The Comic Strip Presents...Brussels

The walls of this Belgian city are covered with cartoon characters. It's a great way to get the kids to appreciate art, says Adrian Mourby

You can lead a child to art but you'll have a terrible time trying to make him go inside. Not all the blandishments of a modern art gallery - shops, café and interactive displays that mean you don't even have to look at the damn pictures - will work if you have a pair of philistines like mine. Certainly not when you're in Brussels, which as far as those two are concerned is all about chocolate shops. So while my wife popped into the Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts for Bosch and Brueghel, I frogmarched our barbarians back to the hotel past that obnoxious little Manneken Pis.

We were just turning into Rue de l'Etuve when I spotted something odd on the exposed gable end of a house. It was two men and a dog coming down a fire escape. "That's Tintin! " said John. And, indeed, it was. A life-sized Tintin, Captain Haddock and Snowy, all making their way down a two-dimensional fire escape that had been painted on to the side of the house.

Turning into Rue du Marché au Charbon, we saw another one. Not Tintin this time but a Richard Hannay-type character guarding a heroine in hat and gloves, painted on to the gable end of a bar. Strangely, the street behind our moustachioed cartoon hero in the mural was the exact same street that we were looking down now - but as it might have appeared 100 years ago. We were in effect looking at the same view twice, once in reality and once in a cartoon.

Across the road there was another huge mural. Down the side of a café someone had painted an aerial view of the road we were standing in with a cheerful character I recognised as "Broussaille", crossing it in the company of his girlfriend. In the background of the mural we could see the very building we were looking at now. It, too, had a mural painted on the wall above the cafe. For a moment I almost expected to see us standing in the cartoon staring up at the cartoon.

Fortunately our hotel was nearby and the helpful concierge had a leaflet that explained what was going on. Since 1991 the burghers of Brussels have been celebrating the fact that their city is the European capital of the "ninth art" via a series of murals on the gable ends of buildings.

I'd never heard of the ninth art but I did know that Belgium creates a huge amount of bandes dessinées, a phrase that takes in both the simple cartoon strip and its more adult cousin, the graphic novel. I'd even read Les Baleines publiques, the bizarre comic strip in which Brousaille wakes up to find whales swimming round Place de Brouckère in Brussels. The Tintin fire escape mural we'd seen had been painted in 2004 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Belgium's most famous two-dimensional son.

Looking through the Cartoon Trail brochure we soon found that there are more than 30 of these huge cartoon images round the city, including Le Chat, my all-time favourite Belgian character. Created by Philippe Geluck in 1982, this stout besuited feline emanates a bizarre cross-eyed savoir faire. You either find him funny or you don't. We found him on the end of a house, not far from the Gare du Midi. We also found Cubitus in Rue de Flandre. Cubitus is a big jovial white dog. In this mural he has taken the place of Manneken Pis and is urinating away merrily with a big dopey smile on his face while that odious little boy looks on in surprise.

The way that these images often refer to the city where they were created builds their appeal and inevitably sent the three of us into a bande dessinée shop (there are scores) to look at the originals. I found that Brussels' gargantuan Palais de la Justice crops up in quite a few books. Gran' Place appears a lot too, including in Racing Show by Jean Graton. Our hotel, L'Amigo, also featured in that book in remarkably precise detail.

By this time we'd spent so long browsing that I felt we should all buy something. Liv came away with Le Code Zimmerman, the adventures of Victor Sackville, and John bought a beautifully crafted Obélix. Myself I was rather taken with a series of 6in topless Belgian nuns; very tasteful but somehow I couldn't see myself convincing my wife they were art.

THE COMPACT GUIDE

HOW TO GET THERE:

The Mourbys travelled as guests of Eurostar and Hotel Amigo. Eurostar (08705-186 186; eurostar. com) has return fares from London to Brussels from £59. Hotel Amigo (00 32 2 547 4747; hotelamigo.com), has doubles from €189 (£135).

FURTHER INFORMATION:

Belgian Tourist Office (020-7531 0390; belgium theplacetobe.com).

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'