Who is the most famous Belgian in the world? If you are a football fan, you might say Romelu Lukaku or Eden Hazard. If you are a tennis fan, you might say Kim Clijsters or Justine Henin. Some might say actress Audrey Hepburn who was born in Brussels, even though Hepburn held only British citizenship throughout her life.
For me, it’s Tintin! And the most famous Belgian in the world also happens to be the most famous reporter in the world.
Tintin can best be described as a young Belgian investigative reporter who goes on crazy adventures around the world with his dog Snowy (Milou, in the original French). He is the creation of Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, popularly known by his pen name Hergé.
When I was a kid, I read a lot of Indian comics in Marathi and Hindi. Some of the most popular titles during that time were Champak, Amar Chitra Katha and Raj Comics. Picking up these comics at a bus or train station before a long journey was a thing of joy.
Belgium is known for its fries, beers, waffles, chocolates and Tintin.
A shop window at La Boutique Tintin.
When it came to English comics, the options were limited to DC Comics, Marvel Comics and The Adventures of Tintin; the last series was translated from French. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, these comics were mostly imported and not widely available. As a kid, I remember going to Crossword bookstores with my parents and asking them to buy me those thin, beautiful and engaging prints. My personal favourite was Tintin in Tibet.
Even though DC and Marvel were the more popular publications because of the superhero genre, I somehow enjoyed the young reporter’s escapades more. I think the reason behind that was ligne claire, the clear line drawing style invented by Hergé. The comic series looked clean and different from everything else I had read. Tintin’s travels, darling Snowy, the introduction of different cultures, political commentary, and subtle satire made this series stand out.
The television series in the 1990s based on the comic books was entertaining. When I heard the news of a film based on the series in the making by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, I was very excited! The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn came out in 2011, and I enjoyed watching it in the theatre. I don’t know why they didn’t make more of those.
When I lived in Paris, I made a couple of trips to Brussels, the capital of Belgium. It is just four hours away by bus from the French capital. The moment I arrived at Brussels-South railway station, I saw two murals of Tintin welcoming me.
Murals of Tintin at Brussels-South railway station.
In the first mural at the main exit, Tintin is hanging from a train. The artwork is from , the third volume of The Adventures of Tintin. The second mural nearby has Tintin and Snowy arriving at the station. Tintin is wearing an overcoat in what seems like autumn, and Snowy is leading the way.
While exploring the city, I came across another mural at Rue de l’Etuve and then I visited La Boutique Tintin at Rue de la Colline, a store selling all things Tintin. The store offers comics, toys, apparel and other merchandise. I purchased a diary and a t-shirt as souvenirs. The diary featured scenes from volumes Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon. The t-shirt featured Tintin and Snowy looking at the globe with the title “OU ALLER?”, or “Where to go (next)?”.
One place I could not visit was the Hergé Museum which is outside the city, to the south of Brussels. It looks fantastic from the images online, and I plan to see it the next time I go to Belgium. On the two trips to Brussels, I stuffed myself with fries, beers, waffles and chocolate — the blessed quadruple of Belgian culture. I believe Tintin is the fifth element of Belgian pride.
Seeing Tintin everywhere in Brussels brought back a lot of good memories. I loved going through those comic strips. Tintin’s work as a reporter seemed earnest and a lot of fun. His good nature and wit were exemplary. That serves well for kids and is a desirable characteristic for everyone.
I don’t get to live in comics anymore. Sometimes I catch Calvin & Hobbes on the last page of the Indian Express and sometimes cartoons by the New Yorker show up on my timeline, but that’s about it. It is time to reread Tintin and other comics of the same effect.
All photos by Abhijeet Dangat
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