So Belgium is obsessed with comics. The most famous character of these is Tintin. As an American I had really never heard of him before coming to Europe, but he is quite popular here. Scenes from the comics appear on buildings randomly throughout the town as well as advertising and postcards. Hergé, the now deceased author of Tintin, is not the only famous comic author in Belgium either.
As a part of our visit to Brussels, we visited the Comic Center of Brussels on our last morning. I had a blast here. We learned that Disney is second in Belgium of comic popularity. The Belgians love their own apparently. From what I saw, I am not at all surprised.
Workshop and Winnings
Part of the morning was taken by a workshop. The heat was pretty bad, but I still enjoyed it. The man at the front was a comic author in his own right and showed up some basic principles to making “big nose” comics. These are the comics characterized by oversized noses and more kid style proportions.
We started out learning about drawing heads and faces. He gave us a sheet to practice on and I had fun. I really like drawing on my own anyway so this was kind of my element. Then he went on to talk about body proportions. For more kid-like proportions for younger audiences, the body and legs is 4 times the height of the head. For more realistic ones, the body is 6 heads high. I often just doodle heads and various architecture things, so this was neat to learn.
Then we moved onto a basic comic strip. 4 panels each with a proscribed piece of the story he explained. The character starts out walking, then hears something behind, gets scared and turns around to see a monster. It is really basic, but at a full year to produce a normal book, this 4 panel sketch was what we would get to in an hour.
The cool part was prizes. My little drawing of Oli the Viking seeing a dragon won me a comic book about the Belgian artist Magritte. 🙂
After the museum we had a chance to wander in the museum. Ok, it was still really hot, and most of the written stuff was in French, but I had fun wandering. There were exhibits about the early sci-fi and adventure writers. This is more my genre, so that was fun to look at.
There were exhibits, of course, about Tintin. Including this picture of him, his dog and another guy walking into a castle. I like this picture because I remember this castle in the Loire Valley. One of its claims to fame is that it is in a Tintin comic. As much as it was cool to look at, I really don’t have an emotional attachment to reading Tintin, so it was hard to overwhelm the heat and the language barrier of the French to really get into it.
Monks were the first comic strip artists
We kind of went backwards through the museum. The first section (our last) shows a bit of the history of comics. Some slideshows of cave paintings and Egyptian hieroglyphics. Early Japanese manga as well as the explanation of the effect that mass produced newspapers had on the art form were displayed as well. Both the editorial style comics (one of France and Britain carving the world) as well as the the standard “funnies page” style developed the art.
One panel was a really interesting panel about Christian Monks. Apparently some of the early Bible stories were told in a form similar to comics by copyist monks in the middle ages. Pictures tell the stories in panels with speech bubbles. The examples show Jonah being swallowed by a whale as well as a rather cool rendering of David vs Goliath.
After this we kind of got overwhelmed by the heat and headed down to the cafe for lunch. As a last mention, they had statues of a number of characters around.
The Smurfs are Belgian. Though the pig is definitely not. That is Porco Rosso from the same name Anime film by Miyazaki. I really like that film, so was happy to get a pic next to him. No clue who the red guy was, but he was neat too.
All this and the Building too
When we were researching Brussels, I was intrigued to see the comics connection. Both a walk on the map and the visit to this comic center. This ended up being a really fun day. I love to draw and read comics, so this was right up my alley. It is great to see something so whimsical end up being such a big thing for the city and culture.
One of the things that could easily get glossed over in all of this is the building itself. Though the exhibits and the comic drawing was fun, the building is amazing for itself. An Art Nouveau building with all the details of that period.
We were in Brussels as the guests of the Belgien Tourismus. Of course all pictures, opinions and comments are my own.