Friday, October 22, 2010

Another Belgian specialty: cartoons

The Tour Circus cartoon story
Apart from chocolates, beer, and fries, Belgium is also the land of the comic strip. There are more comic strips in Belgium than any other country in the world, including Japan. Belgium has been instrumental in putting European comic strips on the map. Many of Europe's most famous comic book authors, like Albert Uderzo, creator of Asterix, learned their craft while working in Belgium.

Some Belgian cartoon characters are famous worldwide, although people often do not know they are of Belgian origin. Tintin has sold so many books that famous French president Charles de Gaulle once said, "My only international rival is Tintin." In 2006, the Dalai Lama honored Tintin and the Herve Foundation for the celebrated adventure Tintin in Tibet. The ceremony was held in Brussels and included another award to bishop Desmond Tutu.
TinTin one of the most famous Belgian cartoon characters

But Tintin is not the only famous character. The Smurfs, little blue fictional characters are also of Belgian origin. They were first introduced in 1958 by Spirou, a competitor to the Tintin magazine. The original cartoon characters in Spirou were Spirou and Fantasio, known in Flanders as Robbedoes. Spirou originally focused on children and young adults and created Lucky Luke, Gaston Lagaffe and other well known cartoons. The Dutch edition ceased publication in 2005.
Robbedoes/Spirou cartoon character

Marcel Neels, known as Marc Sleen, who drew the cartoon seen above is in the Guinness Book of Records for drawing the same strip singlehandedly for over 45 years. His main character known as Nero, after the infamous Roman emperor is one of the best known Belgian cartoon characters. Nero is one of the only anti-heroes in the comic strip world.  From 1947 until 1964, Marc Sleen also drew a daily strip about the Tour de France (Ronde van Frankrijk). Marc Sleen had such a dedicated following that when he changed newspapers in mid-career, thousands of subscribers followed him to the new paper.

One of the key attractions in Brussels is the cartoon museum, known as the Belgian Comic Strip Center. It is located in the Zandstraat/Rue des Sables and opened in 1989. In 2009, a museum dedicated to Marc Sleen opened across the street. Cartoon characters can be found on houses throughout the center of Brussels as seen in this example below:

The Brussels comics walls tour is one of the best ways to explore the center of the city and take in some great Belgian cartoon art. 

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