Since 2009, the Musée Hergé, located south of Brussels, has been welcoming visitors into the comic strip universe of George Remi, the creator of Tintin. In Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, about a half-hour drive south of Brussels, is the relatively new Musée Hergé. Hergé is the pen name of George Remi (the pronunciation of his initials backwards, RG). Before creating Tintin, other characters seeped from the ink of this creator. The Musée Hergé is indeed a tribute to Tintin, but foremost, a tribute to the man and his history, without whom there would be no Tintin, Milou, Captain Haddock, nor would there have been Totor, Qick, Flupke, Jo, Zette or Jocko.
Approaching the museum, the visitor crosses a bridged pathway leading to a huge mural of Tintin hanging above the entrance. The hero is not looking at the public but in the same direction. Glances naturally lift up, looking forward and into the strip world in which he resides.
Inside, geometrically slanting walls, painted in pastels, carry larger-than-life painted birds throughout their two-dimensional sky. The centerpiece of this open space, made more clear by the three-story windows, is a black and white, checkered elevator. No doubt any Tintin fan will think of the rocket ship in Moon Objective (Objectif Lune, 1953). The tour of the museum begins after stepping into the elevator and lifting off to the third floor.
Bringing the Comic Book Experience to Life
The doors open and, with the help of the audio-phone (available in French, English, Dutch, German and Spanish), the visitor is welcomed into the sites and sounds of the early twentieth century. The first two rooms introduce the patron to the life of Georges Remi. Like many young boys and girls, he started drawing by doodling in his notebooks. His love of adventure and camaraderie stemmed from his days as a boyscout. In fact, Hergé’s first comic strip Totor (1926) was about a boyscout. His subsequent series Quick and Flupke (1930), Jo, Jette and Jocko (1936) would appear in Scouts Catholique de Belgique, Coeurs Vaillants and Le Petit Vingtième, respectively.
From the first two rooms, the visitor crosses another bridge looking down upon the lobby with now an even better view of the elevator and the open space. Working in print advertisement, Hergé gained an appreciation for bold, clear, color designs on white space. Visitors can sense they are part of the comic strip world of the artist. Tall trees and shaded paths surrounds the museum and are framed in its windows at every level, as if each floor is another line of drawn strip. Visitors explore this structure frame by frame.
Meeting the Family and How They Came to Be
To get to know the friends and foes of Tintin, the next room is referred to as the “Family Room”. The various characters found in the The Adventures of Tintin throughout the years do, indeed, create a family. The personalities illustrate traits that are found in just about anyone. Via the audio-phone, Hergé explains that when he was mad, he saw himself as Haddock; when he did silly things, as Dupondt; and when he was distracted, as Professor Calculus.
This cast of characters calls out to be in the movies, or have they, themselves, been influenced by film? Hergé admits to drawing characters to look very similar to actors who had played particular parts in the movies. In this way, the reader associates a certain role (villian, prince, etc.) to the look of its character. In the following “Cinema Room”, the visitor learns how Hergé was influenced by the current events of his era and how they were incorporated into his intrigue. Also, the mere manner in which Hergé directs the action in his stories can be seen as similar to the cinematic process.
Visitors continue the tour by backtracking through the “Family Room” to go down the stairs into the laboratory and museum of Hergé’s imagination. A couple final character details grab the attention of the patrons: an enormous chandelier composed of 228 portraits of the faces in Hergé’s stories and a large mural of his characters wishing a Happy New Year. The audio-phone explains just how Hergé composed these “friends”, a few directly from people he knew, but mainly by combining traits of several people.
Science and Travel
In “The Laboratory”, a replica of Professor Calculus’ shark submarine from The Treasure of Rackham the Red ( Le Trésor de Rackham le Rouge, 1945) stares at the public. Visitors understand from the displays and explanations that Hergé was a true pedagogue, wanting to unveil the mystery of science in an accessible manner. He creates Professor Calculus role as not the typical “absent-minded professor”, but rather as a genius. Thanks to Hergé’s meticulous attention to detail and facts, fans of the 1940s and 1950s are exposed to telescopes, rocket ships, and moon exploration.
Coming back down to earth, visitors enter into Hergé’s personal museum of relics, photographs, and various souvenirs that have found their way into Tintin’s adventures. Via this reporter’s journeys, his fans have discovered many corners of the world: the Congo, Egypte, Chinaq, Peru, Columbia, to name a few.
Studio Hergé and Its Legacy
Finally, visitors cross another bridge, finding themselves again in the next frame of this museum tour. The success which eventually came to the writer and artist also brought too much work for one man alone. Hergé created, therefore, Studios Hergé. Three of his collaborateurs, Bob De Moor, Jacques Martin and Roger Le Loup are represented in this room along with Hergé. Visitors get a great sense of the work, and the fun, that can be had in producing a comic strip such as Tintin.
In the end, it all comes back to the one man, born George Remi, whose experiences and personal growth, took him around the world. Likewise, this same world came back to him via praise and recognition from his fans: young and old, from one culture to another, from one walk of life to the next. The promise of future generations admiring Hergé is felt in the last exhibit. Visitors stand, literally, amidst a never-ending display of comic book covers while listening to children name off their titles in various languages. Vistors will marvel at the international popularity of Hergé in this last room named “Hergé Acclaimed”. That, he certainly is.
Rue du Labrador, 26 (previously Blvd du Nord)
Everyday 10am until 6pm. Closed Mondays, Jan.1, May 1, Nov. 11, and Dec. 25