Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Field Report: Tintin and Hergé in Brussels

As a huge Tintin fan, I felt it was my duty to go back to Brussels, visit some of the places featured in the books and see the Hergé Museum. Why go back? Well, I already went to Brussels, but not as a Tintin fan. I always liked it, but was not a Tintinophile forever. Interestingly enough, I believe I became a Tintinophile on the way back from my first Brussels trip, as a teenager. That's when I read the unfinished book Tintin and Alph-Art for the first time, and became interested in the Belgian reporter again.
Therefore, this trip was a first for me. It was the first time I went to Brussels as a Tintinophile. As I'm sure there are other Tintinophiles out there who can't go to Belgium, I'll share what kind of experience it is to be there, as a fan of Tintin. So, get ready to go on an adventure, as I guide you through the streets of Brussels!

Part One: In the Footsteps of Hergé
Here I'm gonna talk about places where Tintin's creator Hergé lived, or was inspired to create his stories.
- Let's begin where it all began. Hergé's birth place. George Prosper Remi was born on May 22nd, 1907, at 25 Rue Cranz, now 33, Rue Philippe Baucq, and lived there for a year. It's in Etterbeek, a town adjacent to Brussels. Click on the pictures to enlarge.

"Here was born
On May the 22nd 1907
Georges Remi
the spiritual father of

- When Hergé wanted to create a Palace for Muskar XII, ruler of the imaginary country of Syldavia in King Ottokar's Sceptre, he didn't have to look very far for inspiration. This is Brussels Royal Palace. These photos were taken on July 22nd; the day before, it was Belgium's National Day, and also the day Albert II abdicated and was replaced by his son Philippe as King of the Belgians. That's why you can see a mess on one of the pictures below.

"Ah! this is the Royal Palace!"

- It is known that Tintin's apartment is at 26, Rue du Labrador (or Labrador Road). No Rue du Labrador can be found in Brussels, but a Rue Terre-Neuve exists. Terre-Neuve and Labrador are both dog breeds, and the two combined gives us the name of a Canadian province (Newfoundland and Labrador). The 26, Rue Terre-Neuve is not dissimilar to Tintin's apartment, so it's safe to say that Hergé was inspired by this real Brussels place to create 26, Rue du Labrador.

- Tintin buys a model ship at a flea market in The Secret of the Unicorn. Although it's never mentioned where the flea market is, it's pretty obvious it's based on the one at Place du Jeu de Balle in Brussels (both in the book and in the 2011 film directed by Steven Spielberg - which is another testament to the respect Weta had for the source material).

- From 1939 to 1953, Hergé lived at 17, Avenue Delleur in Watermael-Boitsfort. That's where he created characters like Captain Archibald Haddock (1940) and Professor Cuthbert Calculus (1943).

- Not far from 17, Avenue Delleur stands the house of 6, Avenue Delleur. Hergé spotted it when he was working on The 7 Crystal Balls, and used the look of the building to design Hercules Tarragon's mansion.

- 162, Avenue Louise was the place where the Studios Hergé offices could be found since 1956, on the 5th floor. It's now the place of Moulinsart, or Foundation Hergé.

- Let's conclude this first part with the resting place of Hergé: Cimetière du Dieweg, in Uccle. Since 1958 it's been a disused graveyard, and nature has taken over. Hergé specifically asked to be buried there, and so he was in 1983. I didn't find his grave but visited the graveyard, and it's really a one-of-a-kind place.

Part Two: Finding Tintin (and more)
In this part of the field report, I will show where various Hergé characters can be found in Brussels. So this won't be just Tintin, but also some of his other creations, like Quick & Flupke.
- In Gare du Midi, there is a huge reproduction of a panel from Tintin in America, complete with a big Hergé's signature. Not far from that, I also saw an ad for the Thalys (a high-speed train operator with Brussels, Paris, Amsterdam and Cologne for main stations) featuring Captain Haddock. This feels weird because this was probably not supposed to last long after the release of the 2011 movie, but it's still there.

- Near Gare du Midi, giant Tintin and Snowy heads look over you, from the Lombard building. Lombard was the editor of the Journal de Tintin. The heads were declared a historic monument in 2006 and restored in 2009, but sadly, some more work needs to be done as you can see on the night-time picture.

