Sunday, 21 February 2016
Belgium’s Ninth Art
The recent Tintin Exhibition at London’s Somerset House inspired me to visit the Comics Art Museum during my recent trip to Brussels.
Franco-Belgian cultural status
Comics have a much higher status and longer tradition in Franco-Belgian culture. Comic strips are regarded as the Ninth Art in French-speaking countries.
I remember reading Asterix books when learning French at O’ Level. It didn’t matter that I didn’t understand all the words. I got the general sense from the picture sequences.
I was delighted to see Asterix’s familiar figure in the museum’s foyer. There was also a Smurf, Lucky Luke, a red 2CV and Tintin’s moon rocket.
A larger-than-life figure of Tintin appeared just inside the entrance (see first photo above). Tintin also appeared on the other side of the entrance along with Snowy (Milou), Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus. All were dressed in orange spacesuits.
The museum traced the history of comic strips back to cave paintings. Man has always shown a desire to tell stories. The Bayeux Tapestry was another notable example.
As you walk through the museum you see how comic strips evolved. Digital has transformed working methods. Educational comic strips developed in response to accusations of “impoverishing the intellects of their readers”. The approach demonstrated the versatility of the medium to spread knowledge to a wide audience.
I particularly enjoyed the Tintin section. It pointed out the clever simplicity of Hergé’s drawings. Tintin’s face has very few features and is virtually expressionless. Drawings of Captain Haddock give contrast as an “emotional volcano”. Snowy's sequences emphasise that he is usually the one who saves the day.
Not every comic strip contained characters or stories that were familiar to me. The Smurfs are definitely well-known in the UK. They had their own section.
I liked a comic strip entitled “COMMENT DEVENIR BELGE”. This was a humorous comic strip on how to become (or remain) Belgian. It used self-deprecating humour.
I found a complete book in the bookshop by Gilles Dal and Fred Jannin. It is the comic strip version of an earlier publication. It kept me well entertained as I waited for my train back to London. I giggled away just as I once did as a child reading Asterix. My poor fellow passengers must have thought me crazy.