Like Tintin, I recently found myself in the Belgian capital Brussels on business.
With an afternoon to spare before I had to catch the Eurostar home, I thought I would pop along to the Belgian Comic Strip Centre. Belgium has a long tradition of comics and comic art, and I was looking forward to seeing a museum dedicated to the like of Lucky Luke, the Smurfs and, yes, Tintin.
(right) A model of the rocket from Hergé’s Destination Moon
The museum itself is a beautifully preserved example of the Art Nouveau style with a grand entrance and sweeping staircases. I bought my ticket (€8, concessions available), and was handed a helpful loose-leaf folder of English translations. The first thing you encounter is a short corridor with a series of exhibits showing the process of creating a comic, from idea to pencil sketch, to ink, and so forth. So far, so good.
The grand entrance hall to the museum
The next major section features the collection of original artwork. Each piece is displayed in a cabinet with two or three others under dim lighting (presumably to protect the artwork). Sadly, most of the comics presented are shown in no particular order or context, beyond a small label showing the author, artist and date of publication. Sadly, my loose-leaf translation could shed no further light on why these particular pieces were chosen.
From time-to-time I would see a theme emerging between a few cabinets (say, strips featuring whales, or cowboys), but otherwise I was left in the (near) dark. The majority of the strips were in French or Dutch, unsurprisingly, but there were a few in Spanish, Italian, and even English. That said, I didn’t see much that I recognised, the only page that stuck in my memory was one from the Amazing Spider-Man. Of British comic art, there was nothing.
The Original Artwork section of the museum
The main exhibition was divided up by artist, with a wall or so devoted to each. And here was my biggest surprise. Aside from the aforementioned artwork room, most of the comics on display were pages taken from the original published comic rather than the original artwork itself. As someone who has spent many a happy hour in the significantly smaller Cartoon Museum in London, I was very struck by this choice of presentation.
Part of the Tintin exhibit
There were a couple of temporary exhibitions. One, an exhibition of a famous Belgian sea-faring comic featured huge, purpose-built sets to show off the artwork, including the side of a galleon and the turret of a sea fort. Of editorial or gag cartoons, there was no sign.
I browsed a large and well-stocked comic and gift shop and there was also a library (which I didn’t browse).
The relative lack of material relating to Tintin (considering the recent big-budget animated film) was explained by the recent opening of the Museé Hergé in Louvain-La-Neuve on the outskirts of Brussels (alas, my schedule did not allow time for this).
Overall, I regretted the lack of original drawn content (or, when it was there, the lack of context). But maybe I’m being a bit harsh, my schoolboy French is remedial at best, and I didn’t grow up with those comics as our continental cousins would have, so certainly some of the nuance and nostalgia is lost on me. But I couldn’t help wondering how much greater our own humble Cartoon Museum could be, given this sort of budget and location.
Still, it was a very nice building.