My Introduction to European GeekeryFebruary 3, 2011
Sorry, this post is a long time coming. And my title is a bit misleading as I spent almost all of my time in Holland and one day visiting Brussels. Despite that, it was an introduction to many things including the world of geek sub-culture across the Atlantic. And it is a piece of my education I hope to expand in the coming years.
This was my first time abroad, ever, and the first time I ever found myself feeling like a foreigner. I realized though that just because you are on vacation you don’t stop being the geek you are. At least I don’t. So my research had led me to find some comic shops in Amsterdam and virtually every other town I visited in Holland. As for Brussels, I didn’t have to plot out where the shops were as me and my companion were practically tripping over them at every turn.
My journey really began in Leiden where I found Stripwinkel Dumpie a shop that caught my eye for their Alice in Wonderland tea set in the window along with various other figures and merchandise. I exclaimed with joy and promptly entered. Dutch comics (and what I would later learn were Franco-Belgian comics translated into Dutch) lined the shelves. I was struck by what a large format they were. And not only that but the binding was solid paperback quality with a glossy cover, like a very thin book. I apologize if this sounds utterly ignorant, but I had no idea Dutch comics were published in this manner.
My awe subsided as I traveled about, but my interest only increased. Things I found from looking through was how many of the series adhere to the box format with 9 panels per page, sometimes boxes will be taller but rarely did things seem to break out. Also it was amazing how many of the series have been running for decades, but only have between 10-20 books released at around 50-pages a book. Think of that wait time compared to American comics or manga, European comics fans sure are dedicated! I picked up a few things along the way the most authentic of which was the Dutch sexy action-girl series Franka. I also grabbed some old Mickey Mouse comic digests in Dutch and a copy of Donald magazine for my ever-growing collection of Disney memorabilia. Donald Duck is ridiculously popular as should be attested to by him having an entire magazine, much more so than Mickey or any other Disney icon. The best shop by far was Lambiek in Amsterdam with literally mounds of books lying around and a friendly, knowledgeable staff. Be sure to ask for their business card if you drop by, it is a miniature comic book.
When hitting Brussels, a place I wanted to visit almost solely based on their love of comics, it became abundantly clear what an institution Franco-Belgian series are. Quite literally scattered throughout the city are statues of characters as well as art painted on the side of buildings. The city also houses a comics museum, which was our first stop on the trip. Within these walls were probably a hundred or more original pages from many different creators. The museum starts with an unimpressive guide to the process of comic making, but things get better as you go along into the hall with the originals and then further into a massive and informative timeline and outline of creators. As we toured the city a mountain of comic stores rose up before us, counting 15 from within a 2-mile radius and I’m sure there were gobs more. Upon entering the first store of the day, I learned that Franco-Belgian comics are hard-backed books which blew my mind all over again! The fact that their comics industry can sustain that really amazed me. Not only that but these stores were huge and packed full of customers, it was rather uplifting. Most impressive was BRÜSEL with its huge selection and even original art on its upper-landing. I plain refused to leave without a book from the delightful Yoko Tsuno series (which simultaneously reminds me of Nancy Drew and Johnny Quest) in French so that was my treasure from my day trip to Belgium.
Throughout all of this I was on the lookout for anime and manga related things, too. Most comic shops stocked a good amount of manga in Dutch or French, some in English, and a good variety of series at that. Plenty of Jiro Taniguchi and Naoki Urasawa to go around in any language. But it was easy to tell, especially in Brussels how many titles French publishers pick up. Vertical Inc. was the most recognizable publisher to frequently show up when browsing the English titles. I was also fascinated to see one store called Henk’s that seemed like an American comic shop transplanted into Amsterdam complete with mostly English superhero comics, English manga, and merchandise. We also ran into a couple of stores that had tons of figures, toys, etc., A Space Oddity in particular housed almost exclusively Japanese merchandise old and new, with a healthy sprinkling of American classics like Transformers and Star Wars, crowded into display cases and filling the store from floor to ceiling. There was plenty of oohing and ahhing over the robots there. I didn’t see any Japanese-language book stores in the big cities, but perhaps someone can point me in the right direction.
I got my first real taste of said native comics to the region and I even got briefed about where manga stands in relation to Franco-Belgian and Dutch comics. My trip gave me a lot of amazing memories. Not the least of which was a new-found budding interest for European comics for me and my travel partner! I hope to explore more of Europe in the coming years to learn about their comics and manga fandom (even thinking about attending Japan Expo in France at some point). As I start to read translated European comics expect to see some of that showing up on the blog!