Last updated on 13/08/2013
Brussels in Comics
For many years Brussels has been the capital city of comics... BrusselsLife, in association with the guide "De Rouck Geocart 10 thematic walks across Brussels", proposes you a ballad in the heart of Brussels.
An important first step was the opening in 1989 of the Belgian Centre for Comics, commonly known as the Musée de la BD. Since 1991, the city has been covering its walls with murals, a joint initiative of the City Council and the Musée de la BD. There are now more than thirty murals spread across the city. Famous comic characters are often represented in typical Brussels scenery. As these murals tend to be located outside the traditional tourist routes, the curious lover of comics who goes looking for them can at the same time discover totally unknown neighbourhoods. In addition, Brussels has been used as the backdrop in a significant number of albums, sometimes very explicitly and other times more discreetly. For example, there is The Secret of the Unicorn in the Tintin series. With this walk, you can not only combine these two aspects of the relations between the city and comics, but also travel off the beaten track. Start of the walk: On the square in front of the Stock Exchange, Place de la Bourse. Cross Boulevard Anspach. There are three streets that start opposite; take rue Van Praet, the one furthest to the left. This street takes you to the Halles Saint-Géry. Walk around the Halles to the right.
Behind the Halles, a character is painted on a wall. His name is Nero, and he is the most famous character created by the Flemish artist Marc Sleen. Nero is surrounded by his friends, and also by several heroes from other comics by the same author. One of Nero's adventures, "The Black Tower", takes place not far away, near the tower of the same name, located behind the Sainte-Catherine Church. In his most recent books especially, Marc Sleen regularly includes Brussels monuments as a setting, such as the Court House or the Sablon. He also draws the city transit authority STIB's tramways and buses as well as the dilapidated neighbourhoods of Saint-Josse and Schaerbeek. Here, however, in a rather leafy scenery, is the small church of Pède-Sainte-Anne, which was dear to Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Continue around the Halles and take rue Borgval on the right, which leads to Boulevard Anspach. Cross the Boulevard and continue along it to the left.
N° 100 houses the famous shop, Brüsel, whose name is a reminder of the comic book written by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters and published in the series "Cités obscures" ("Obscure Cities"). This comic book criticises the urban speculation which took place in Brussels at the end of the 20th century. The shop also offers a great choice of lithographs, small figurines and other gadgets linked to comics. Take the Boulevard in the opposite direction. In this entire neighbourhood, comics' lovers will find a unique choice of specialist shops, such as at nos. 124 and 126-128. Cross at the lights and turn left in the next street, rue de Bon Secours.
Ric Hochet wall
The mural here represents Ric Hochet. It is one of Brussels' first murals, and one of its best. The hero of the comics series illustrated by Tibet, an artist who sometimes uses Brussels scenery, is hanging dangerously on to the cornice, in this magnificent trompe-l'oeil. The painted architecture harmoniously follows the real architecture of the building located to the right. Rue du Bon Secours leads to rue du Marché au Charbon. Turn right, then immediately left into rue des Grands Carmes. Don't forget to turn and admire the facade of the Notre-Dame-du-Bon-Secours Church, which we will see again later on a mural. This is the neighbourhood for bookshops. Second-hand comic books are on sale here, in most shops. There are Dutch language ones at De Slegte, on the right, and French language ones at Evasion, on the left, on the corner of rue du Midi. This street also has many other second-hand bookshops. Cross rue du Midi and continue until the next crossroads.
Appreciated by all the tourists who flock here, Manneken-Pis is the oldest citizen of Brussels, and naturally appears in a large number of comic books, such as "La Tour noire" (Nero) or "De haar-tisten" (Kiekeboe). In "Manneken Pis, l'Irascible" (Bob and Bobette) he even accompanies our two heroes in their adventures! Take a few steps into rue du Chêne, the street opposite which goes up a hill.
Olivier Rameau's wall
Just behind the fireworks shop, the mural painted by Olivier Rameau attracts a lot of admiration. In this Comics series, Dany and Greg have created a fantasy world which draws some of its inspiration from "Alice in Wonderland". While the fireworks in this painting are clearly making reference to the shop next door, the old façade with a nice gable which appears beneath the legs of Colombe Tiredaile, is inspired by the souvenir shop which you can see below, opposite Manneken Pis. Go back to the fountain and turn right into rue de l'Etuve.
Just where the street becomes wider, the wall resulting from this change in alignment is used as the base for a fresco of Tintin (Hergé), one of the more recent. The young reporter, accompanied by his faithful dog Milou, or Snowy as he's known in English, and by Captain Haddock, appears in nice bluish scenery, which makes good use of this very tiny space. Continue on to the set of traffic lights and turn left into rue du Lombard. Go across the first intersection and walk to the larger footpath in the middle of the second intersection, which is very irregularly shaped.
