Wednesday, April 23, 2014

S is for the Smurfs

They’re blue, wear white (mostly) and have the most descriptive names ever.
“Lazy Smurf”. “Papa Smurf”. “Smurfette”. 
Ahhh, the Smurfs! 


Who could forget those lovable, forest-dwelling cartoon characters who speak sentences in the smurftastic language like “I’m smurfing to the smurf!” This ambiguous phrase could mean: 1) I’m going to the forest; 2) I’m singing in the forest; or 3) I’m singing in the rain and dancing in the streets. That’s one of the joys of the Smurfs—also known as Les Schtroumpfs in French, which is the language they first appeared in—is their silliness. Created by Belgian comic book author Peyo in 1958 the Smurfs have been doing their funny smurf-shananigans for over 50 years.

However if you’re not smurfing the Smurfs, never fear! Belgium has plenty of other home-grown comic strip authors and characters to feed your travel bug or tickle your funny bone. There’s the fearless boy reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy. There’s the boy-girl tween adventure duo of Suske and Wiske. There’s the adventurous World War II MI5 agent, Blake, and his brainy scientist partner, Mortimer. There’s stoic Jeremiah trying to survive in a post-Apocalyptic world, (which inspired the Showtime series 2002-04). There’s cowboy, Lucky Luke, who’s faster than his shadow. There’s the good-hearted Nero who always seems to get into trouble. There’s the lovable marsupial-monkey Marsupilami. There’s the goofy, office worker, Gaston Lagaffe, who does absolutely anything to avoid working. And there’re… so many others comic strips.

Belgians love their comics. In fact for a country with a population of just 10 million, 16 million of them read comics. Most of these comics started in weekly magazines but now they are found bound in hardcover books measuring 9 inches by 12 inches and composed of 50 pages of colored panels. So much of the artwork in these paneled pages is rich, intricate and/or amusing that the Belgians call Comics the “Ninth Art”. 

Yes, the Ninth Art. So after the six ancient arts of Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Dance, Music, and Poetry, there is the Seventh Art of Film, the Eighth of Television and drumroll: the Ninth Art of Comics. 

Comics are so important to kids and adults in Belgium alike that there is a whole museum devoted to the Ninth Art in the heart of Brussels. The Comic Strip Museum has permanent exhibits on the countless Belgian comic book characters—written in Dutch and French and translated into English. Plus there’s a gift shop selling hundreds of volumes of comic books written by such well known Belgian authors writers as Herge, Willy Vandersteen, Edgar Jacobs, Hermann Huppen, Morris, AndrĂ© Franquin, Jean Van Hamme and William Vance.

The icing on the cake is that this museum is housed in a light-enfused Art Nouveau building designed by the famous Belgian architect, Victor Horta. Belgians love their comics. 

If all of this adoration of the comic strip is too much for you, relax. You can always smurf to the smurf!