- At Bruxelles-Luxembourg, you can find a mural based on a 1932 Hergé drawing. Quick & Flupke can be spotted in it.

- Another station, another mural. This time it's at Stockel, the terminus of the subway's line 1. And it is massive. I counted over 160 characters or animals. Of course I have taken pictures of all of them, but will only show you a few here. Hergé did the drawing, but the actual mural was done after his death by one of his collaborators from Studios Hergé, Bob de Moor.

- A Tintin & Snowy statue can be found at Place du Grand Sablon, in front of a comic book shop.

- Rue Haute is the place of a Quick & Flupke mural.

- Rue de l'Etuve, only a few steps away from the world famous Manneken Pis, you can see this mural, inspired by a panel from The Calculus Affair.

- This cinema (UGC De Brouckère) is where the Brussels premiere of the Tintin film was held on October 22nd, 2011.

- Finally, there is of course a Tintin shop in Brussels. And a quite pretty one it is.

Part Three: Museums
During my trip to Brussels, I visited two museums with a connection to Tintin: The Hergé Museum, in Louvain-La-Neuve, and The Belgian Comic Strip Center, in Brussels. Let's start with what was the main purpose of my Brussels trip:
- The Hergé Museum opened in 2009, and it has a few things going against it. First, it's not in Brussels. Which would not be such a bad thing if it wasn't so far away from the Belgium capital. But if you want to go there by train from Gare du Midi, which I did, you have at least a one hour trip to Louvain-La-Neuve. It seems weird that Moulinsart would choose such a remote place from Brussels. The good thing about this is there's almost no one in the museum, which makes for a very calm visit.
Another thing that bothered me, but didn't surprise me: you can't take pictures of the exhibition rooms. I could only take photos of the hall.

The museum itself is beautiful. It has a very clean, almost ligne claire aesthetic; very appropriate considering Hergé was the master of that art. There are some good visual ideas in the rooms, like the shadow of the Yeti, or a chandelier composed by many Tintin characters.

I guess the museum is interesting and informative enough for newcomers to Hergé's work, but I must admit I didn't learn a lot (I probably learned nothing). In fact, the real treat for me was seeing the original drawings, the rare photos of Hergé (including one with Thaike, one of his many cats, and the one who inspired the Marlinspike cat)... There's nothing like standing so close to the cover of Explorers on the Moon you could almost touch it - but you probably don't want to do that.

The place also has a nice collection of objects, including a life-size shark submarine. But most of these objects can be seen elsewhere (I saw a similar submarine in Cheverny last year).
All in all, I would say the Hergé Museum is a place to visit if you're really a fan of Hergé. Otherwise, other places are just as informative, funnier, and way more welcoming. Which brings us to...

- The Belgian Comic Strip Center is not exclusively dedicated to Hergé's work, but I'll mostly talk about the Tintin part of it, so it will be rather brief. But I would say both museums are equally big.

 One good thing about the BCSC: it's adequately located at the heart of Brussels, at less than a ten minutes walking distance from the Grand-Place, the central part of the city. It s allows you to take pictures of everything, including original artwork - not from Hergé, unfortunately, but other renowned comic book artists, like Franquin (Spirou, Gaston Lagaffe...).

What struck me the most when I entered the portion of the BCSC that was dedicated to Tintin was that I found the same objects that were at the Hergé Museum. And it was showed in a funnier way. The Tintin section is rather short, but you don't feel cheated, because there's much more than Tintin there. The BCSC is a definite must-see if you're coming to Brussels.

While there is much more to see and experience in Brussels than Tintin, if you're coming just for that, you still won't be disappointed. In fact, there are Hergé-related places that I didn't go to, but it would be nice to visit. So Brussels may not have seen the last of me yet.
If you are given the chance to go to this surprising city, don't miss it.


  1. Great! I love Belgium and Antwerp and Brussels is an amazing city for comic lovers. Hope to visit it again soon :)

  2. Glad you liked it! I'm Belgian myself, so Tintin has always been part of my childhood.