Today we went to the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessiné. The Belgians are very into comics and have been for a long time. While Tin Tin is probably the best known, there are a lot of other comics and have been since the 1930s. The museum presents a good overview.

To begin, there is a brief overview of all of the people involved in producing a comic and some information about the various stages. This includes some displays of comics in interim stages which is quite interesting.

The main exhibition is divided into two parts. On one floor there is an overview of Belgian comics and comic artists from the 1930s to the 1960s. The displays are mainly organized by artist, with examples of their work and a brief biography. But there is also information about how comics were published. Tin Tin apparently started out as a strip in a magazine for catholic catechists (is that the right word? Children preparing for confirmation anyway.). These were monthly if I recall and the other catholic magazines then published work from other artists. Later the daily newspapers picked up comics and then specific magazines for children were launched, including Spirou, a magazine still in production today. (That page has lots of Flash.)

The second floor covers the period from 1960 to 1990 and the major shifts that occured in that period. It begins with a magazine called Pilote, which started out as a magazine for slightly older kids who had grown out of Spirou but then grew with its audience to address an adult audience. It closed in 1989 but seemed very important for many artists. The exhibition then covered some of the main shifts that occured during this period — artistic styles, content, etc. All in all very interesting with a good range of samples demonstrating the variety of work out there.

In addition, there was a temporary exhibition about space which combined some of the history of space exploration with how the topic has been treated in comic books. We didn’t really look at that particular exhibition but it looked well done (and had funding from the European Space Agency).

The centre also has a research library, the use of which is included in the price of admission or can be paid for separately. And a bookstore. Although it has some material in English (and Spanish), this is very limited (almost entirely Tin Tin and Asterix in the English section). The main stock is in French and Flemish. It is organized by publisher which is a bit difficult for those of us new to the genre but probably works well for those already familiar with comics. Certainly one of the shops we went to in Paris was similarly organized. There is a separate section for "La Jeunesse" though Tigger found some suitable material on a different shelf. (I have found that staff are happy to guide you to suitable material.) The publishers seem to have imprints for young people (Jeunesse usually appears)
and Dupuis Jeunesse even has some with distinctive binding, in red for age 6+ and in
green for age 3+.

One thing I did see on the English shelf was a series by Michel Plessix (translated into English) of The Wind in the Willows (The link is to the French edition, but it gives you an idea.). The art in this is absolutely gorgeous and it would make a wonderful addition to anyone’s library. I am very tempted by another series of his, inspired by that project, called Le Vent dans les Sables. It didn’t seem to be translated. (There is an interview with Plessix here. It is in French but there are snippets of the artwork, too.)

I haven’t purchased that (yet) though because there is also a lot of other stuff we want. We are trying to be frugal, not least because books are heavy and take up space. And we are hoping that with a bit more information about what we want, we should be able to get things from our local French bookshop at home (even if we have to have them order it). We have bought several Melusine, one at a time because Tigger likes them and keeps wanting another to read right away. Another of those came home today.

We had bought a couple of one off publications yesterday. Rebecca by Gotting and Matje turned out to be a Canadian one. We also enjoyed Je suis pas petite!!! by Bruno Duhamel. Today, Tigger found a couple of different ones featuring foxes. Very different styles but both look interesting. We also got one edition of a series of detective novels with a girl heroine, Marion Duval, that look very interesting. And we got something for her cousin for Christmas. A few weeks ago, when we first discovered Melusine, we also bought Fennec by Lewis Trondheim and Joann. Joann’s illustrations are marvelous watercolours. And the story is funny. Trondheim seems to be very active and has a couple of bandes dessinés about bandes dessinés that are tempting, too.

All in all, we have been very pleased with what is on offer. Although there is much less available for children than for adults, the selection is good, and the balance is probably about the same as it is for regular books. There is also quite a bit of variety of style. Yes, there was some stuff clearly aimed at young girls that is too… pink and girly and not the sort of thing I think we need more of. But there was a reasonable choice of other stuff.

This doesn’t help many of my readers, most of whom don’t read French. I am actually quite happy that the selection in French is so good as this is one area where we haven’t been doing as much as I would like. Tigger speaks very good French and when she is with francophone children she is fine. But mostly she refuses to speak to us in French (even here, which is frustrating because it encourages folks to speak to us in English, which is not at all necessary) and hasn’t read anything in French in a while. But she is really enjoying the comics. And has even picked up a couple of novels. She and I have talked about it and she agrees that she should keep reading in French when we return home.

The other thing is that most of the comics we have bought are not particularly cheap. They are usually hard cover and printed in colour. The production quality is excellent. We had been reading Bone before we left homem which Tigger also really likes, and it is also a good quality publication that is priced as a book. If there is going to be a market for comics suitable for children in English, then parents have to be prepared to pay a reasonable price for them. But I’ll leave my thoughts on the comics market for a separate post.


One thought on “Comics

  1. Sounds like a good reason to visit Belgium right there. I absolutely loved Tintin as a kid and have thought about starting up a collection of the books.

    It’s not terribly surprising that Tigger won’t speak French with you and Mat. I have a good book on multilingualism, and one of the things noted therein is that multilingual folks will often only speak one specific language with specific people or groups of people. I have seen this with Latino colleagues who wouldn’t speak Spanish with me. I say something in Spanish and get a response in English. It seems to be a phenomenon that comes down somewhere in the area between neurobiology and neuropsychology – not so much a conscious refusal to function in the given language as an inability to effectively work in that language with people for whom communication in the language is not the norm.


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