Brusel is one of the more famous comic book shops in Brussels and was, coincidentally, down the street from our hotel. After fifteen minutes of shopping in Brusel, I despaired of finding any of the books I was looking for in English and just started grabbing stuff in French.
I found the first book in Fred’s Philemon series, the first book in Matheiu’s L’Origine series, several Schuiten and Peeters books, and what feels like a smattering of other books. (My credit card bill tells me a different story.)
Similar to my experience in the BD Museum, I found that the selection at Brusel was diverse, which reflects the content coming out of the French comics industry as a whole. There were sections set aside for children, adults, new releases and indie comics. We found the Anglo-Saxon comics (translated into French) in the back of the shop. Star Wars is very big among the Brusel customer base, from the looks of it.
The entire top floor of the shop is an art gallery, featuring prints and pictures from many of the prominent comic artists in the industry, past and present. As a rule, our money was earmarked for comics, not prints, so we didn’t peruse the gallery. Still, from what I could see, a serious art lover would have a very good browse.
From Brusel, we walked a block and a half down the street to Multi BD, which was just as large as Brusel, but organized in a much different manner (different space, different organizational schema). There was an entire wall of independent comics, an entire aisle of high fantasy comics and a whole bunch of everything else.
In Multi BD, I specifically asked the guy behind the counter for recommendations; I was looking, I explained, for books like Matheiu or Juillard’s Le Cahier Bleu. Books that discuss the relationship between the medium and the story. He gave me some good recommendations – Jason’s The Left Bank Gang, for example.
Between Brusel and Multi BD, I solidified my decision to learn to read French so that I could enjoy the comics that I had purchased. I bought them specifically because I was interested in reading them and I decided that the only way I could justify their purchase was to learn to read the language they were written in. Having some experience in French meant that it was not so much of a challenge to overcome. It’s not like I have to learn a completely new alphabet, for example.
We went to Le Depot the day after Brusel and Multi BD. Le Depot was much more of a used book store than a first-run comic book store, but its layout and sheer quantity of comics available nearly killed me. If there was an organizational strategy to Le Depot, I did not comprehend it. There were so many books available that I stuck with a few specific authors and titles that I was looking for and cut my losses as soon as I could.
I found two books in the Les Trois Chemins series by Lewis Trondheim, a later Barbarella book and an Arzach collection by Moebius in Le Depot. I’m sure I found other things, but I can’t recall exactly what they were. By the end of the visit to the store, I was very nearly gibbering as a result of information overload. There were simply too many comic book titles that I did not recognize for me to process them all properly.
I did locate the bargain bin area and pulled a few books out of the stacks that had a premise that I could grasp through my broken French and growing ability to figure out what was going on from several pages of sight reading.
One of the things I enjoyed at each of the stores was the sheer variety of comics available. There was no presupposition in any of the stores that prospective customers would be interested in only one or another kind of comic book. Obviously, they know what their regulars are interested in and buy accordingly, but even those regulars seem to be interested in many different genres. Even if they aren’t, there are still many different genres available, should they want to explore outside their comfort zone.
There were also many, many more comics that I could have bought that I simply did not bother picking up. My thought process at the time was to maximize my purchases and only focus on those books that I knew I wanted and anything else that was both good and looked appealing. With the variety available, I knew that I did not want to waste my time or money on something of unknown providence.
Still, the message that I received from the Belgian comics market (later confirmed at Angouleme) was that comic books could be anything they wanted to be. There was no box that comics had to sit in; nothing telling the medium what, specifically, the readers wanted to read. There was a great deal of experimentation evident among the indie comic titles and among several of the larger publishers as well.
I sampled a portion of the comics market that was a mile wide and an inch deep. What I observed, however, told me that the subject matter of the comics available was both a mile wide and a mile deep. There was so much more available that I didn’t buy that I am almost sorry that I couldn’t read French, just because I feel that I was not able to browse properly. It’s a problem I aim to rectify.
The fourth part of this 12 part series will be about the BD walk through the center of the city of Brussels; come back next week.