Keep drawing on the walls, kids

2 Sep

I don’t think I ever tried to draw things on the walls when I was a kid, but if I did I’m certain I would have gotten in big trouble for it. No TV for a week, no Bubble O’ Bills for a month, no discussions about Heidegger until the swirls and squiggles had been washed away. Belgian kids probably would have gotten in trouble for drawing on the walls too, but somewhere amidst the waterfall of discipline poured out by the parents, there might have been a little droplet of hope. Maybe while they were yelling and pointing and banning existential phenomenological philosophers until next Tuesday after dinner at the earliest, they might have secretly wondered, ‘Could our child be the next Franquin?’

Yes, in Belgium, if children show any inclination towards drawing or express an interest in becoming a cartoonist, their parents would not chuck them under the chin and then try to divert them to medicine or horticulture instead. Being a cartoonist in Belgium is a highly revered profession, so if your progeny appear to have a knack with a pencil, it’s almost as good as discovering they’re particularly adept at maneuvering those tiny Operation tweezers.

I grew up with the Smurfs, Tintin and Marsupilami on TV but they were all in English so I just took them as they were and didn’t realise until I moved to Europe that these creatures were all born and bred in Belgium, the land of cartoons (and chocolate and waffles and fries and mussels and muscles). Kids in Belgium, however, don’t just read/watch the cartoons, they also know the names and personalities of their creators. Cartoonists like Hergé (creator of Tintin), Peyo (creator of The Smurfs), Franquin (creator of Gaston, Spirou and Fantasio, and Marsupilami), Dupa (creator of Cubitus), Roba (creator of Boule et Bill), and Yvan Delporte (former editor-in-chief of Spirou magazine, est. 1938), are all national icons. To be commissioned to write for Spirou is a serious honour. When Hergé died in 1983, he was buried at the prestigious Cimetière du Dieweg. The cemetery had been closed since 1945 but the Belgian government stepped in to grant special authorisation for him to be interred there.

This isn’t limited to kids, either. I’ve been talking mostly from the little’uns perspective so far, but apparently most Belgian adults read and own comics, too. It’s so widespread that the concept of the dweeby and overweight Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons probably doesn’t make any sense here.

I’m pretty sure that kids in Belgium are forced into cartooning lessons the way the rest of the world is forced into playing the violin. Instead of clarinets spouting spider webs or saxophones growing grey dusty beards as they rest against bookshelves, when you open a cupboard in Belgium, out spew pages of painfully drawn bubble-headed figures with eyes of different sizes and indecipherable expressions on their faces. Life for little Baudouin obviously took a different path, as the shelves of books about international business in his bedroom attest to, but although his parents continued to work and cook dinners and support him in his confounded economic endeavour, somewhere inside they still harbour a little disappointment that he didn’t turn out as visually dexterous as they had hoped, after all the money they had put into it, too. So the papers were stuffed into drawers: a reminder of the droplet of a dream they once held for their son. Too painful to look at, too painful to throw away.

There are statues of comic book figures in Brussels, a Comic Strip Museum housed in a Victor Horta Art Nouveau building, a Tintin boutique and reams of comic book stores. There’s also another sure-fire sign that drawing on the walls as a child might not warrant as many smacks in this country as it does in other places throughout the world. Here, if you’re successful enough (or even if you just want to practice), you’re given a big fat paint brush, a pat on the back, and then set loose on the streets of Brussels:

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3 Responses to “Keep drawing on the walls, kids”

  1. Lyn September 10, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

    Would you like to host a junior artist? She seems to be favouring her self as a canvas at the moment. Especially for a lovely contemporary work in black permanent marker featuring extremely large eyeballs on her palms the day before her Modern ballet exam.

    This is a step up from her younger years where she freely used random and surprising mediums to deliver her masterpieces – for example, biro on the back of the from door, or a lovely eyeliner picture on my pillowcase, or even her dolls name on her sheets in green texta, with her own nose coloured in green for good measure (and an excellent giveaway when she wasn’t sure who the culprit was) . Or even a pro hart job on the lounge and floor with an expensive amount of make-up which she thought (even though she had to climb up several shelves in another room to acquire it) might belong to her. She might find that her exhibitions receive a much more pleasant welcome in Belgium!! They pretty much just get her into trouble in Australia.

    • sarahwiecek September 11, 2011 at 12:58 pm #

      Are we talking about Marian or Adeline? This sounds Adelinesque to me, but I could be wrong. I think she should definitely move here and try her stuff out in the city. When she gains national recognition and journalists start interviewing her she can tell everyone that Australia just wasn’t ready for her avant-garde talents with green texta and eye liner.

  2. Lyn September 11, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    Oh most definitely Adeline. At the moment she is in her room making stop motion movies. Look out Belgium!

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