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Around the World: Tracking the Great Tintin in Brussels

Jennifer Merin on


BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Many travelers owe their inspiration to seek adventure abroad to Tintin, the legendary international journalist who travels around the globe seeking answers to mysteries in which circumstances and his curious nature intersect.
 
As you surely know, Tintin is a cartoon character, and his quests are pure fiction.
 
Nevertheless, the fables have captured tourists’ imaginations ever since 1929 -- January 10, to be specific -- when Tintin first appeared as a featured player in world culture.

Tintin was born of the creative mind and graphic skills of Georges Prosper Remi (1907 – 1983), the Belgian artist better known as Herge (pronounced ‘er-jay,’ a nom de plume made by reversing the artist’s initials ‘G.R.’ in French).
 
Tintin sprang from Herge’s pen in pretty much the same fine form he has today: Short-cropped Carrot-colored hair, a cute little nose and big eyes that see whatever is relevant to his investigation. He’s clean-cut, small but athletic, and his approach to life is straight out of a Boy Scout manual. His only colleague and constant companion is a white dog named Snowy.
 
That’s about all that’s known about Tintin’s backstory. There’s no info about his parents, education or source of income. And, we don’t know his age -- which means, I suppose, that he’s ageless.
 
In all, Herge completed 23 comic books in “The Adventures of Tintin” series, but his beloved character has had appeared in TV shows, games and as figurines.
Tintin’s latest incarnation is in Steven Spielberg’s 2011 superb 3D animated film, “The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,” an amalgam of three Tintin comics (“Crab With The Golden Claws,” “Secret of the Unicorn” and “Red Rackham’s Treasure”), A Peter Jackson-directed sequel has been announced, but the production schedule is yet to be set.
 
Like everything Tintin, Speilberg’s film will spur you to travel, perhaps to follow in adventures on the high seas or desert dunes. But, en route, don’t forget about our hero’s birthplace: Belgium!
 
There’s an ongoing celebration of Tintin, the local hero, and Herge is considered a national treasure in Belgium. In fact, comic strips, including Tintin and others, are recognized as ‘the ninth art‘ in Belgium, and the country is considered by many comic book fans to be the world capital of comic book art.
 
Brussels is in perpetually inTintin high gear, with tributes to the popular hero everywhere. There are tins of Tintin cookies for sale in bakeries, and edible Tintin figurines concocted from famous Belgian chocolate or marzipan, Tintin shirts and key chains and calendars and lots of other Tintin trappings on display in storefronts in the lavish King’s Gallery and the Grande Place and elsewhere around town.
 
But the best treat for Tintin tourists is discovering the treasure trove of Herge’s original Tintin art work that’s on exhibit, along with that of other graphic artists, in Brussels’ fine collection of comic book art museums.
 
The place to begin is the Comic Strip Museum (Zandstraat / Rue des Sables 20, 1000 Brussels), where you will find a comprehensive history of comic book art, with works that represent the two schools of Belgian graphic arts: the French (known as ‘Bandes Dessines‘) and the Flemish (called ‘Stripverhalen‘).
 
Herge is the most famous artist of the French school, and there is a particular emphasis on his work. The Flemish school’s best known artist is Villy Vendersteen, famous for his creation of “Suske and Wiske” (better known to English readers as “Willy and Wanda”). Both artists are well represented in row after row of display cases with their original drawing exhibited. And, there are other artists, too, all of whom produced characters who are charming and recognizable.
 
The original Tintin drawings appear as they do in the comic books -- with a series of small drawings in boxes arranged on a single page -- but they are much more exacting and detailed than any reproductions you’ve seen, and the colors are more vibrant, cleaner and brighter. You quickly come to understand just how much work and skill goes into producing them, and why (in case you ever doubted it) they are regarded as fine art.
 
The museum itself is a treat. It occupies a beautiful Art Nouveau building, the Waucquez Warehouses, built by Belgium’s most famous architect, Victor Horta, in 1906 -- several years before Tintin was born.
 
The landmarked building exemplifies Horta’s unique architectural style. It has a huge central hall with symmetrical staircases that lead to a second floor balcony that’s supported by slender columns. The ceiling is a glass skylight that serves as a source of illumination for the entire interior. It’s a perfect home for the Comic Strip Museum, and discovering its hidden secrets is a Tintin-worthy adventure. The collection is fascinating – Tintin and all.
 
The museum shop is definitely worth a browse. In it are reproductions of books by Herge and the others, and lots of unique Tintin souvenirs and paraphernalia. And, there’s a sizeable library where kids of all ages can access a huge range of comic books. It’s an astounding collection that’s well worth a browse.
 
Across the street from the Comic Strip Museum is the Marc Sleen Museum (Zandstraat / Rue des Sables 33, 1000 Brussels), honoring the work of the Flemish graphic artist who created the “Nero” series of more than 200 comic books, now housed in the museum.
 
Sleen created Nero in 1947. Like Tintin, Nero is an adventuresome hero, but his travels often bring him into contact with political leaders whose policies are satirized in the comic strips. The Marc Sleen Museum is a great read. No Tintin to be found here, but the Sleen collection sets comics context for Herge’s work.

 
So does the Maison de la Bande Dessinee, (Boulevard de l’Iimperatrice 1, 1000 Brussels), the museum dedicated to the fine art of comic books in French.

Maison de la Bande Dessinee has a tremendous collection of original comic book art by famous Belgian graphic artists who wrote in French, including Uderzo, Jacobs, Tillieux, Macherot, Franquin, and others. If you’re unfamiliar with their names, you’ll want to remedy that, and Masison de la Bande Dessinee is the ideal place to do that.

Brussels’ newest comic art museum is the Museum of Original Figurines (otherwise known as MOOF, at Boulevard Auguste Reyers 32, 1030 Brussels, just off the Grande Place). As its name indicates, this charming museum features statuettes and dolls of famous comic strip characters, including everyone from Tintin to the Smurfs.
The displays range from larger-than-life representations to tiny figurines that are set in elaborate scenes that look like beautifully realized three-dimensional renderings of the drawings upon which they’re based.
 
This is a magical place for kids of all ages, and the displays are set up so that even toddlers can see them without straining.

While en route from museum to museum, look around the streets for signs of Tintin and other comic characters. Brussels has many comic strip murals. You can get a map of these from www.visitbrussels.com. Or, if you want a more formal experience, you can sign up for a walking tour of Tintin and Herge sites.
 
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It’s a good idea to purchase a money-saving Brussels Card, which covers museum entrance fees and local transportation. For more information about the Brussels Card, local attractions and accommodations, visit  https://www.visitflanders.com/

 

Copyright 2020 Jennifer Merin
 

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