Well, what a busy fortnight it has been! I was hoping to get an update posted last week but time just got away from me yet again, but the good news is following my return from Brussels, the city of comics, I have LOTS to discuss. Get comfy!
A few months ago I realised I was becoming somewhat.. stale. I’ve spent the whole summer working either picking up extra hours at the paid job, or working morning till night at home on comics, sketchbook work, one-off pieces and most recently a children’s book. Before that, University had been very intense with a high-workload and quick turn-around, and before that I’d been working on HOAX: Psychosis Blues for six months. So, in early July I decided I needed to refresh myself and do something I’ve missed doing in the past year or so; travel. So, I booked my £10 Megabus return ticket to Brussels, booked a nice looking hostel to stay at near the city centre, and carried on with my day-to-day tasks – but with that quiet excitement in the back of my mind that I was going to be escaping all forms of home-comfort and routine for 48 hours. Bliss! As the long summer break drained away and second year of my degree course looming, my city escape arrived and on Wednesday I packed my things and travelled by train, underground and a 6.5 hour coach journey pondering the meaning of life, drawing, education, and most importantly what I was going to find for dinner that night.
Brussels itself is a beautiful city. Much of Brussels beauty and grandeur comes from a history of exploitation and slave trade regime led by King Leopold II of Belgium around the late 19th to early 20th Century, which in itself I didn’t have time to look at too deeply though there are numerous museums around documenting the history of Brussels. However I was there to look at all things comics, in which I managed to fit in as much as I physically could into the 48 hours I was there. First on the list was the infamous Comic Book Route of the city, in which there are over 50 murals around the centre and surrounding areas. I didn’t manage to see every single one, but starting at 8am I made my way around over 25 pieces of street art, the majority being from the comic route. The route itself has huge pieces of artwork on the sides of buildings dedicated to the legends of the comic book industry who originated from Belgium, and the capital of bande dessinée. These include Hergé (Tintin), Marc Sleen (Nero), Morris (Lucky Luke) and André Franquin (Gaston), amongst many more. It was quite something to see these incredibly bright murals around on the streets, something that the rest of Europe seems to embrace yet the UK sadly doesn’t.
After walking part of the route, I looped back round to end up at the Centre belge de la Bande dessinée to which I spent many, many happy hours. The Belgian Comic Strip Centre is in a converted Art Deco building, and upon ascending the flight of stairs you have a small exhibit on the history of comics, explaining the links to ancient cave markings and the Egyptian’s narrative sequences, etc. Next is a big exhibition on the development of comics, showing originals from European comic artists from scripting through to thumbnails, sketches, pencils and inks. It was absolutely fascinating, to the point in which I walked around it a second time when I’d finished to make notes. I was just blown over that such a place exists with no mention of Marvel or DC, and these incredible original pieces of art with varying techniques and the hidden look into how other artists work – I could go on forever (but I won’t, do not fear). Next up was the gallery exhibit of Madame Livingstone by Barly Baruti & Christophe Cassiau-Haurie which is a graphic novel based around Africa during WWI. The artwork is beautiful and I almost bought a copy – but due to the length of the book I’ll await patiently an English translation. There is also a large ‘Wonderland of Comics’ permanent exhibition which I happily spent a long time looking around, a history of the place itself and a really nice Tintin exhibit. Finally there is a temporary exhibition, ‘100 years in the Balkans‘, which was incredibly moving. All in all, I could have easily spent the day there, I definitely recommend it as an excellent place to go. After a somewhat failed mission to travel slightly out of the city to see an indie illustration exhibit which was closed when I got there, I headed back to the centre to visit BOZAR; otherwise known as the Centre for Fine Arts, I went to see a travelling exhibition of Jacques Tardi, featuring original artwork from his documentation of the First World War. “Putain de Guerre !” (Goddamn this war!) and “C’était la Guerre des Tranchées” (It was the war of the trenches) shown with the black and white artwork next to the coloured final pages. They were nothing less than brutal in showing the war in all its unpleasant horror. Although it was all written in French, there are English translations available to purchase, but I have my eye on a special edition out later this year. Thankfully the small amount of French I do know helped me to understand parts of it, and piece together what I didn’t know. On Friday I also went to another centenary-based exhibition at the Bibliothèque royale de Belgique entitled SHOCK! about the chaotic weeks leading up to the beginning of the First World War and Germany invading Belgium. Part of the exhibition focused on the different world we live in now, with how stories are communicated to the masses and how it is completely different to back in 1914. The newspapers and editorial illustrations they had on show were really eye-opening, it was incredibly interesting. Moving on to cheerier topics, I had just enough time to fit in MOOF – Museum of Original Figurines – before I had to depart back to Angleterre. There is a clear focus on kids at this museum which was to be expected, and it’s a really fun place even as an adult. Hergé and Tintin have quite a chunk of space dedicated, as does The Smurfs, with others such as Asterix and Obelix being more for show than for information purposes. There is also a great section on the animating of the cartoons with original artwork too!
With the short time I had I still managed to fit in an overpriced waffle from Grand Place and some delicious frites avec andalouse, plus with some chocolat and bière bought back for my loved ones I consider it a successful visit. I also had enough time to visit Brüsel, a large comic shop and gallery space in the city which had an impressive indie collection and also an English translated section. I managed to be very well behaved and only come away with three books, all in French! So monetary-value to time, given how long it’ll take me to translate it with my small knowledge of the French language its definitely money well spent. I picked up The Adventures of Tintin vol. 12, Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge (Red Rackham’s Treasure) as it features this really cool submersible ship/vessel that’s looks like a shark. I also picked up Labyrinthum, a quirky little book based on the eternal labyrinth, and finally the pièce de résistance of La Théorie du Grain de Sable, which I was drawn to with the incredible artwork and the use of spot colouring white on beige paper. This book, it turns out, is one of several from a series called Les Cités obscures (The Obscure Cities) created by Belgian comic artist François Schuiten and writer Benoît Peeters, in the early 1980s. The set of graphic novels is based in a parallel universe featuring cities similar to some on earth, including Brussels and the Palaces of Justice. Again, it’ll take me who-knows-how-long to understand it all fully, but the pages are absolutely beautiful (see below).
And now, back to reality. I’d do it all again tomorrow if I could, but now my taste of adventure is back I’m sure it won’t be long before I escape somewhere else. Alas the summer is drawing to a close with University starting up again next week. So, it’s time to mentally prepare for the stress-induced panicking and how I’m going to juggle my time. I had every intention of entering the Jonathan Cape Graphic Short Story Prize competition, but after stating it before I went to Brussels, I realised that it was never going to be anywhere near good enough with the short amount of time I’d given myself. So, there’s always next year. For now I have plenty of other less-pressured side-projects to keep me occupied and hopefully developing my skills also as I go. Anyway, I think that’s it for now. I’ll be sure to update as often as I can with Uni starting back up again, though for now.. À bientôt! x