At the end of January, my partner and I took a short trip to Europe to tour a school in the Netherlands. While we were there, I heard about the Centre belge de la Bande dessinée, a museum devoted to comics. It’s not very hard for me to get excited about an excursion to Belgium, but mention French comics and that level of excitement reaches a fever pitch!
My mom loves the French language, so growing up, we had a few volumes she had picked up in her travels like Gaston. We would try to read them together, but mostly, I enjoyed the pictures and the vibrant color. When the movie version of The Adventures of Tintin was released in 2011, I was introduced to Hergé’s brilliantly detailed panels.
At first, the Belgian Comic Strip Center sounds like it might deal more with short sequenced comics common to the Sunday paper. Comic strip is just the literal translation of the French Bande dessinée (often shortened as BD). BD can be used to refer to long-format comics (like graphic novels) in addition to shorter-form works. The center is all-encompassing from Tintin to manga to Mickey Mouse.
The museum building’s architecture is quite beautiful. It was originally a textile department store built in the early 1900s that was revitalized in the late 1980s to become the museum.
There are multiple long-term exhibits about the origins of comics (which you might be familiar with if you’ve read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics). Beginning with Egyptian murals and continuing on to Christian manuscripts and church stained glass windows, there’s a well-summarized look into sequential art as an important form of communication and the beginning of comics as we know them today.
In addition to the history of comics, there are exhibits on the the process of making them (from drawing, to inking and coloring), as well as exhibits featuring pages from various genres (fantasy, historical, for young children, etc.).
The many sculptures of famous characters that can be found around the museum enliven the space. There’s Nemo’s walking bed from McKay’s Little Nemo, Jolly Jumper (the horse from Lucky Luke), Boule et Bill, and others. I had to look up many of them as I’m only familiar with a few Belgian comics.
There was an amazing exhibit of Italian cartoonist Gipi’s original paintings. I had never heard of his work before, so I was really grateful they featured him.
I was perhaps most entranced by the bookstore. I’m always really impressed with the quality and care put into comic books from Europe. The selection was so impressive!
I ended up buying two books to practice my French (and admiration of BD).
Both Bamboo Edition and GrandAngle had a lot of titles I’d like to check out, including La Balade de Yaya and L’adoption Qinaya. BDGest is a good website/app to get updates on and read Belgian comics from if your interest is piqued.