Belgium has a very long tradition as the country of the Bande Dessinées (BDs), the Franco-Belgian comics. The tradition of BDs in french-speaking Belgium (and France) is so strong that the “Bande Dessinée” became widely known as the “Neuvième art”, the Ninth Art. This long-lasting legacy can be felt anywhere you go in the country, but even more within its capital, Brussels.
As a child - and later as a teenager - who grew up in a small town in the south of the country, Mons, I remember myself spending hours (and even days, during the holiday seasons) reading comics. For Belgian kids, the BDs are used as the gate towards more serious literature, with an entry barrier that is perceived by the younger ones as much lower than serious novels.
I started with classics such as The Smurfs, Tintin, Astérix & Obelix. These comics have a unique characteristic: they can be read and enjoyed by all generations of readers, each of whom having their own level of reading, and enjoying it in their own way. I still remember some family discussions at the dinner table, about some Asterix and Obelix scenarios.
A few years later, my passion shifted to so-called “adult comics”, among which Buck Danny, the famous military flying ace serving in the US Navy, and thanks to whom many fighter pilots in the Belgian Air Force have discovered their vocation; XIII, an amnesiac willing to discover his past; Largo Winch, the story of a billionaire’s secret son who takes over his father’s financial empire.
In Brussels, you can feel the legacy of the Bande Dessinée in many places, whether through the special atmosphere of many restaurants or bars, in specialized stores (such as Multi BD) or dedicated museums.
After the Second World War, French-speaking Belgian comics are marked by the predominance of newspapers aimed at young people, such as Le Journal de Tintin (in Brussels) and Le Journal de Spirou (in Marcinelle, in Charleroi’s suburb), which gave rise to the so-called Franco-Belgian comic school. This school was given the possibility to penetrate the French market, but to achieve this, it had to become almost “French”, i.e. not to express itself in the French language, which was already the case, but to renounce Belgian references: the various Walloon and Brussels publishing houses imposed a French standard on authors as early as the fifties for commercial reasons. For example, uniforms and road signs adopted hexagonal criteria.
From Tintin to Spirou, from Corto Maltese to Lucky Luke, you can nowadays admire more than 60 BD’s characters painted on the walls of houses and buildings all over the city of Brussels. This journey is called the “Parcours de la Bande Dessinée” (the Comic Book Path). It will be an opportunity for you to take some hidden charming streets.
Also, the must-see place is the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée, where you can learn everything you need or want to know about our comics … and even more!
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