My familiarity with comic books ends at Archie and Casper the Ghost. My brother, on the other hand, has a comic book collection so massive it requires its own insurance policy. So when researching an upcoming trip to Belgium, known for its comic book tradition, I sought out his expertise.
“Belgian comics? Never heard of them.”
At first, I was surprised that an entire country of comic books had somehow eluded my comic hoarding
collecting brother. Until I realized that Belgian comics are only printed in Dutch and French– and virtually unknown to Americans.
But fortunately you don’t need to understand the language to appreciate a good comic book– comics tell their story through the universal language of art. When I visited Brussels, I wanted to learn more about the country’s tradition of comic books, and find a great gift to bring back for my brother.
Follow the Comic Book Trail in Brussels
The local tourism board, Visit Brussels, has made it easy to learn about the comic book tradition. Their website has detailed maps with everything comics-related (or stop by their office in Brussels for a paper copy). Bonus– if you stop by the Visit Brussels office, they have a fantastic selections of classic Brussels souvenirs– including plenty of comic-related options.
Street Art: Comic Strip Murals and Statues
Before I even opened my map I stumbled across one of Brussels many comic strip murals (there are over 50 in Brussels).
The Tin Tin Boutique
The Comics Cafe
The Mark Stein Museum
The Comics Center
The Comics Center is a museum and shopping experience all in one. Housed in a gorgeous Art Nouveau building designed by Victor Horta, it’s also a treat for architecture buffs. Life-size comic characters dominate the lobby (which you can visit, along with the gift shop without paying the museum entry fee).
You might be surprised as I was that smurfs are Belgian. I grew up watching these adorable blue characters every Saturday morning so it was a little dose of nostalgia to see them here, where they are still incredibly popular.
If you want the widest selection of comic books in Brussels, you have to hit the gift shop at the Comics Center. The shop was filled with ardent fans (nearly all adults). You’ll see shelves upon shelves of comic books (I am embarassed to admit it took me a moment to realize that Belgian comic books are hard cover– not the soft comics I was familar with). While most comics are in French or Dutch, there are a few English options ( I found a fun English-French dictionary of comic idioms that made its way home with me). The shop also has several Brussels-specific option (the attendants all speak English and are very helpful).
You’ll also find plenty of other comic-related souvenirs like t-shirts, plush toys, coffee mugs and figurines.
And for my brother? I got him a classic Tin Tin comic book (in French).
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Have you done the Comic Book trail in Brussels? Tell us about it in the comments!