In the land of Smurfs and Tintin, visitors can discover a range of permanent exhibitions, illustrated with original artwork and unique objects. Simultaneously, there are also several temporary exhibitions.
But the Belgian Comic Strip Center is also the former Waucquez Warehouse, a gem of Art Nouveau by grand master Victor Horta.
Since they stood upright, human beings have recounted tales of, explained or worshipped their idols using all possible means. Spanning the centuries, the stories they tell testify to the society into which they were born, their beliefs and their culture. We do not know the names of most of the artists who sculpted, drew, painted or even wove these works that have become part of humanity’s shared heritage.
Monks invent the grammar of comic strip
In Christian monasteries of the Middle Ages, copyist monks devoted their life to reproducing the sacred texts of their religion. Others embellished these unique works with intricate illuminations and illustrations rendering thanks to their Creator. Without realising it, they invented most of the principles used by present-day artists to create a comic strip: dividing the story up into panels, movement, foreground, dialogues in balloons etc.
Printing opened everything up to a wide audience
The introduction of engraving, published books, newspapers and colour prints sold at fairs enabled a wide audience to be reached. Both masters of their art, the Englishman, William Hogarth and the Japanese, Katsushika Hokusai, told stories by means of a series of engravings or etchings. They are essential milestones in the history of this nascent art, following the example of the Swiss comic artist, Rodolphe Töpffer, who taught movement so well to his pupils.
In the 19th century, newspapers told stories
As far back as the 19th century, newspapers and magazines understood that, in order to sell advertising space to advertisers, they had to have as large a readership as possible. Along with photo-stories that kept readers on tenterhooks, they featured humorists, caricaturists and the first recurrent heroes, such as Ally Sloper in England or Max und Moritz in Germany, whose adventures were broken down into series of picture stories.
Comic strip becomes an economic challenge
At the dawn of the 20th century, the American publishers, Pulitzer and Hearst pushed economic logic to its limit. They poached the best elements, journalists or artists from each other. Thus it was that Richard Outcault left Pulitzer’s publication for Hearst’s, where he created The Yellow Kid (1896) and then Buster Brown. The technical means used also gave rise to a first masterpiece: Little Nemo in Slumberland (Winsor Mc Cay, 1905).
It's a real war between the two press barons Joseph Pulitzer (New York World) et William Randolph Hearst (New York Journal). There is no limit in trying to be the first newspaper of United States: "accidental" fires of the issues warehouse, "spontaneous" strikes, labour piracy. The challenge was only economic. The strongest would make more benefits particularly in the advertising industry.
Winsor McCay, from Little Nemo to Gertie the dinosaur
A theme park and fairground portrait artist before working for the newspapers, Winsor McCay (1869-1934) put his mark on the history of both comic strip and animated film.
In “Little Nemo in Slumberland”(1905), a comic strip very close in style to the Art Nouveau creations of Victor Horta in Brussels, little Nemo falls out of bed every morning after vivid dreams of kingdoms in the sky, ephemeral princesses and glittering animals. This is a masterful work which is constantly rediscovered, and it alone would have been sufficient to ensure McCay’s fame. But his genius was already opening up other paths.
With “Gertie the dinosaur” (1914), he lays the foundations for the cartoon film such as it was to be conceived for the greatest part of the 20th c. The action is built up from many superimposed sheets of paper on which each of Gertie’s movements is broken down into individual frames. It is also the first film in the genre built around an appealing central character.
These features make Winsor McCay the forerunner of Walt Disney.