Brussels, a city between cartoons

Numerous situations in The Adventures of Tintin reflect what Belgian comics are all about: a source of inspiration for dozens of generations.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
22 May 2023 Monday 23:01
13 Reads
Brussels, a city between cartoons

Numerous situations in The Adventures of Tintin reflect what Belgian comics are all about: a source of inspiration for dozens of generations. The country's capital is no stranger to this fact, which is why Brussels is a city that lives by and for the ninth art.

Walking through the capital of Belgium is like turning the pages of a comic book. When one least expects it, one finds a gigantic mural-vignette in a corner, passageways and the most unexpected nooks and crannies. If we add to all this two museums dedicated to the ninth art and dozens of specialized stores, we have as a result a city fully devoted to comics.

The Manneken Pis, the Atomium, the Grand Place... To these three icons of Brussels we must add one more called Tintin. This popular character, created by cartoonist Hergé in 1929, is a benchmark for clear-line comics in the Franco-Belgian tradition. Numerous corners of the capital of the European Union make reference to this famous reporter who, always accompanied by his faithful fox terrier Snowy, bequeathed endless adventures to posterity.

To discover Tintin's links with Brussels, it is enough to take a walk around the outskirts of its most famous square. On rue de la Colline, one of the streets leading to the Grand Place, is La Boutique Tintin. From this specialized shop it is only a few steps to rue de l'Etuve. The most famous comic book mural in Brussels is located on this street. The scene, which reproduces a vignette from the album The Calculus Affair, shows Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock going down a blue staircase.

Not only Brussels has a great link with Tintin. In the town of Louvain-La-Neuve, half an hour's drive from the Belgian capital, is the Hergé Museum. His exhibition is a journey into the fantasy and imagination of the cartoonist, whose famous reporter is already a universal icon.

Barely ten minutes on foot separate the Grand Place from another of the great references of the ninth art in Brussels. This is the CBBD: the Center Belge de la Bande Dessinée. This Belgian Comic Strip Museum is also located on the premises of the former Waucquez department store, a masterpiece of art nouveau designed by the prestigious Belgian architect Víctor Horta. Of course, there are plenty of reasons to visit its extensive permanent exhibition.

The museum's collection is dedicated almost entirely to the great references of local comics. Particularly noteworthy are the sections dedicated to the Smurfs and, naturally, to Tintin. Figures, original vignettes, engravings, drawings... All the rooms allow you to discover the fascinating world of the ninth art. In addition, the museum periodically hosts various temporary exhibitions that allow you to learn about comics from traditions other than the Franco-Belgian one.

As soon as you leave the central station of Brussels, next to the Carrefour de l'Europe square, you will find the Smurfs Passage. The ceiling of this passage is decorated with a large mural dedicated to the Smurfs, known outside of Spain as the Smurfs. These likeable bluish characters, created by the Belgian cartoonist Peyo in 1958, also have numerous allusions throughout the city.

Next to the Smurfs Passage is the place d'Espagne. In this square, so called because it houses the statues of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, we can also see a large sculpture of a Smurf. This playful monument presides over the entrance to MOOF: the Museum of Original Figurines. It is a center dedicated to figurines based on comics, small toys where the protagonists of the comics become palpable. Of course, the museum also has a shop specializing in these figures and its own section entirely dedicated to the Smurfs.

Although comics from the Franco-Belgian tradition are the big stars in Brussels, the city is also home to notable shops specializing in manga and anime. Rue Sainte-Catherine stretches out very close to the Stock Exchange building, five minutes from the Grand Place. This street has different Japanese, Chinese and Korean clothing and food establishments. Among these Asian stores is Super Dragon Toys, the favorite store for manga and anime fans.

In addition to Japanese animation, in the store you can also buy Funko dolls, Korean K-Pop music, video games, t-shirts, toys... These same items are the most successful of a series of shops that are located around the Stock Exchange from Brussels. These are the Ichiban Manga, Feniksu and Smartoys stores.

The Asian animation stores around the Stock Exchange are located very close to Anneessens, one of the main neighborhoods where you can see comic book murals. In this district, one street stands out especially, the rue de la Buanderie, where you can see a gigantic mural with the characters of Asterix and Obelix. Although these irreducible Gauls were not devised by a Belgian, but by the French René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, they are also very loved in the land of Tintin.

However, these Gauls have another enemy in Brussels with which they compete in popularity. And no, it's not about Julius Caesar. In the same rue de la Buanderie, around the corner, there is a colossal mural dedicated to Lucky Luke and the Dalton brothers. These characters were devised in 1946 by the Belgian cartoonist Morris in collaboration with Goscinny. This is why Wild West bandits and Gallic villagers share such a prominent and close space in the European capital of comics.

Lucky Luke, the Smurfs and other popular comic book characters began their journeys at Le Journal de Spirou. This Belgian youth magazine, created in 1938, even competed for several years with the stories of the reporter drawn by Hergé, printed in another similar publication entitled Le Journal Tintin. In the case of the first magazine, it takes its name from a popular character called Spirou, devised by the French cartoonist Rob-Vel.

How could it be otherwise, in Brussels there is a large mural where Spirou can be seen. This character, always dressed in a red uniform due to his status as bellhop at the Moustic hotel, is portrayed on a colossal wall on rue Notre Dame De Gráces. This place is easily accessed from the Palace of Justice on Place de Poelaert, where a free panoramic elevator connects this point with Les Marolles, the bohemian quarter.

Shops specializing in comics and toy figures based on the cartoons, two important museums dedicated to comics, dozens of murals whose characters seem to have escaped from an album drawn by Hergé or Morris... In short, Brussels' link to the ninth art is more than noticeable. You only need to go around it a bit to discover the unbreakable link between this city and comics.