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Comic City
Exploring Brussels, one mural at a time

22 October 2015


Brussels doesn’t always sprout a sense of romance like Paris, have a buzz of energy like London or even give off a hazy swirl of goodwill like Amsterdam, but it does have its own compact charm. Better known as the decision-making seat of the European Union, it’s also a city with many little cultural nooks and green spaces. 

Something else Belgium is known for is its proud history of comic book authors, all 700 of them. The more famous ones include Hergé (Tintin), Frank Pé (Broussaille and Zoo) and Peyo (The Smurfs). In 1993, the city of Brussels initiated a Comic Book Route featuring wall murals painted by artists celebrating some of the country’s beloved comic creations. 

Mackerel went a-walking to discover these murals and even found some time afterwards to squeeze in a visit to the Belgian Comic Strip Centre. Here’s a guide to the route that we took. 

CAROLINE BALDWIN

Start a little away from the city centre, along Rue de la Poudrière, and you’ll find Taymans and Wesel’s “Caroline Baldwin”. Caroline is a private detective, the type that foils Communist rebels, trumps the secret service and other characters of questionable morals.

"Caroline Baldwin"

Close by along Rue des Fabriques is “Les Rêves De Nic” (Nic’s Dreams) by Hermann Huppen and “Cori le Moussaillon” by Bob de Moor. Huppen has been quoted as having said that the Little Nic series of comics was inspired by Little Nemo in Slumberland when he created Nic. Bob de Moor was the right hand man of Hergé, working on Tintin with him for 35 years. Cori the Ship’s Boy was De Moor’s side project. In the top panel of the mural, Cori waves to us from the top of the mast, ecstatic with joy at setting out to sea. 

 

After Rue des Fabriques, take a little detour down Rue De La Buanderie to check out the Asterix mural. Around the Grand Place lie a number of murals such as Tibet and Duchâteau’s comic strip “Ric Hochet” down a side street, Rue du Bon Secours 9. The series started in the 1960s and still continues today. The lower half of the mural, unfortunately, has been defaced by a spray of ugly graffiti.

"Ric Hochet"

On Rue du Marché au Charbon, there are three murals close together: Frank Pe’s “Broussaille”, Peeters and Schuiten’s “The Passage” and Francis Carin’s “Victor Sackville”. “Broussaille” was first created in 1978 for Spirou, a weekly Franco-Belgian comics magazine. “Victor Sackville” is a WWI gentleman spy for the English, bamboozling the Germans wherever he could. “The Passage” cleverly mirrors the spires of the Grand Place rising up from behind the mural. Yet, the authors maintain that this is no ordinary mural, but an image of Brüsel, an imaginary city existing on Counter-Earth. 

"Brousaille"

Just down the road from the debonair “Victor Sackville” is Tintin and Captain Haddock, with Snowy in tow, making a quick exit down a fire escape on Rue de l‘Étuve 33. The drawing in this scene is from ‘The Calculus Affair”. 

Don’t forget, too, the surrealism of “Olivier Rameau” by Dany on Rue Du Chêne . Apparently, the fireworks scene in the piece was sponsored by the fireworks store nearby. It makes us wonder what a truffle shop might inspire...

A little further south from the Grand Place is a lovely whimsical piece, “Le Jeune Albert”, by Yves Chaland on Rue des Alexiens 49. The boy reading while waiting for the tram is Jeune Albert. Growing up in post-war Brussels, he’s a boyish prankster, but in this scene, he’s innocently reading a detective story. 

Around the corner is “XIII” by William Vance and Jean Van Hamme on Rue Philippe de Champagne. Just like Jason Bourne, XIII is a highly skilled operative with a faulty memory. Searching for his true identity, he falls into a series of rollicking adventures. 

Other notable mentions are “Monsieur Jean” by Dupuy & Berberian at the corner of Rue des Bogards and Rue du Midi as well as Roger Leloup’s “Yoko Tsuno” on Rue Terre Neuve. Yoko Tsuno was one of the first female protagonists to get her own comic strip series in the early ‘70s. An electrical engineer and space traveller, Yoko more than held her own against her male counterparts. 

In contrast, Monsieur Jean is your Everyman, a typification of the man on the street. Relational conflicts, depression, the daily grind; his experiences are achingly familiar to all of us. 

 

And along the way, we found some “unofficial” murals that were, nonetheless, incredible. Because art is everywhere! 

After winding your way through the narrow streets, do try to squeeze in a couple of hours at the Belgian Comic Strip Center (Open daily 10am-6pm, €10 for adults). If you have even more time, you can check out the Marc Sleen Museum (€2.50 for adults) right across the road.

Started in 1989, the Comic Strip Center is located in a lovely Art Nouveau building designed by the legendary architect, Victor Horta. The building, opened in 1906, originally served as a warehouse for textile baron, Charles Waucquez. Coincidentally, this was also the time when modern comic strips were birthed. The museum now offers 4,200 m² of permanent and temporary exhibitions; a homage to Belgian’s accomplished comic artists.

You’ll find everything here at the Comic Strip Center, from how different artists approached the creation of the strip, to the story-boarding, inking and printing process. There are also rolling exhibitions, such as the one about the much-storied career of Jean Van Hamme, known for works such as Thorgal, XIII and Largo Winch.

The original comic strip.

Brussels' murals occupy both a liminal and concrete space in the city, often achieving consistency with the surrounding facades. Overall, they blend history, culture and heritage together without being too loud or brash. It’s hard to take all of them in at once, although the dedicated mural tourist could easily spend a day traipsing about to see the whole lot. But to do so, one must forge on without being distracted by powdered waffles and Delirium Tremens (a mighty fine beer). 

You can find a full list of murals here or visit the Brussels tourist information post at the Brussels Town Hall on the Grand Place. 

Not on the official list of comic murals, this was nevertheless a jaunty update on good ol' "Manneken Pis".

Text and photos: Marc