If there’s one Belgian comic that has traveled the world, it’s The Adventures of Tintin. Reporter Tintin and his dog Snowy have traveled the world to solve mysteries, but their stories have also been translated into more than 70 languages and over 30 dialects.
Tintin is cartoonist Hergé’s most famous creation, but certainly not the only one. The Hergé Museum in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium focuses on the entirety of Hergé’s oeuvre, his life, and his influences.
I went to have a look.
Visiting the Hergé Museum – the building
After the passing of Hergé in 1986, the Hergé Foundation was founded. This foundation dedicated itself to identifying and categorizing those parts of Hergé’s life and work that could later be exhibited in a museum. In 2001 it was decided that the museum would be built in Louvain-la-Neuve, only 30 km from Brussels, and in 2009 the Musée Hergé or the Hergé Museum opened its doors to the public.
The renowned French architect Christan de Portzamparc created a building with modern lines, big spaces, and clear connections between the different rooms. There are three floors with eight exhibitions rooms, a café, a museum shop, a restaurant and a small cinema. Visitors start their tour on the top level and end it back at the entrance hall.
Visiting the Hergé Museum – the exhibition
All the exhibition rooms at the Hergé Museum are dedicated to a specific theme. These themes are illustrated with original drawings, magazine copies, personal items of the author as well as items related to his work, and, of course, the work itself.
On top of that each visitor is given a free audio/video guide. Each room gets about three explanations on the audio guide, and they’re really good. I’m usually not a big fan of audio guides as I like to visit an exhibition at my own pace, but there was so much to see at the Hergé Museum that I actually always finished listening to the explanations before I’d seen an entire room.
What’s also nice is that the guide isn’t just an audio guide but functions a bit like an iPod. It doesn’t only have the explanations on it, but also shows you what the explanations are talking about in the form of photos, extracts from comics and interview with Hergé on the screen. Some rooms even have small quizzes on the audio guide that let you test your knowledge of Hergé and his work.
Room 1 – The life of Hergé
Room 1 gives us a biography of Hergé, illustrated with personal items and some of his earliest work.
Hergé was born as Georges Remi in 1907 in Etterbeek, Brussels. Ever since he was a child he loved drawing and when he joined the Boy Scouts he started creating comics for boy scout magazines such as Le Boy Scout. That’s also where his first real comic appeared as a series, TTotor, C.D. des Hannetons. Being in the boy scout movement will greatly influence Hergé and Tintin is often seen as the stereotype of a boy scout.
In 1924, Georges starts signing his work with “Hergé”. It’s a pseudonym derived from his own name: take the initials of Georges Remi, turn them around and you get R.G., pronounced as “Hergé” in French.
One year later Hergé starts working at the newspaper Le XXe Siècle and another three years later the paper asks him to add a supplement for youngsters, Le Petit Vingtième. That’s where Tintin and Snowy first appear in 1929.
In 1930, Hergé creates two other characters who are famous in Belgium and even had their own cartoon on television later: Quick and Flupke, two real mischievous kids from Brussels.
Up until 1934 Hergé’s foreign characters are often stereotypes, but when he meets the Chinese student Tchang that year, who helps him research his new comic The Blue Lotus, he decides to conduct such research for all of his future comics.
In 1940, the Germans invade Belgium and put an end to Le XXe Siècle. Hergé moves The Adventures of Tintin to the newspaper Le Soir, controlled by the occupier. This and his association with some collaborators makes him a suspect of collaboration and fascism as well. He’s arrested a few times after Belgium is liberated and forbidden to publish The Adventures of Tintin in any Belgian newspaper until 1946. Hergé would be accused of fascism and collaboration the rest of his life, but he always denied having nazi-sympathies.
In 1942, the publisher Casterman convinces Hergé to color in all of his works to be published as full albums.
Four years later the magazine Tintin is founded, followed by the Studio’s Hergé another four years later. The Studio’s have to help Hergé with his most prestigious project so far: Explorers on the Moon.
Hergé dies in 1983, his last comic, Tintin et l’Alph-art, left unfinished. He’s drawn until the end.
Room 2 – The variety in Hergé’s work
Hergé didn’t only draw comics, he also created advertisement posters, engravings and more. Examples of these works can be seen in Room 2. Despite his ability to take on multiple crafts, comics were always Hergé’s priority as he believed he could only give 100% and that 100% was needed to perfect his comics.
Room 3 – Hergé’s characters
Room 3 focuses on the main characters that Hergé created, in particular, those of the Tintin albums. What’s really fun here is that the audio guide includes some quizzes about the characters. For instance, it lets you test whether you know how to tell Thomson and Thompson apart.
Room 4 – Hergé and the movies
Room 4 shows a documentary about the relationship between Hergé’s work and the movies. Hergé himself once said that comics and movies are basically the same things. The only difference is that in comics the characters are still.
Room 5 – The laboratory
Room 5 is called “The laboratory” because it focuses on the inventions of Professor Calculus and the elaborate research Hergé and his team did for the album Explorers on the Moon. I read that comic as a kid and had no idea that Hergé even used a scale model of the rocket to get the drawings right!
Fun fact: Hergé sent Tintin to the moon in 1954, 15 years before Neil Armstrong set foot there.
Room 6 – Tintin’s travels
Room 6 shows us all the places in the world Tintin has traveled to and exhibits some of the foreign objects that appear in the comic series. It also addresses how Hergé gained an interest in paranormal activity and extraterrestrial life later on in his career and how signs of that can be found in the Tintin albums.
Room 7 – Studio’s Hergé
Until he was 40, Hergé always worked alone. After that, however, he began to see the value of teamwork. Part of that was also because of the huge task ahead of him to color in all his old Tintin albums. He keeps drawing the characters but often leaves the background and the coloring to others.
Room 8 – Hergé’s fame
The last room is dedicated to Hergé’s fame and other famous people he knew. One of the things we see here, for example, is a portrait of Hergé by Andy Warhol.
Usually, when I visit a museum I expect to spend about an hour there. If it’s shorter, the museum is either small or not my thing; if it’s longer, it was interesting. I spent almost two hours at the Hergé Museum. The audio/video guide was superb, the building itself quite impressive and the exhibition very interesting.
Rue du Labrador, 26
Be aware that you cannot take any photos inside the exhibition rooms, only in the main hall and the restaurant.
Musée Hergé provided my entrance to the museum so that I could write this post about my visit. As always, opinions expressed here are entirely my own.