My original intention had been to vistit the Hergé museum on Saturday, but persistent rain made me postpone. Sunday was a much nicer day for riding motorbikes if a little chilly, at least it was bright and dry. The museum is in the town of Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve which as the name suggests appears to be a new town, sort of like Milton Keynes Belgium style. In true new town style it is built with swooping curvy roads and lots of roundabouts, I also had the obligatory frustrating experience of being able to see my destination but not being able to get there.
Eventually I did find somewhere to park my bike, under the grand place. One oddity was that the road network just goes right underneath the square and what constitutes the town centre. While this is great from an acoustic point of view when I’m on my motorbike it doesn’t aid navigation when you are trying to get to somewhere you’ve never been before in a new town with one way streets and roundabouts and pedestrian zones every way you look. Taking your view of the surroundings away as well is just going a step too far! The whole place still seemed to be under construction, with half completed apartments in the middle of town, not to mention the front door area of the museum not yet completed even though it opened two years ago.
The town was pretty strange in some respects, it reminded me of a ski resort, all brick and concrete, with a sort of new trying to look modern but not modernist if you know what I mean. It is still typically Belgian, with a square and street art and loads of people out enjoying the autumn sunshine.
After a few minutes of walking I found my way around to the back entrance of the museum and inside. The building itself is pretty striking from the outside. It does seem to be trying to look modernist to my eyes, all angles and straight lines and bright white walls. It’s interesting and grabs your attention. One pity for me was that the main entrance is over a bridge from the centre of town, and the approach was closed off and masked by some new building. This meant that I didn’t get the long vista the architect probably had in mind, complete with the giant Tintin image on the wall that you can see at the top of this post. I got the construction site sight instead.
The back view of the museum is pretty impressive as well, the big windows give a tantalising view of the brightly coloured interior. Inside is another wow, the walls are all painted in bright colours and all slope in different directions, with Hergé inspired motifs. Really eyecatching and it makes for a fascinating space.
The museum exhibit itself is of really good quality and well laid out. You start on the top floor of the building and work your way down. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside the exhibit itself. There are audio guides, with videos as well as sound at various points around the exhibits and all of he labels and text throughout are in French, Dutch and English. There is a lot of information presented in a clear and concise way, and plenty of examples of the work of the man, and insight into his approach and the way he went about things in his life. A few of the notable points that I picked up :-
- Hergé’s real name was Georges Remi, he took the first two letters and reversed them. Pronounced with a Belgian French accent they sound like Hergé, hence the pen name
- He started out working for newspapers and magazines at quite a young age, but also did graphic design etc in his younger years
- Tintin was not his first character, but did become the biggest hit
- The books are actually collections of the stories published in the newspapers over the years
- He was a pioneer of the ‘speech bubble’ in comic stories
- He was the first to use symbols to carry emotion in a comic, such as !*@# for swearing etc
- The Thompson twins aren’t. Their names are different – Thomson and Thompson. They have different names in the different languages too, but all with the same naming convention of sounding the same but being spelt slightly differently
There are lots of other snippets of information that I took away too, but wikipedia has a good page all about Herge too where a lot of this information is available.
Overall I had a really good afternoon out, and would recommend this as a good visit. It is out of the city of Brussels, but it isn’t that far. A must see for fans of comic books in general or Tintin specifically.
What did you think of the museum? Are you a fan of Tintin? Share your thoughts and observations in the comments.