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The museum itself
Ever since my lovely wife Elena had told me that she had to go to Brussels for an interview I have been excited to visit the Belgian Comic Strip Center. Located very close to the centre, it was a twenty minute walk from our hotel. As I arrived towards the Museum, I was greeted with a giant statue of Gaston Lagaffe, a character created by the great Andre Franquin. The entrance to the museum itself is quite subtle and I missed it on the first go in my excitement! Entering it, it is filled with all sorts of great statues such as Tin Tin and friends on the moon and their actual rocket ship, Spirou, Asterix, the Smurfs and the real 2HP Citroen of Boule and Bill. In short it is a comic lover's dream come true, specially those familiar with Belgian Comic Book artists such as Peyo, Herge and Franquin.
'Nothing is invented, everything just changes'
A chronological section is devoted to the evolution of the comic strip. On the left we have 'Jonas eaten by Whale' from 1299. Apparently Monks were doing comic strips long before anyone else was! Also in the gallery were great gestural sketches of wrestlers by Katsunika Hokusai and a real revelation to me was Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland by the great Winsor McCay. I was amazed by the large prints of this strip and stunned with their visual and narrative brilliance. I can now see what a profound impact this must have had on Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes.
The genius, Peyo
Firstly, I didn't realise till recently that the Smurfs were a comic strip created by the Belgian artist, Peyo. Then as I entered his section in the museum I was bewildered by the amount of work the man has done. This includes Johan and Peewit, Poussy, Benoit Briseter, Johan L'ecuger du roy and Pied Tendre. What I was dumbfounded by was the improvement of his work from 1949 to 1959. In these ten years he transformed from just another artist you would see on deviant art to a legendary comic book artist. Motivation defined. If in ten years from now I can create something like the smurfs then gosh! What more can I ask for?
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Les Schtroumpfs a.k.a The Smurfs
What I didn't know about the Smurfs were how funny the three panel gag cartoons were! I didn't even know that you could tell such great jokes in only three panels. Again just amazed at Peyo's work. It seems like he hit on all cylinders when he did the smurfs. Such original characters and such great jokes and story lines, and a dreamy setting. I also learn about the Black Smurfs, that were the result of a Smurf getting stung by a black fly that makes their skin black and they lose their vocabulary and get very aggressive. I'm not going to say anything about race here, but is it possible to avoid that topic?
All in all though the little statuettes of the Smurfs were super cute, especially the miniature piano and the clothes line with their pants drying :)
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The Marc Sleen Museum
Marc Sleen was a prominent Belgian illustrator, little known the outside world (because publishers didn't think he would sell outside Belgium) but well love in Brussels. His cartoons display local eccentric characters in the way that Mario Miranda did. Every city has a great cartoonist that really represents the culture of the city and it's characters and this was who Marc Sleen was for Brussels. Additionally, He was a Wild life enthusiast and constantly strived for animal's rights. What struck me the most in this museum was his preliminary work. He seems to have drawn the whole image in pencil in quite good detail and the drawn it again and inked it. This confirms something that my good friend Amin Faramarzian told me the other day, 'no good artist gets it right the first time'
Bruss 2: Brussels in Shorts
And of course we have to have something about the current comic strip scene in Brussels! There was an exhibit on the new comic stip collective called 'Brus 2: Brussels in Shorts' and I was immediately drawn the cover by Stedho. I've put a few of his pencils up because I really like his work, and I also noticed that he doesn't really ink his work, rather blue pencils a rough and then goes over it neatly with a graphite pencil and then probably removes the blue lines in photoshop and adds colour. I really like the flow of his work. And then there is also the work of Kim, the gruesome story of a murdered prostitute visualized in quite a bit of detail. Though not a big fan of the story itself, I like the way it was told. Shockingly, the comic was not for sale in the shop!
This was a critical visit for me that really opened my mind to a lot of things. I'm super inspired by what I experienced. I've fallen back in love with the comic strip. I haven't been into comic strips for the last ten years or so but hopeful this has changed. Quotes such as 'A comic strip is born from the will of it's author' had an impact on me. I learnt about inking techniques, I learnt that you must study the results of others, but create your own unique technique. I saw the importance of creating rough work. I learnt about the importance of suspense in the last panel of a daily strip... and lastly I learnt anything is possible with focus, love, and dedication... and greatness takes time, there are no overnight results.