Can't beat a comic book, especially if you grew up with Tintin... time to pass it to the new generation at the Belgium Comic Arts Museum, Brussels
If we're honest, we hadn't planned on retracing our steps back.. but this was too good an opportunity to miss... we'd been really keen to visit the fantastic Belgium Comic Arts Museum since we planned the journey some months back... figuring the girls would love the chance to read comics (in their amazing library!) and see a Smurf house in person... but it really has so much more!
With Brussels understandably struggling to deal with the recent events, we wanted to support this wonderful city... it really is a vibrant, eclectic yet utterly modern city... Yes although it has beautiful architectural triumphs to match Bruges, it really has another side... one entwined with the concept of art nouveau and the other focused on cartoons... and where better to see this than the comic museum...
We were very luck to spend some time with Willem ( a director of the museum) who explained in intricate yet humorous detail the nature of the exhibitions and how the museum had been intended to look when it was created in 1989... Opened by royalty no less (well i suppose they probably like comics too!)
At first glance, it is clearly an amazing building (built by Victor Horta) with a wonderful glass roof that allows light to flood through the building (essential when buying fabric from one of the Flemish merchants years ago in it's use as a fabric trading venue!)
The exhibits are brilliantly arranged and allowed the children a key ingredient for a decent visit - space! The girls could roam freely across the entire museum between the exhibits aimed at creating niches of opportunities for new budding artists, to the wonderfully atmospheric library where you could easily while away a few hours! The sheer range of cartoons was extraordinary!
But perhaps not unexpectedly... with over 700 cartoonists currently working in the city trying to promote cartoons as a cultural medium... added to the fact that the cities only 2hrs from both Paris and London and well situated for a creative meeting of minds... Belgium probably takes the lead over almost all countries other than perhaps Japan and America... architects of your imagination!!
So why is that?
Well it appears to have taken its roots from the fact that the country is so multi-cultural in languages... 60% speak Dutch, 39% French and less than 1% German... hence the visual imagery was far easier to convey messages! This was matched by the cosmopolitan mix of Irish, Italian immigrants that flooded into New York in the early 1900's. The frontage of newspapers was far easier to sell when accompanied by visual images.. hence cartoons were born!
But there is a distinction as the girls found out - comic strips have more than 3 image and often epic a full story (TinTin, Smurfs etc) whereas the cartoonists often poke satirical fun at an object, person or topical news item. These are often only 1 picture and have a witty caption beneath (think Matt or Giles in the UK press)
So is there something for everyone?
Probably yes? We headed for our personal favourites (TinTin for the adults, Smurf for the girls) yet the brilliant exhibit for Frank Pe may interest even the most experienced of cartoon connoisseurs. It's breadth of original material and unique creation of the cartoons in detail is impressive even to a child. But for those with really young children, the newly created (soon to open) Comic Strip Lounge will give every child an interactive fun experience that could easily absorb the likely 2hrs for a visit to this museum
If tummies start rumbling, there's always the restaurant with its collection of Belgium recipes (try the tomato and shrimp - a masterpiece!) or the shop on the bottom floor....
If you're really interested, try to find the cartoon on the stairs and then ask yourself where / which TinTin adventure does that come from... and why did they put this cartoon here? Let us know if you want to know the answer and we'll email you as soon as we get your mail!
So in a nutshell, a brilliantly designed space that allowed our girls the freedom to immerse themselves in an entertaining museum with lots to do and see.. hopefully captivating them to find a cartoon they might enjoy reading for years to come...
As for Brussels, its well worth a visit... the city itself, the Atomium and Little Europe park to the north of the city... and don't believe everything the media write! It was buzzing with happiness today not sadness.. I'm sure we will soon see Brussels emerge from this unhappy time... we will certainly return again... soon to enjoy this wonderful city!!!
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