Jacques Brel, Rene Magritte, Hercule Poirot... Belgium has produced a host of famous people. But to me, the most precious is probably an unexpected one, a pale blonde boy who takes a liking to grand adventures: Tintin.
Tintin is one of those fictional characters whose adventures any traveler must admire. Cartoonist Georges Remi wrote under the pen name Hergé and gave his creation adventures everywhere from the Congo and Nepal to fictional Latin American dictatorships and even the moon. As many teenage boys have done, I too have devoured the comics when young. Brussels is the home town of Hergé and a haven for lovers of Belgian comics.
Not far from the Jardine Botanique, near the Northern Quarter financial district, is the Center for the Belgian Comic Strip, known as CBBD (or "Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée"), sprawling over three floors of a magnificent Art Nouveau building designed by Victor Horta between 1903 and 1906.
I make a pilgrimage to this museum for comic lovers, where Tintin is only one of the stars. I enjoy seeing the boy hero’s style change from the black and white in the very first drawings from 1929 to color and the introduction of such familiar names from my childhood bedtime reading as Captain Haddock, Thomson and Thompson and Professor Calculus.
I learn that Belgium is also the home ground of childhood heroes like The Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Spirou. They and many other characters spring to life in the museum’s displays of drawing boards, photographs, life-size prints, cartoons, movies, sketches, models, books, and 6,000 original plates. What could be the secret of the Belgians for creating so many loved cartoons? A fascinating talent.