While walking the streets of Brussels, I am often aware that I am following in the footsteps of Georges Rémi, better known as Hergé, creator of Tintin. From where I type this article, I can see both of the schools he attended in his youth. He left his mark in the form of murals at both schools. One when he was a Boy Scout and the other when he was an accomplished author / illustrator. They are not available for viewing by the public, but Brussels has lots of other Tintin related works that are accessible to all.
VisitBrussels publish a map that folds down to credit card size; “In the footsteps of the little reporter – Sized for Tintin”. It retails for 0.50 Euros and is available from the Information Offices. The trail starts in the Parc de Bruxelles where a temporary information panel explains that the park was the inspiration for the drawings in King Ottokar’s Sceptre. It then continues on around the centre of Brussels highlighting sights that provided inspiration for the Tintin stories, murals featuring Herge’s work, the Tintin shop and the Belgian Comic Strip Centre. It also includes the Hergé / Tintin locations outside the centre of Brussels, including his birthplace and tomb.
Compared to Tintin, Hergé didn’t travel extensively. He used the work of photographers who had recorded scenes from the locations in his books, as the basis of his drawings. He also researched the locations thoroughly. National Geographic was a favoured source. He drew the planes, trains, automobiles that interested him from life. Even the rocket that Tintin, Captain Haddock and Snowy take to the moon, was inspired by the V1 test rockets developed by the Germans in the Second World War, then used by the American Space Programme after the war.
Brussels provided much of the inspiration in the cartoon strips. Exhibits from the Musée Cinquantenaire and Royal Museum for Central Africa at Tervuren appear in many of his stories. In 2009 Grand Place was the venue for the World’s largest Comic Strip, when a page from Objective Moon filled most of the square. It was so large that you had to climb up on a viewing platform to appreciate it.
When Spielberg made his animated movie, he remained true to the books and original locations that inspired them. The film starts in place Jeu de Balle, in the Marolles quarter of Brussels, where Tintin gets his portrait drawn by Hergé, before finding the Unicorn on sale. The flea market is is still held every morning. When I went out with my camera, I didn’t find the Unicorn, but I did come across a trawler. Perhaps it was a clue pointing towards the reason why all the fish are disappearing from the world’s oceans. Tintin the young Belgian Reporter, would have loved to expose that story.