Appeared in the April 2013 issue as “On Tintin’s Trail Through Brussels”.
As I stood in front of the Royal Palace in Brussels, I could almost see Tintin strolling in to look for clues that would lead him to King Ottokar’s missing stave.
The building with cream and grey exteriors served as the model for the King of Syldavia’s palace when Hergé, the creator of Tintin, set his legendary boy-detective off on another adventure. I’d loved to have explored the grand structure but visitors are allowed inside only during the summer, and autumn was just beginning. I tightened my woolly red scarf and crossed the wide cobbled street to enter the Brussels Garden. Office-goers with packed lunches were trickling in. There seemed to be no doubt that this was the park in which Tintin found the suitcase that led him to the mystery that unfolded in the comic book King Ottokar’s Sceptre.
I was walking around Brussels on a mission: I wanted to see the places that inspired Hergé, the author and illustrator of the Tintin series, when he was conjuring up Tintin’s exciting plots. As fans know, Hergé was actually Georges Remi, who created his pen name by reversing his initials, which in French are pronounced er-jay. I am a new fan, but I’ve been hooked on the adventures of the “world’s no. 1 reporter” from the day I began reading them, a year before I visited Brussels. Tintin is the perfect mix of traveller and detective. He goes around the world to report crime, works around numerous unexpected setbacks, and walks out only after solving them. His adventures stir the travel bug in me. Incredibly though, I learnt that Hergé, who passed away in 1983, had never actually travelled to most of the places he wrote about.
I’d arrived at the garden in the company of Stuart Tett, who is part of an elite group of Tintinologists, as people who spend a lot of time studying Hergé and his work are called. “But even big fans of Tintin and collectors are included in this group,” said Stuart, who writes the bonus features for a new lot of Tintin comics that will soon be published. He works at Moulinsart, the company that owns rights to all of Hergé’s work, and is based in the same office as he once was.
Stuart had handed me a Tintin trail map, on which he had scribbled some additional information. We followed part of the map together and passed Boutique Tintin, a mural of Tintin, Snowy, and Captain Haddock from The Calculus Affairon Rue de Étuve, the Belgian Comic Strip Centre, the Comic Strip House, the Royal Palace, and finally reached the Brussels Garden. On the way, I had noticed that most tourist shops had Tintin memorabilia and that there was a new comic book café with a life-size statue of Tintin standing outside. Many tourists were walking around with bright red Tintin shopping bags sold at Boutique Tintin, while most bookshops advertised Tintin books in various languages in their windows.
“It’s more than just commercial activity,” Stuart said. “Most people in Belgium have grown up reading Tintin. Le Petit Vingtième, the daily newspaper that first published the strip, would quadruple its circulation on the days that The Adventures of Tintin appeared. After the first few adventure were printed in 1930-35, an actor dressed as Tintin would arrive at Brussels’s main train station and the way the crowds welcomed him was overwhelming. He was their hero.”
I said goodbye to Stuart at the Gare du Bruxelles-Midi. It is the biggest station in Belgium, with connections to Germany, the Netherlands, and many other countries. Visitors entering Belgium by train are welcomed by a gigantic painting of Tintin hanging from a train engine in the main concourse.
A 30-minute train ride took me to the university town of Lovain-la-Neuve. After a two-minute walk past shops filled with chattering students I arrived at the Hergé Museum, which opened two years ago. Around 100 schoolchildren were walking around taking notes and the ticket counter had a long queue. An audio guide can be hired at the gate but I didn’t take one since I was meeting Dominique Maricq, the author of nine books on Hergé. He was one of the principal researchers who has worked on the museum’s exhibits.
If one is looking for Tintin’s origins, it’s all here. There’s a model of the rocket ship from Explorers on the Moon andDestination Moon, a room with walls of Tintin comics in different languages, and loads of interactive exhibits featuring quizzes, sounds effects, and short videos. The writer seemed to have taken a lot of inspiration from French journalist Albert Londres who often went undercover during his research. Tintin’s appearance though, seems to be similar to Hergé’s brother, Paul Remi.
