Located in central Brussels, the Centre Belge de la Bande Dessinée (or Belgian Comic-Strip Center, sometimes abbreviated as CBBD, or CéBéBéDé) boasts a large permanent collection of bandes dessinées, as well as temporary exhibitions, and other interactive exhibits in a remarkable space.
Kid-Friendly Classics at the CBBD
All the famous bandes dessinées and their cartoon characters are covered at the CBBD. Some, including Hergé's Tintin, Peyo's Smurfs, and Goscinny and Uderzo's Asterix, are well-known even in North America. (Tintin's iconic red-and-white moon rocket even graces the foyer.) Other titles, such as Lucky Luke, Thorgal, and Spike and Suzy, are famous in Europe, but may be less familiar elsewhere.
The CBBD is a good place to take children for a visit, although kid-friendly comics aren't the CBBD's sole focus. Still, parents will be glad to know that the more violent and sexually explicit European comics, like those regularly reprinted in the American magazine Heavy Metal, are not on display.
The CBBD is housed in a beautiful Art Nouveau building a few minutes' walk north of Brussels's Grand-Place. It was designed by architect Victor Horta, who is credited with bringing the organically-themed Art Nouveau movement from the graphic arts into architecture. First opened in 1906, the building was once a department store before being converted into the museum in the late 1980s.
Horta lived in Brussels and designed a number of local landmarks, and part of the permanent exhibition at the CBBD is dedicated to his work. Some Horta buildings had been torn down after Art Nouveau fell out of fashion, making the preserved ones, like that housing the CBBD, all the more important.
Comics fans who only speak English may not get the most out of the CBBD. The Center has the largest public library of comic strips in the world, but its collection, comprising graphic novels (or albums, as they are often called in Europe), periodicals, and reference works, is primarily in French and Dutch.
Some of the exhibits have scaled-down summaries in English. However, the CBBD does make a guidebook available with fuller translations of the signage for foreign visitors in a number of major languages, including English.
Since the emphasis is on bandes dessinées, visitors won't find much in the permanent collection covering non-European genres, which may be a disappointment for those expecting elaborate exhibits of, say, Superman or Astro Boy. However, temporary exhibitions (such as "20 Years of Manga in Europe" running until early June 2009) occasionally branch out from bandes dessinées.
But for Anglophone visitors who know a little bit about bandes dessinées, the CBBD can be a real treat, and the exhibits are fun for children of any nationality. For them, the language barrier might not matter – looking at the colorful art and the full-size statues of cartoon characters needs no translation.