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New mural and exhibition mark 75 years of Blake and Mortimer

10:46 27/09/2021

A new mural has been unveiled in the Marolles to celebrate the 75th anniversary this month of Belgian comic book heroes Blake and Mortimer.

Not surprisingly considering their popularity, they were among the first characters to have a mural along the Brussels comic book mural tour dedicated to them. But the mural has had to move twice. Most recently it was located above the central bakery of another Brussels icon, Dandoy Cookies. However they moved and the one-storey bakery was replaced by a multi-storey apartment building which obliterated the mural. It can now be found on the Rue du Temple in the Marolles.

In the Blake and Mortimer series, writer and illustrator Edgar P Jacobs sends his two protagonists - leading British scientist Philip Mortimer and Captain Francis Blake of MI5, stiff upper lip predecessors of Indiana Jones - on high-wire adventures that combine science fiction, archaeology and a constant battle between good and evil. Many of the subjects he addressed, such as climate change, an interconnected world and drone warfare, are reality today.

Jacobs was a one-man show, doing all the writing, illustrating and colouring himself and he was a genius at creating action adventures that keep the reader turning pages. His stories, by their voluminous elaborate intricate writing (there is one page that contains 900 words), hard-hitting visuals and cataclysmic plots, held the reader entranced and the books were hardly ever put down until after the last page had been read.

Also celebrating the 75 years is an exhibition at the Comic Book Museum centering on the first of Blake and Mortimer’s adventures, The Secret of the Swordfish, a nightmarish scenario of a third world war that Jacobs imagined just a couple of years after the carnage of the second world war. It was a huge, instant success and was followed by 11 more best-selling books. There have been sales of over 20 million copies in French alone.

"Regardless of the calamities, the ending is always positive," said the exhibition's curator Daniel Couvreur of the series' success. "When everything has been destroyed, everything has to be rebuilt. Jacobs’ stories are full of wars and epidemics but it is humanity’s duty to rebuild with new ideas" His message to the coming generations is to reinvent society, which is very motivating.”

The Secret of Swordfish broke with the Franco-Belgian comic book tradition of naive young heroes such as Spirou or Tintin and the 144-plate plot format prefigured the modern graphic novel. Jacobs worked on the psychology of the characters, taking extreme care with the credibility of the settings (he did meticulous research) and with the dramatic use of colour. Over the last 15 years the complete series has been published in English.

Written by Richard Harris