No other country has produced more comic artists than Belgium. The tradition dates back to the 19th century, when Tintin was created by Belgian artist Hergé and the Smurfs were created by Belgian artist Peyo. Today, the city has 10 Belgian comic schools pumping out new artists each year, not to mention numerous annual comic festivals, art galleries, comic book shops and book publishing houses.
The most public testament to Belgium’s status as a comic-artist hotbed is the city of Brussels, where there’s a lengthy set of murals that stretches through the city called the Comic Book Route. This project started in 1991 with the painting of 10 murals; now, the comic strip walk comprises more than 100 murals spanning the 19 municipalities that make up the City of Brussels, from Saint-Gilles to Sablon. Many murals feature a visual nod to the neighbourhood it’s in.
The first-ever mural along the route symbolizes the project as a whole: Hand-in-hand with his friend Catherine, the Belgian comic character Broussaille walks on air, with a nearby, real-life building replicated in the background.
“It’s my favourite comic mural,” says Willem De Graeve, director of the Belgian Comic Strip Center. “[The pair] invites people on a walk through the city.”
The comic strip walk is filled with unexpected delights, like a bank robbery mural with character Lucky Luke taking on the Daltons, a group of foolish villains, in the art district. This mural has the Atomium, the national Belgian monument, in the background.
Steps away, in the nearby neighbourhood of Saint-Géry, the Belgian comic character Nero, who was created by Belgian artist Marc Sleen, balances on a treetop. Sleen, who created The Adventures of Nero, also has his own museum in the Saint Gilles district.
Another memorable highlight along the walk is a mural of colourful fireworks. Set near the Van Cleemput house, a famous fireworks shop, this Olivier Rameau comic mural has fireworks exploding in a night’s sky as two cartoon characters touch fingertips. “Some could say its disrespectful of Michelangelo,” says Marc Marghem, a cultural journalist based in Brussels, referencing the Renaissance artist’s Sistine Chapel mural. “But in comics, everything is allowed.”
Some murals are more serious, like an illustrated angel sitting atop a drawing of one of the city’s fortification walls.
There are also comic sculptures along the comic strip walk, like a round Gaston Lagaffe character and his cat crowning the entranceway to the Belgian Comic Strip Center. Nearby is the world’s first Smurf store, where guests are greeted by a five-metre-high (16 ft) Smurf seated on a mushroom.
The spirit of the comic strip walk continues in the city’s comic museums, art galleries, and institutions, like the Belgian Comic Strip Center, which has been the home to all things comics since first opening in 1989. Last but not least, the MOOF Museum of Original Figurines displays, among other things, the transition comics made to the silver screen from the page. Alongside the thousands of comic figurines from more than 15 countries, there is a sit-down theatre and a gallery of old animation cells. Don’t miss the installation by Cristina Pineda, her Chihuahua-like character named Xico, otherwise known as “the mascot of Mexico,” has found its home here in the heart of Brussels.
“When school tours come in, I ask the kids, ‘how is school?’” said Jean-Pierre Vanhemelryck, the curator at the MOOF Museum of Original Figurines. “They’re not too happy. I tell them they can make their own world with a pencil. You need to give kids a chance to dream, it’s a question of imagination. They start at six years old, and some comic artists still make drawings at 40.”
Want to stroll through the Comic Book Route? G Adventures can get you there. We run a number of trips to Belgium comprising activities that cater to just about every travel style. Check out our small group tours to Belgium here.