Wednesday, May 02, 2012

A Comic Tour of Tintin Land

To every comic lover the name Tintin brings an exciting feeling. Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Adventures of Tintin- The Secret of the Unicorn’ released last year might have renewed interest in Tintin’s country and even inspired a few to be there. Surely, whether you love comics or chocolates, Belgium is a traveller’s delight. And, it certainly has a lot more to offer.

Belgium is the country which gave birth to Tintin. Capital Brussels is fondly called as capital of Tintin by comic lovers around the globe. No wonder, Tintin has the stature of the world’s best-known Brussels resident. But then, comics in Belgium is limited not just to Tintin, they also have stars like Smurfs and they have a created a huge following of… no, not comic lovers but of comic strip writers. It’s statistically said that with more than 700 comic strip authors, Belgium has more comic strip artists per square kilometre than any other country in the world!
Streets in Bruges, called Venice of the North, are infused with artwork
Sculptures are scattered everywhere in Burges. It is an artistes' town.
But then, Brussels was the last stop in my Belgium trip, where my encounter with Tintin was destined. My tryst with Flemish art started well in Bruges during the boat ride in its canals for which it is also called as ‘Venice of The North’. I could see interesting sculptures and paintings along the waterway for full public view. I started enjoying the way art was mingled in the daily life of Flemish people. So much so that I even almost missed the setting of dog scene of the movie ‘In Bruges’. But luck was my way and I managed to catch that beautifully.
The Graffiti Street in Ghent, flowing with colourful graffiti all around
History is strewn on the streets of Ghent, but that too in comic form
But it was Graffiti Street in Ghent that I instantly fell in love with. Had googled about it before the trip and every search result had in fact brought impatient me to the fore. It was something I haven’t seen anywhere before. A street overflowing with all kind of colourful and expressive graffiti from top to bottom and start to finish, not just on the side walls but on the walkway itself. In it were some finest expressions of feelings, emotions, ideas and ideologies. I was fortunate enough to see some young artists at work. Perhaps it was also the playing ground for all budding comic strip artists of Belgium. The way different graffiti co-existed and were overwritten again and again, I couldn’t help thinking that it was where they were sowing the seeds of tolerance within the society.
Masqueraders on the roads of Antwerp fool you as well as impress you
Wow! These sculptures showcased in Antwerp are made of chocolate...
Antwerp was more of a happening city, often termed as fashion capital or the diamond capital. Here comic art was live and intriguing. You can find all kind of exhibitionists on roads- from pretty guitarists to masqueraders who can fool you (or rather impress you) with their Vincent Van Gogh look. Since Belgium is everything about chocolates, you can find all types of experiments done with them from body paint to cartoon characters. In Neuhaus Chocolatier at Royal Galleries of Saint-Hubert I found a whole range of Tintin comics packaged with chocolate boxes. Kids will just love it.
Okay.. Tell me which one is sculpted and which one is an artist posing
Tintin can be seen on the chocolates and also on their wrappers
It's a four-storey building and Tintin is coming down the ladder. Interesting!
Brussels’ comic museum is a huge draw for the tourists coming to Belgium. Every year more than 200,000 visitors come here to explore 4,200 square metres worth of permanent and temporary exhibitions. At the Belgian Comic Strip Center, you will witness the unusual marriage of the Ninth Art and Art Nouveau, two artistic forms of expression which have always been particularly cherished in Brussels. Besides Tintin, this kingdom of the imagination is home to some of Belgium's best-known comic strip heroes like Spirou, Bob and Bobette, the Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Blake and Mortimer, Marsupilami, etc. They are one big happy family of paper heroes. Belgian Comic Strip Center has become the number one reference for comic strip lovers. It is also a modern research centre that boasts of more than 40,000 titles (albums and theoretical works) in more than 20 languages.
Sidewalls of buildings in Brussels have comic scenes drawn on them
But then, as in other cities of Belgium, in Brussels too, comics are not just limited to Comic Strip Centre. Going down the Stoffstraat towards the Manneken Pis, you may find comic scenes drawn across the whole height of sidewall of a four and five-storey residential buildings and in one of them I even found Tintin coming down a four-storey ladder. Of course, when it comes to comics and Tintin you will never escape them when you are in Belgium.

Well Connected
Brussels is one of the most well-connected European cities from India. There are direct daily flights from all the four metros to Brussels. Once in Brussels, whole of Belgium is well-connected through roads. Driving there is fun through the countryside- a typical European lush green. Brussels to Bruges was just a few hours’ drive; and then Bruges to Ghent, Ghent to Antwerp and Antwerp to Brussels, every bit of this trip was worth enjoying.

Text and Photos by Upendra Swami

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