The museum itself is housed in a historical building. The building is the last Vitor Horta building remaining in Brussels. Over 100 years old, it spent it's first 70 years as a cloth and fabric saleshall. After sitting empty, and being destroyed by vandals and vagabonds, the building was bought by the state in 1984 and restored. During it's restoration they found a stone with the year 1664 etched in it. This dates back to the original building that stood on this site, an Abbey. On the third of October, 1989, the restoration was complete and the museum opened. The building is beautiful. An absolutely lovely mixture of metal, glass and light.
As much as I admired the building, I also admired the exhibits found within. The museum showcases Belgian comic strips and artists, but is not limited to just the Belgian side of things. The museum did a great job explaining the history of comics, how they have evolved and how they are created.
Comics were first observed in the Middle Ages as Christian Monks used images to illustrate bible stories. They established the basic principals of modern day comic strips:
- story panels
- dialog in balloons
The 19th century saw the first examples of recurrant comic heros. The German characters Max and Moritz are a great example of these first recurrant figures.
In 1905, Winsor McCay, creator of Little Nemo [the boy in his bed who has adventures in the sky kingdom] saw his character Gertie the Dinosaur put to film. He was the forerunner to Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse.
The museum introduced me to Boerke, who may have just become my new favorite comic. The stories are often one page and they speak to a social issue or just a problem. As much as they may reflect the news, they are also humorous. I really enjoyed them and took pictures of a few of my favorites.
Three major Belgian comics are well known outside of Belgium , although not all are known as well outside of Europe: Tin Tin, Asterix and The Smurfs.
Of the three, only the Smurfs have really made it to the US in a large way. I remember watching the Smurfs on TV as a child and loving their little blue mushroom world. I did not know that the cartoon I so enjoyed began as a comic until much later.
The Smurfs were created by Peyo. Peyo dropped out of school at age 15 and began creating comics. One of his most famous pre-Smurf comics was Johan and Peewit. Infact, the Smurfs first appeared as characters in Johan and Peewit. The smurfs were then described as "3 apples high, blue and smurf-speaking". Shortly thereafter the Smurfs took on a life of their own and soon outranked Johan and Peewit in popularity.
As the Smurfs evolved, they changed from a group of 99 to 100. They included special smurfs such as Papa Smurf and Smurfette. The Smurfs also had their enemies. I really only recalled 2 of them, Gargamel and Azriel, but the museum showcased 7 of them. Reading about BZZZ the Fly, an enemy who transmits "Purple Smurf Disease" to the Smurfs, I was amused to see that the French and Dutch versions called the malady "Black Smurf Disease". [It may be worth noting that this museum offered all information and signs in 3 languages: French, Dutch and English.]
The Smurfs section was easily my favorite part of the museum and I of course had my picture taken with a Smurf.
The museum had a special exhibit on Brussels in comic. It showed examples of places in the city appearing in comics. It was organized by location and I was excited to see how many of the places I could recognize after being in the city only 2 days. I found it a great tribute to a city and also a wonderful example of how the city supports comics and in turn the comics support the city.