The Maison de la Bande Dessinée in Brussels, near the Gare du Midi, may be less well-known than the Belgian Comic Strip Museum, but it is equally deserving of your visit. That is, if you are a comic buff who is mad about original art. Don’t expect any animation activities (except for some lone colouring pages) here : just four walls of high quality original pages and sketches.
Until October 2nd, the Maison’s exhibition space is dedicated to the seminal hard-boiled detective comic Gil Jourdan and his creator Maurice Tillieux. The art on display covers almost the complete run of the series, and gives a good idea of how Tillieux’s art evolved, while still remaining one of the best examples of the Spirou style, combining realistic settings with cartoony characters and cinematic action. When Hergé draws a plane landing on an aeroport, you see it from far away, as if you’re watching a documentary on Swissair. Tillieux puts his readers right below the plane, and has it roar into view in a very dynamic, almost moving way.
Similarly, he will slow down the pace of his comic, or speed it up, according to what he feels the scene needs. As the series continues, Tillieux also leaves the registering point of view, and moves his “camera” around, always looking for the most dramatic shot. It makes for very exciting comics full of suspense. This is especially clear when you compare pages from earlier series, with the versions Tillieux did when he re-used their plots later, while doing Gil Jourdan. An attack by small airplanes in an old story from the 1940′s appears to be from a documentary on WWII, while in its Gil Jourdan version, it becomes a dramatic attack, with the planes swooping towards the reader, and opening fire on heroes and reader alike.
What also struck me when seeing all these pages of original art hanging around, was the neatness of the lines – there’s not a trace of white-out on Tillieux pages, not even with the very recognisable lettering or captioning. Tillieux truly was a master of his art.
Like I said, you have to be into original comic art to savour this exhibition. There’s not much else on display, except for some dioramas based on key scenes from the books, and the odd preparatory sketch. Personally, I was most intrigued by a pencil sketch featuring caricatures of all Tillieux’s colleagues from the Marcinelle School : Raymond Macherot, André Franquin, Peyo, Morris, Roba, Will and Tillieux himself. This sketch from 1968 is truly a piece for the ages.