the old Waucquez shops, an Art Nouveau masterpiece by Victor Horta. Permanent and temporary exhibits, including many original panels, make this museum a good starting point to discover everything to do with the Ninth Art in Belgium.
Rue des Sables, 20, 1000 Bruxelles
MARC SLEEN MUSEUM
Located nearby, the Marc Sleen Museum, named after the father of Nero, considered as one of the founders of Flemish comics, along with Willy Vandersteen, the author and artist behind the Spike and Suzy series (published as Suske & Wiske in Flemish, or Bob & Bobette in French). The museum has a permanent exhibit that follows the life and work of Marc Sleen, a prolific author who alone published more than 200 Nero comic books!
Rue des Sables, 33-35, 1000 Bruxelles
MOOF – MUSEUM OF ORIGINAL FIGURINES
In the Horta Gallery, right next to the Bruxelles-Centrale train station, the MOOF opened its doors two years ago. A giant Smurf welcomes visitors and Pokemon Go players alike (editor’s note: the place has served as a Poke-arena since the game was released in July). Inside, you can visit the world of Spirou, the Trolls of Troy, Asterix & Obelix and all the rest. This private museum surprises visitors with numerous figurines, collectors’ items and original panels and drawings. An old projector shows animated adaptations of comic heroes, and gamers will delight in playing the adventures of Asterix and Obelix, Batman and others on the original NES or Sega Genesis. If you have the time, stay and chat with the museum’s owner–behind every figurine, there’s a story to be told.
Rue du Marché aux Herbes, 116, 1000 Bruxelles
A FEW COMIC BOOKS AND STRIPS TO DISCOVER BRUSSELS
LE CIEL AU-DESSUS DE BRUXELLES
Bernard Yslaire March 2003.
60 years after the Holocaust, three days before the war in Iraq, Jules Engell Stern meets Fadya. He’s a Khazar Jew, she’s an Arab Muslim. He’s passing through Brussels looking for his brother. She’s preparing a terrorist attack in the middle of a peaceful protest.
François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters
Les Cités obscures (Cities of the Fantastic) is a series of Belgian fantasy comic books created by artist François Schuiten and author Benoît Peeters, the first of which was published in September 1983. Brüsel is the fifth volume in the saga.
BRUSSELS – ITINERARIES
François Schuiten, author of Les Cités obscures, reveals a new face of Brussels. Through his drawings and the itineraries written by Christine Coste, he shows the hidden side of his birth city, his home, the city where contemporary reality and the past intertwine, where urban poetry arises from the corner of a side street.