Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Comical World. Bande Dessinée.

B

ande dessinée literally means *drawn strips* in French. In English, we know the phrase as *comic strips*. Although both Belgium and France have a long tradition in comics and comic books, Belgium is the undisputed world capital when it comes to comics.  This is the birthplace of Tintin and those lovable blue Smurfs , among many other well known comic strip characters.  The Belgians take the art form (yes, I consider it an art form) so seriously that they actually have a museum dedicated to it - Center Belge de la Bande  Dessinée  (The Belgian Comic Strip Center), located in Brussels, is the world's first comic strip museum.

As a child, I did read Tintin comics and even watched many an episode of the Smurfs but that was decades ago so I truly know very little about Belgian comics.  Z may have heard of the Smurfs but I'm certain that's about it.

Hergé posing with a bust of Tintin.
Although comic strips existed well before the start of the 20th century, the first large-scale production of comics in Belgium didn't occur until the second half of the 1920s with the creation of what were referred to as youth magazines.  Some of the magazines were independent while others were published as supplements to newspapers. The most famous of the newspaper supplements was Le Petit Vingtième which was a weekly youth supplement to the Catholic newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle. Founded in 1928, it employed a young artist named Georges Remi as editor-in-chief and main contributor.

In 1929,  Remi, better known as Hergé, launched in January 1929 a new series for the Thursday supplement: The Adventures of Tintin which tell the tales of Tintin, a young Belgian reporter, his faithful fox terrier dog Snowy, the brash and cynical Captain Haddock, the highly intelligent but hearing-impaired Professor Calculus and other supporting characters such as the incompetent detectives Thomson and Thompson, and the opera diva Bianca Castafiore.

Tintin soon became very popular, and sales of the newspaper quadrupled on Thursdays, when the supplement was included.  It would also become the prototype for many Belgian comics to come - in Hergé's so-called ligne claire (clear line style) which incorporated the use of speech balloons and the  weekly distribution as a newspaper supplement.  Tintin was so popular that it would take almost a decade before the next successful comics magazine would appear.

During World War II, many magazines had to stop publication or scale back their activities due to paper shortage and the limitations imposed by the German occupiers. Le Petit Vingtième was dissolved after the German invasion, and Hergé started working for the competitor newspaper - Le Soir. There, he had to change from a weekly double page of Tintin to a daily strip. Paper shortage also forced him to reduce the number of pages per album from the previous 120 to 62. To compensate for this, the editor Casterman decided to start publishing the albums in color instead of black and white. This became the post-war standard and since the 1960s, almost all Belgian comics have been printed in color.

In the decades following Tintin's first appearance, the Belgian love of comics has not faded.  Somewhere in time, TV cartoons and video games have brought beloved characters like Tintin and the Smurfs to life and introduced to them to all new generations of not just Belgian children but children across the globe.

Admittedly,  Z and I are both pretty much clueless about Belgian comics yet, I am thinking we will start our visit to Brussels at the Center Belge de la Bande  Dessinée.  Why?  Because along with the city of Brussels, the museum has organized an outdoor route, known as the Comic Strip Trail, that takes you past 18 large comic strip murals on the sides of buildings located around the area of Brussels that centers around what I call the tourist zone.   This will give us a chance to not only see the historic landmarks but also give us the opportunity to explore some of the backstreets all the while getting to admire some wonderful street art.

I also happen to love street art and I consider these comic strips murals to be just that.  While generally, street art is not sanctioned by any official government, in this case it is so I think that the museum takes care to maintain them.  And, although the comic strip murals were not painted by the original artists, they have been rendered so well that most people can't distinguish the work of the two

There is an official map of the Trail which I would presume we can pick up from the museum.  We'll have to take a few minutes to review it and I'm going to let Z be the navigator as I think it will help him to remember the places we visit. 

Map of the Comic Strip Trail (Photo from visitbrussels.be)