Dec 10, 2014
On the Road Again…
When I make comics, it’s hard sometimes not to feel like I am engaging in a lesser form of art making, if indeed it is even part of the art world at all. Comics? Puh-leeze! Is that what you went to art school for? If comics were serious art they would have their own museum!
Um…wait a minute, actually there is more than one museum dedicated to the practice and process of making comics, and on my recent trip to Brussels, Belgium, I got to visit one.
Europe is chock full of marble monuments to the so-called finer arts, and Brussels is no exception. Grand museums crowd the street corners of the neighborhood in which we lived. But I was both delighted and surprised to discover Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée, or in English, The Belgian Comic Strip Center: an entire museum dedicated to the art of cartooning.
Little did I know that Belgium has long been a hotbed of creativity when it comes to telling stories with pictures and words. Hergé, the creator of the legendary Tin Tin, is right at the center of it all. (So are the Smurfs, but you know, I’m just not a Smurfs kind of gal.)
We arrived bright and early, just as the museum was opening. Several exhibits were waiting for us in the former Waucquez Warehouse, a gem of Art Nouveau by grand master designer Victor Horta. These included an exhibition titled 100 Years in the Balkans: The Comic Strip in Resistance. Seeing this exhibition reminded me of a recent exchange between myself and one of my readers who was irritated by the political slant of one of my cartoons. Far from being inappropriate fare for a comic strip, comics have been pontificating political points of view almost as long as they have existed.
An exhibit titled Picturing Brussels depicted recognizable locations in all parts of the city. Even as a recent first-time visitor to Brussels, I identified landmarks and neighborhoods that I had visited. Brussels in Shorts (short stories, not short pants) is an international competition that gives three artists the opportunity to discover the city and then create short graphic works that drew on the location. The resulting works ranged from an Alice in Wonderland in Belgium fantasy to more realistic autobiographical stories.
Permanent exhibitions include a brief history of comics starting with Egyptian hieroglyphs, moving through early political cartoons and ending in the present day.
My favorite display was about all the phases of the working process involved in making a comic. (Anyone interested in comics should read Scott McCloud’s books of comics theory, “Understanding Comics, “Reinventing Comics” and “Making Comics.”) The exhibit we saw put many of McCloud’s theories into action, with a gaggle of artists showing their works in progress to help readers realize just how much work goes into something that seems so simple.
From written scripts and synopses and rough pencil sketches to more finished pencilled and inked works, to some different ways to add color to a work, this exhibit gave a fascinating look behind the scenes. This showcase went on to give examples of more than a dozen different genres within the realm of comics, including one of my personal favorites: talking animals. (Actually I work in a subset of the talking animal genre: smarty pants talking animals.)
As we left the museum, we stopped in one of the many large and ornate cathedrals in Brussels, with a series of stained glass windows. As I looked at the pictorial windows in sequence, I realized it was nothing more, and nothing less, than an 18th century graphic novel.
If you find yourself in Brussels, The Belgian Comic Strip Center is well worth the time for a visit.
The Belgian Comic Strip Center – Museum Brussels
Rue des Sables 20
Tel.: + 32 (0)2 219 19 80
Fax: + 32 (0)2 219 23 76
Open every day (except Monday) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Anne Belov is painter, printmaker, cartoonist and pontificator on Whidbey Island. You can see her paintings at Rob Schouten Gallery at Greenbank Farm and find her books—”Pandamorphosis” and all the “Panda Chronicles” series books at Moonraker Books in Langley. “Pandamorphosis” can also be found at The Feather and Fox at Bayview Corner.
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