Francis Carin's and Frank Pé's wall
This amazing vantage point allows you to admire two murals. On one side is the English spy Victor Sackville from the series created by Francis Carin. In "L'Opéra de la Mort", the first book of the "Code Zimmerman" series, Sackville visits Brussels. The scenery in the fresco is a faithful reconstruction of rue du Marché au Charbon as it was during the First World War. You can recognise the Café au Soleil and the tower of the Bon-Secours Church, which you can see for real at the end of the street. Opposite, next to Café Plattesteen, the mural painted in 1991 was the first wall ever to be painted in Brussels with a comic book theme. Broussaille and his girlfriend, the creations of Frank Pé, are about to cross the Plattesteen which is once again depicted in a smaller size in the scenery itself. The wall was repainted a few years ago, according to the rules of the agreement signed with ASBL, the organisation which creates the paintings. This convention stipulates that each mural must last at least the respectable age of ten years. This restoration was used to make Broussaille's girlfriend look more feminine. Previously, she had been identified by a large number of visitors "heaven forbid!" as a boyfriend! Another book in the series "Les Baleines perdues" ("The Lost Whales") takes place in the neighbourhood of the Museum of Natural Sciences , which is reputed for its collection of iguanodon skeletons. Next to Broussaille, take the winding rue du Marché au Charbon, cross rue du Midi and walk straight ahead towards Grand-Place.
François Schuiten's The Passage.
The police station, located on the right-hand side footpath, appears in the book "Racing-Show", in the Michel Vaillant series (Jean Grafton). Opposite, another very discreet break in the building line has been embellished by François Schuiten's The Passage. This painting does not come from a specific book, but is inspired by the entire series of "Obscure Cities" in which architecture plays an essential role. It is easy to recognise the belltower of Saint-Jacques-sur-Coudenberg, the church located next to the Palais-Royal. The figure of the man with a hat, at the bottom, is more reminiscent of some of Magritte's paintings. Schuiten has used the sgraffito technique, which was very popular in Brussels a century ago, with great skill. It consists of scraping at some sections of lighter coloured painting applied over a black base. Thus, the drawing itself becomes a relief. Continue straight ahead to Grand-Place. Grand-Place, the most beautiful theatre in the world according to Cocteau, is used as the setting for a number of comics. Some examples are "Les témoins de Satan" ("Satan's Witnesses'") by Ric Hochet and those already mentioned before, "Manneken Pis, l'Irascible" (Bob and Bobette) and "Racing-Show" (Michel Vaillant). If you look more closely, it also appears in "De haar-tisten" by Kiekeboe. Leave Grand-Place via rue de la Colline, located at the top on the left.
Tintin shop and Galeries Saint-Hubert
At n° 13 rue de la Colline, the Tintin shop sells the entire collection of Tintin albums, as well as posters, figurines, costumes, and even perfumes bearing the effigy of the most famous hero of Belgian comics. There are Tintin shops in Lisbon, London, Bois-le-Duc (in France), and even in Tokyo, which does not stop Japanese tourists from coming to the Brussels shop in large numbers. Rue de la Colline leads to rue du Marché aux Herbes, which can be recognised in the comic "Charly, le Tueur" ("Charly, the killer") (Magda and Lapière). Nearly opposite is the entrance to the Galerie de la Reine, the first part of the Galeries Saint-Hubert. The Galeries Saint-Hubert, which date back to 1847 and are one of the oldest covered passageways in Europe, appear rather discreetly in the comic "Les Témoins de Satan" ("Satan's Witnesses") (Michel Vaillant) and, in all the splendour of Neo-Renaissance architecture, in "L'Opéra de la Mort" ("The Opera of Death") (Victor Sackville). After the intersection with rue des Bouchers, on the right, you can find the "Jeunesse" ("Youth") section of the Library Tropismes which offers a good selection of comics. The name of the jewellery store opposite, "Ciel, mes bijoux" (or "Heavens, my jewels"), is taken from the famous Tintin book, "Les bijoux de la Castafiore" ("The Castafiore Emerald") in which the diva lives in constant fear of having her jewels stolen. At the end of the Galeries, turn left, and walk down rue de l'Ecuyer.
Gaston Lagaffe wall
At the corner of the first street on the left, rue des Dominicains, the character of Poje smiles down from the door of a night shop. The friendly boss of the series "Du côté de chez Poje" combines armchair philosophy with an analysis of society which is sometimes very insightful. This scenario by Raoul Cauvin (who is also the scriptwriter of the different series "Boule et Bill" ("Boule and Bill"), "Les Tuniques Bleues" ("The Blue Tunics"), "Femmes en blanc" ("Women in White") and dozens of others) illustrated by Louis-Michel Carpentier, has also been published in "brusseleir" ("Brusselish"). On the tall and narrow side wall of the building at 7 rue de l'Ecuyer, opposite the Flemish Library, Gaston, the famous creation (which is perhaps a self-portrait?) of Franquin, can be seen having fun. High above, our hero leans out the window and plays with his yo-yo, which hits the head of a passer-by four metre below. In February 2007, when the wall was inaugurated, all the parking meters in Brussels were free in memory of Gaston's stubborn resistance to them. Turn around and walk back up rue de l'Ecuyer to the first street in the right, rue de la Fourche, which once again intersects with rue des Bouchers.
In the second section of rue de la Fourche, the shop, B-gevaar, is hiding in n° 15. For more than ten years, it has been the only shop in Brussels specialising in Dutch-language comics. The "B-danger" mentioned in the shop's sign, is the code name for a Chinese scientist who previously appeared in "Le Secret de Matsuoka" ("Matsuoka's Secret"), Nero's first comic book. The shop also sells American comics and it will please lovers of ex-libris as well. Both well-known and lesser-known artists exhibit their artworks here. Rue de la Fourche leads into rue du Marché aux Herbes. Follow this street to the right, then left into rue Tabora. The first street on the right, rue de la Bourse, runs alongside the Palais de la Bourse (the Stock Exchange) and brings us back to our starting point.