Our first clue that something was happening at the Royal Park was the sight of a giant Smurf being inflated at the entrance gate. This served as our introduction to the Brussels Comic Strip Festival, La Fête de la Bande Desinée (BD), which was taking place over the weekend.
Pavilions erected throughout the park housed dozens of stands of comic book sellers, publishers, authors and toy stores. Some of Brussels’ comic-themed museums, including the MooF (Museum of Original Figurines) were also featured, along with exhibitions dedicated to the likes of Les Schtroumpfs (The Smurfs), and Spirou. A range of comics workshops, seminars and performances, as well as a live drawing contest, were also taking place during the 3-day festival.
We took part in one of the scheduled guided walks on offer and were treated to almost two hours of discovery as some of the city’s comic strip murals and landmarks were revealed to us. The walk included stops in front of the Belgian Comic Strip Centre, the Marc Sleen Museum and the MooF, but the real highlight was viewing some of the city’s fifty comic murals which have been featured on the sides of buildings since the 1990s as an alternative to advertising billboards. They are easy to miss if you are not looking for them – the walk highlighted a couple that we walk past almost everyday but never noticed until they were pointed out to us by our guide.
Our walk took in Brussels’ very first comic strip mural, Broussaille, with the title character and his girlfriend shown walking together by the Brasserie Plattesteen. Other Belgian comic strip characters to make an appearance on the mural tour included the mischievous Gaston Lagaffe, the English gentleman spy Victor Sackville, Monsieur Jean, and ‘XIII’, an amnesiac in search of his true identity. A Belgian comic strip tour would not be complete without catching a glimpse of one of Belgium’s most famous comic characters, TinTin – we caught him chasing Captain Haddock down a fire escape near the Grand Place.
I knew comic books were an important part of Belgian culture but it wasn’t until I was walking through the festival tents at the Brussels Royal Park, seeing the huge lines of people waiting for autographs of some renowned Belgian illustrators or vying for a seat at one of the featured comics-themed seminars, that I realised how much of a passion it is for many Belgians.
The festival featured a balloon parade that started in front of the Royal Palace. Festival-goers were invited to view the inflating of the balloons which commenced several hours in advance, but I was surprised to find that the area was not barricaded off – we were able to walk right underneath the sea of huge balloons as they were prepared to be paraded through the streets of central Brussels. Superman, Tintin, Lucky Luke, Le Chat and even Darth Vader were among the giant airborne characters.
While waiting for the parade to start I saw Papa Smurf with his crew of Smurfs playing some tunes to entertain the crowd. Asterix and his gang followed soon afterwards. Not to be outdone, Darth Vader comes marching past with the Imperial Stormtroopers before halting in front of the Royal Palace for a photo op. It was pandemonium as children were getting knocked out of the way while adults tried to take selfies with the Dark Lord. I shoved a Smurf out of the way to get my photo. ‘Til next time, Brussels. May the force be with you!
Fête de la BD
Parc de Bruxelles, 1000 Brussels