Le centre belge de la bande dessinée — Belgisch Stripcentrum
Back in 1975, a group of people tried to save one of the Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels, the Waucquez Warehouse, created by the most celebrated of Belgian Art Nouveau architects, Victor Horta. During the 1960s a large number of his buildings were lost to what was later called “bruxellisation”, the indiscriminate and brutal destruction of some of the most iconic Art Nouveau buildings, all in the name of ‘modernisation’. It started with the World Exhibition in 1958 and never really stopped, at least not until the 1990s. The group of people who wanted to protect the Waucquez Warehouse in the centre of Brussels first of all tried to have it listed, and in 1975 architect Jean Delhaye, a student of Horta’s, managed to do this.
In the centre’s presentation on https://www.comicscenter.net/en/home they refer to the following important milestone, which was reached in the effort to securing the by now dilapidated building as a centre to promote comic strips:
In 1983, urged by a couple of enthusiasts for urban development (Jean Breydel) and comic strips (Guy Dessicy), the Belgian Secretary for Public Works bought Waucquez Warehouse from the owners’ heirs with the express intention of securing the building in order to dedicate it to the promotion of comic strips.
In 1987 the restorers moved in under the aegis of the Federal Office for Buildings of the State, and on 6 October 1989 the Belgian Comic Strip Centre opened its doors to this new celebration of the marriage of the Ninth Art and Art Nouveau. An Art Nouveau gem has been preserved, restored, and now forms a majestic framework for the celebration of the Belgian comic strip tradition. The mission statement is clear:
The Belgian Comic Strip Centre’s aims are twofold: to promote the comic strip as a valuable cultural medium and to maintain the architectural masterpiece which it is housed in.
The beautiful space offers permanent exhibitions, exhibition spaces, conservation of original plates and drawings, the ‘Slumberland’ bookshop, library, documentation room, reading room, the ‘Horta Brasserie’, and there are workshops, initiation courses for children, organisation of birthday parties with treasure hunts, school trips and guided tours for groups, both to the museum and along ‘the comic strip route’ through Brussels with its many comic art frescoes.
And what is meant by “comic strips”? To those who have grown up with American comic strips, the centre will be a surprise, maybe even a disappointment, as the focus is on European comics, graphic novels and all those much loved albums from almost everywhere in Europe, the tradition that survived World Wars and was invigorated by the ban on imports during WW II — no more Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse, but TinTin, Spirou, Gaston, the Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Blake and Mortimer, etc. Nowadays you can download an app, “Comics Art Museum Brussels AR Experience”, available in 3 languages (Dutch, French, and English), introducing you to all the wonders of the collections and exhibitions. You can also have a virtual tour with Google Street View.
Usually, one talks about the Franco-Belgian ‘bandes désinnées’ or BDs (comics strips, literally ‘designed or drawn tomes’) as quite a few of the artists worked together across the border — Asterix, for example — but when the Angoulême International Comics Festival started back in 1974 it is often seen as the year the French ‘bandes désinnées’ came of age. If any of you would be interested, the next, the 48th, will be held 27–30 January in 2022 (do book well in advance!).
Nowadays, the BD tradition covers the whole of Europe and there are BD artists from around the continent — Swiss, Spanish, Italian, Danish, German, Dutch, Belgian and French, with new developments, experiments with the page layout, some even without text, more graphic novels rather than ‘comic strips’, but all read from left to right, everybody knows how, andwith a wealth of subjects, stories, fables. There are other permanent comic strip attractions in countries like Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Italy and France, and you will need time to fully absorb the Ninth Art with its wonderful and fascinating world, but the Belgian Comic Strip Centre in Brussels is a good place to start.
Take a quick tour: https://youtu.be/IjS4oEh5-OM