Brussels’ Tintin Mania/ Art / Belgium, Brussels, Tintin
Forget mayonnaise with your pommes frites or being passionate about pralines; if you really want to understand Brussels then you need to understand the Belgian’s love of Tintin.
If you’re planning a trip to the de facto capital of Europe, then you better brush up on your Tintin knowledge, as this comic book character is pretty much a national hero in Belgium. The chances are, as soon as you arrive in the capital, you will be confronted by huge murals depicting the young reporter – they are at stations and airports; all going to show just how seriously the city adores the comic character. So here’s a quick primer about the youngster with the super distinctive quiff, and that little white dog with the dry sense of humour.
Depending on your age, you’re probably already familiar with the Adventures of Tintin, the comic album series created by Hergé. That’s understandable, as it was after all one of the most popular European comic series of the 20th century, and also adapted for radio, TV and film. Movie director Steven Spielberg brought his own interpretation of the comic book characters to a whole new generation with his 2011 ‘The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn’; animated blockbuster movie. Yet for the purists, nothing compares to the distinctive visual story telling of Hergé who pioneered a unique style of drawing that together with compelling stories, made Tintin a classic.Tintin was created in 1929, before political correctness took hold, so don’t be surprised to find that some of the author’s storylines and stereotypical characters are at times a little controversial. Hergé, who died in 1983, didn’t use his real name, instead a pseudonym, a play on the sound of his initials of his real name Georges Remi (G.R). Change the order of the initials to R.G. and pronounce them in your best Belgian French accent and ‘voilà’ you have ‘Hergé’.
The city has created a Comic Strip Trail that takes you on a journey of discovery through the centre of Brussels, learning a little more each moment about the young Belgian reporter Tintin, his beloved sidekick and companion Snowy the dog, and of course many of the colourful characters that filled the pages of the comic books. The route takes you to comic strip street art, stores, galleries, museums and landmarks all linked to Tintin and his adventures – it’s a fabulous way to see the city.
Brussel’s most popular fictional character has his own official Tintin Boutique found at Rue de la Colline 13. The store is filled with classic toys, collectible-style figurines, posters and of course copies of the comic books, said now to have been translated into over a hundred languages. This is a great place to learn more about the characters of Tintin including Captain Archibald Haddock, Tintin’s best friend.
The Adventures started as a comic strip in a youth supplement of a Belgian newspaper, but grew to be so popular that they were serialised in a leading newspaper. This led to a magazine and later to the 24 comic albums. The Comic Arts Museum at Rue des Sables 20 honours creators and characters of comics in general, but also has an interesting space dedicated to Hergé.
All this walking of course creates an appetite, and unsurprisingly Brussels has a handful of comic strip themed eateries to tempt you. A lot of businesses in Brussels are aboard the Tintin gravy train, but many offer a genuinely good experience. The Comic Café for example, although thoroughly touristy, is consistently well-reviewed by visitors. The brasserie style eatery is decorated with original comic strip art and sketches. Also, for the past 20 years or more the Tintin-themed el Faubourg Saint Antoine bistro at 65 Avenue Albert Giraud, Schaarbeek has been a favourite place for Tintin aficionados to enjoy a bite to eat.
Then finally, if you have the time and fancy a trip out of the city The Hergé Museum in Louvain-la-Neuve offers an all-encompassing perspective of Hergé, beyond his Tintin works, embracing is art too.
So there you have it – Brussels the city of Tintin.