Since Hergé had not travelled to most of the places he sent Tintin on his adventures, he spent months collecting newspaper articles about various countries. Several clippings, along with photos that inspired his drawings, are framed next to comic book panels at the museum. “We found literally thousands of newspaper cuttings in his studio, which is why the archiving process is taking years,” Dominique said. For the next two hours, I listened carefully to Dominique talking about Hergé, the times he lived in, and the other characters he created.
When I walked out of the museum I knew all I had wanted to about the genesis of the detective journalist. I could see a deep love and respect for the writer and his creations in this city, and I felt an intense desire to go back home and reread my entire collection, with a new perspective. The people of Hergé’s city really know how to keep their hero alive.
1. In 1993, the Brussels city council comissioned a series of Belgian comic book murals. Among the works is a painting of Tintin and Captain Haddock on Rue de L’Etuve.
2. Shop for books, bags, tees, and ﬁgurines at Boutique Tintin on Rue de la Colline, which stocks only official Tintin memorabilia.
3. The Comic Strip House on Boulevard de l’Impératrice is dedicated to the evolution and popularity of Belgian comics.
4. Meet iconic Tintin characters at the Museum of Original Figurines, where several statues of Hergé’s heroes can be seen.
5. La Monnaie is the theatre that inspired Hergé’s drawings of the opera in The Seven Crystal Balls.
6. The Belgian Comic Strip Centre on Rue des Sables introduces visitors to the history of comics in Belgium. The museum has a permanent exhibition that traces a comic book’s creation from an idea to the ﬁnished product.
7. In King Ottokar’s Sceptre, Tintin ﬁnds an abandoned suitcase while strolling around the Park of Brussels.
8. Across the park, is the Royal Palace, which inspired the home of the king of Syldavia in King Ottokar’s Sceptre.
9. End the walk with a mug of chilled sour geuze (a kind of local beer) at Het Goudblommeke in Papier, a warm, old-style bar that Hergé frequented.
• The observatory in The Shooting Star is inspired by the Royal Observatory of Belgium.
• Stockel Metro Station has two colourful murals with several characters from Tintin’s adventures.
• The famous Arumbaya mascot from The Broken Ear can be seen at Cinquanteraire Museum. The exhibits also include an Egyptian mummy similar to the one in The Seven Crystal Balls.
• Walloon Brabant is a pretty province on the outskirts of Brussels where Hergé lived for many years. The landscape inspired the scenery in his books.
• Hergé’s tomb can be found at the Diewig Cemetery.
• A plaque commemorating Hergé’s birthplace can be found on 33 Rue Philippe Baucq in the town of Etterbeek.
• Comic Village Café is a cosy restaurant with comic book panels on its walls, and a bookshop full of graphic novels on the lower level. Outside, in Sablon Square, a life-size bronze statue of Tintin and Snowy was unveiled.
• On Rue Haute, there is a large mural of Quick and Flupke, characters from Hergé’s comic series for children.
•The ﬁrst scene of the movie, The Adventures of Tintin, was ﬁlmed at the Place du Jeu de Balle ﬂea market (open daily, shuts at 12 p.m.).
• One of the most popular railway stations in Brussels, the Gare du Midi features a Tintin mural at the entrance.
• The ﬁrst publishers of the Tintin books, Editions du Lombard, have a giant Tintin and Snowy sign on top of their office building.
Appeared in the April 2013 issue as “On Tintin’s Trail Through Brussels”.
Tintin and his faithful dog are known by different names throughout the world. The original comic, in French, starred Tintin and Milou. When it was translated into Dutch, the heroes were called Kuifje and Bobbie. As the comic reached more countries, their names kept changing—Tenten and Milou in Greece, Tintin and Terry in Norway, and Tintin and Kuttus in Bengal. The Hindi version features the escapades of Tintin and Natkhat.