The people of Belgium are an interesting group. They eat fries with everything – dipped in mayonnaise, of course. Beer, waffles, mussels and chocolate are also staples in their diets and they celebrate comic strips. I don’t mean just a passing appreciation for what is known as the ninth art, I mean a complete devotion to cartoon characters. Belgium has more comic strip artists per capita than any other country. And Brussels, in particular, is the capital for the ninth art. It’s where the Smurfs, Tintin, Blake and Mortimer, Lucky Luke and many other comics were born.
In Brussels, comic strip characters are everywhere: on street corners, in the railway stations, on walls and in bars. Brussels is also home to the Belgian Comic Strip Museum, which is housed in a splendid Art Nouveau building not far from the center of town. Here are a few ways you can find comic relief on your next trip to Brussels.
For the last 20 years or so, loveable comic strip heroes have taken over the walls of Brussels. With nearly 50 of them scattered throughout the city, you’ll run into these colorful characters everywhere. The project began in 1991 as a collaboration between the city of Brussels and the Belgian Comic Strip Center. It was initially intended to cover empty walls throughout the city, but it became an opportunity to recognize many well-known comic artists around the world who are linked to Belgium.
Pick up the mini-map "Brussels, the Capital City of Comic Strip" at the Visit Brussels tourism office and follow the guide through the maze of the city center and out into the neighborhoods of Laeken and Auderghem in search of these delightful larger than life cartoon frescoes. You’ll also find statues of Papa Smurf and other comic heroes along the way. It’s an excellent way to get acquainted with the city and its famous comic creations.
The Brussels Comic Strip Museum is the only comic strip museum in the world. Housed in a stunning Art Nouveau building designed by Victor Horta, it’s as beautiful on the outside as it is inside. There’s an entire section devoted to those loveable blue Smurfs complete with their mushroom house. Another section showcases Tintin. Yet another pays tribute to countless other comics that are important to the Belgians.
Created in 1989, the museum was a collaborative project between artists and architecture lovers. It is overseen by professional artists and comic lovers, allowing the museum to keep the focus on the creative process. You’ll get an in depth look at that creative process with exhibits beginning with cave paintings and continuing to the present day.
Scattered throughout the exhibits are several large comic statues. Some were created by carpenter students, some were donations from theme parks and others were created especially for the museum. You can’t help but smile in a museum where you’re surrounded by cartoons.
Created in 1929, the adventurous Tintin travels the world with his loyal canine companion, Snowy. Along the way he stands up to injustice and solves mysteries. The Hergé Museum, located about 30 minutes outside of Brussels, chronicles Tintin’s adventures through an extensive collection of drawings, archive documents and interactive exhibits. Housed in a building of concrete, glass and steel intended to resemble the outline of an ocean liner reminiscent of some of Tintin’s adventures around the world, the Hergé Museum showcases the genius of Georges Remi, who took the know famous nom de plume of Hergé.
If you dream of following in the footsteps of the great comic artists, the annual Fete De La Bd (Brussels Comic Strip Festival) is a must. Professional cartoon artists will show you how to sculpt a character from your imagination drawing inspiration from the world around you. And if you have absolutely no artistic ability like me, you can watch a professional cartoon artist create comic magic in real time. Held annually in September, the highlight of the three-day festival is the Balloon Parade where massive inflated versions of your cartoon favorites soar high above Brussels city center.
If all the comics aren’t enough to make you believe the Belgians have a unique sense of humor, be sure to stop by the famous statue Manneken-Pis. Standing proudly on a street corner in his birthday suit, this little guy is Brussels most famous native. Legend tells us the little hero managed to extinguish a bomb with a well timed wee-wee. The act earned him the honor of having a fountain dedicated to him.
The little guy is usually nude, but he has a movie star wardrobe of over 900 costumes that he wears for special occasions like festivals and official visits. I told you the Belgians were an interesting group.
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Terri Marshall is a New York City based freelance writer whose work includes travel, spirits, and all things chocolate. Terri's work appears in several publications. She has been a featured guest on Peter Greenberg's Worldwide Travel radio program and Denver's KZKO Radio Morning Express show. Terri will not hesitate to go to the source for great chocolate - even if that means hiking through the jungle and picking cacao pods herself.
Happiest when she's globetrotting, Terri has covered destinations all over the United States, Europe, and into Central and South America. Favorite adventures include reindeer driving in Norway and fishing for piranhas in the Amazon jungle of Peru. You can keep up with Terri's adventures on her website www.TrippingwithTerri.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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