Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What I did on my holidays.. and a bit of a rant

I'm back from Brussels and we had a totally fantastic time there.

We did all sorts of touristy things - eating Moules Frites and drinking beer in pavement cafes, and eating frites with mayo in the street. We walked for miles and miles through the streets of Brussels looking at the comic strip murals, checking out fleamarkets and browsing in antique shops, second hand bookshops and comic shops. We went to the Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Comic Strips. We ate bouillabaisse and drank lots of coffee. It was pretty much the perfect weekend. We totally loved Brussels.

There were a couple of highlights - the fleamarket at the Place de Jeu de Balle which is on every day from about 7am. We went on Saturday and Sunday (because there's nothing we love better than a good fleamarket)

It takes place in a square and it's just filled with people selling (mostly) tat out of boxes - there is everything here: comics, books, furniture, postcards, buttons, art, photos, spectacles, laboratory equipment (need some pipettes - this is the place), astounding collectables and all manner of unidentifiable stuff. Most of it seems to be straight out of house clearances - everything just shoved into boxes and brought here for sale - we saw biscuit tins with the biscuits still in them, the contents of kitchen drawers, people's whole lives spread out to be pawed through by the dealers and the curious. We loved it. And if you ever wanted to replace a missing bit of a chandelier then this is the place to come - whole stalls of bits of chandelier!

The other big highlight for me was the Museum of Comic Strips. The Belgians love comics. They seriously love their comics. I've never seen so many in one place (there are apparently 49 comic shops in this one city). The Museum has a great display of all the greatest comic artists from Belgium comic history - Herge you would probably have heard of, Willy Vandersteen you might know, but there were many many others I'd never heard of who were just amazing. And the museum doesn't just celebrate the founders of this great industry (and it is still a great industry in Belgium). It has original artwork from comics right up to the present day and they have a huge rolling display of pages of this original art which changes continually, on rotation so that the paper is not exposed to too much light. I have discovered a new found love of E P Jacobs, whose Blake and Mortimer series I knew of, but seeing some of his artwork up close in the museum just blew me away. Hardly any of this stuff gets translated into English which is a shame as I saw some fanstastic stuff, old and new, that would go down a storm here.

Also at the museum was an exhibition about Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomins. There was beautiful original art here too. You may (if you are old enough) remember that she did a comic strip of the Moomins for the London Evening News from 1954 to 1959. Sadly, none of the art for that particular series survives as it was all destroyed by Associated Newspapers. And this demonstates the difference in importance placed on comics in the UK compared to Belgium.

Much of the artwork for early British comics no longer exists, destroyed as worthless as publishers disappeared and publications were merged. The one British publisher who holds a big archive is D. C. Thomson, publisher of The Beano, The Dandy, The Beezer, Bunty, Mandy, Warlord and Victor. They published all those comics you grew up reading. They also publish The Sunday Post - home of the Broons and Oor Wullie. They've been publishing comics since 1921 and they have a huge archive. But do they make anything of this huge, fantastic resource? No, they do not. Is this wonderous stuff available for the public to see? No, it is not. Is there a museum where you could go and learn about the early days of comic books in the UK? No, there is not. Don't you think we ought to celebrate the people who brought us all so much fun and laughter in our youth. Don't you think we should have a museum blowing the trumpet of the great comicbook artists and writers produced in this country. Would you go to someplace like that? I know I would.

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