Comic books and comic series have long played a vital role in Belgian culture and even the development of European comics as a whole. Large-scale production of comics began in the country in the late 1920s and has developed alongside their French neighbours as a distinct art medium since then. The Adventures of Tintin, Spike and Suzy, The Adventures of Nero and Co, and even The Smurfs are just some of the many well-known comic series to come out of Belgium.
In Europe, comic books are referred to as comic albums. A typical album is printed in large format, on high quality paper and colouring, usually on A4 sized paper, and consisting between 40-60 pages.
In an ode to the comic culture in Belgium, the city of Antwerp has been creating a series of comic walls to honour and showcase some of the best artists from the country. Started by the people of Mekanik Strip, a comic shop and gallery in Antwerp, the first comic wall was painted in 2004. Since then, 10 comic walls, or stripmuren as it is referred to in Dutch, have been painted around the city.
The idea to paint these large-scale murals came with three main goals: urban development, tourism, and sharing the art of comics and comic strips. But the ultimate goal is simply to brighten up and add character to otherwise dull and boring walls. A lot of thought and care go into selecting the walls, artists, and comics to showcase, and the wall and the surrounding neighbourhood directly impact what the mural will ultimately look like.
A great way to explore the city of Antwerp is to visit all 10 of the comic walls. The above map pinpoints exactly where you can find them all. Pick up one of these maps from one of the tourist offices or at the Mekanik Strip shop. The route (going from #1-10 or vice versa) will take you through the main areas of the city, through residential areas, past the University and Cathedral of our Lady, across the Grote Plaats, and along the small cobblestone streets. Then when you’re all done, grab a beer from one of the corner shops and enjoy it while sitting along the Schelde riverbank.
Below are each of the 10 comic walls, numbered in the order corresponding to the map route.
1. Title: Jommeke | Artist: Jef Nys | Location: Frans Halsplein
It seems fitting that this wall by artist Jef Nys, the greatest Flemish cartoonists for children, is in an area surrounded by schools. His most popular comic was Jommeke, a story about a young boy, with a pet parrot named Flip, who goes on some crazy adventures along with his best friend Filiberke. Nys started Jommeke in 1955 and created close to 300 comic albums. They have sold over 51 million albums alone in Belgium, making Jommeke the second best-selling comic series in the country.
2. Title: Kiekeboe | Artist: Merho | Location: Paradijsstraat
Antwerp-native Merho started the comic series Kiekeboe in 1977. It follows the story of a family that always manages to stumble into adventures. It’s filled with lots of humour, movie references, and a bit of eroticism with teenage daughter Fanny. Merho has produced over 100 comic albums in the series and continues to this day. This mural shows Fanny cycling to college, a nod to the many university students who live in this area.
3. Title: Cordelia | Artist: Ilah | Location: Keizerstraat
Artist Ilah created the series Cordelia in 2001. It’s about a determined female character of the same name who finds wonder in everyday things. Cordelia is considered a semi-autobiographical series that explores the relationships between men and women. The University of Antwerp, where it is painted, actually requested this wall. Here, Cordelia is seen studying in various fashions while the faculties of the University are seen written in the background.
4. Title: Hendrik Conscience | Artist: Jan Bosschaert | Location: Wolstraat
This was the very first comic wall to go up in Antwerp. It was painted by artist Jan Bosschaert, who is best known for the comic series Sam and Jaguar. This wall is rather different in approach than the other comic walls in Antwerp. The mural is a collage of details, books, and individuals who have inspired Bosschaert over the years, including Hendrick Conscience, a 19th Belgian author who pioneered Dutch-language literature in Flanders when it was dominated by French.
5. Title: Laarmans | Artist: Dick Matena | Location: Korte Niewstraat
Dick Matena is a comic writer and cartoonist but he’s best known for his visual interpretations of classic novels. In 2008, he adapted Willem Elsschot’s Kaas (“Cheese”, 1933) into a graphic novel. This mural is a replica of the graphic novel’s cover and showcases the main character, Laarmans, crossing the Market Square in Antwerp, carrying a bag full of cheese balls.
6. Title: Passage | Artist: Jan Van Der Veken | Location: Eiermarkt
Painted on the KBC Tower in central Antwerp, this mural was requested to show the relationship of nature in the city. It’s an interesting choice given the Tower, sometimes referred to as the Boerentoren, has been considered Europe’s first skyscraper. It was painted by Belgian illustrator Jan Van Der Veken who uses the Atomic art style (free-form organic shapes). Characters can be seen carrying plants and flowers, with the piece evolving into a woman in the Garden of Eden.
7. Title: Suske en Wiske (Spike and Suzy) | Artist: Willy Vandersteen | Location: Korte Riddersstraat
Next to The Adventures of Tintin, Suske en Wiske is the most famous comic strip in Belgium. The series was created by Willy Vandersteen in 1945 and continues to be published, with over 300 comic albums to date. The series revolves around the adventures of two children, Suske and Wiske, and combines elements of comedy, fantasy and science fiction. This mural is taken from the cover of Suske and Wiske and the Amoras Island, one of the first albums in the series and when Suske and Wiske first meet.
8. Title: Kleurrijke Stoet | Artist: Brecht Evens | Location: De Oever
Brecht Evens is a Belgian cartoonist and illustrator with a very different style than any of the other comic walls in Antwerp. As the youngest artist represented (born 1986), he’s considered to be one of the leaders in a new wave of Flemish comic artists making a splash on the international scene. This was the 9th comic wall to be completed showcasing numerous figures, characters and animals in the style Evens is known for.
9. Title: Nero | Artist: Marc Sleen | Location: De Koosterstraat
The most recent comic wall to be completed is dedicated to the oldest cartoonist in Belgium, Marc Sleen. He is best known for his series The Adventures of Nero and Co. Started in 1947, Nero and Co. appeared in the newspaper daily with Sleen creating two comic strips, 6 days a week, for 55 years. The Adventures of Nero and Co. follow stories set mainly in Belgium and sometimes in Africa and feature ironic humour and actual events. This double wall is a nod to Sleen’s daily double strips and shows Nero on his way to the North Pole from Antwerp.
10. Title: Louis Armstrong | Artist: Philip Paquet | Location: Leopold De Waelstraat
Artist Philip Paquet is best known for his graphic novel titled Louis Armstrong. In 2009, he was tapped to create a comic wall above Patine, a wine bistro next to the Museum of Fine Arts. A jazz musician himself, Paquet’s images make reference to the area, museum, and Louis Armstrong and are inserted right into the frames of the building’s windows.