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Tintin by Hergé
The Moon Rocket from Tintin © Hergé-Moulinsart 2021

The Belgian passport has a new design. Proudly parading in the official document are scenes and characters from famous Belgian comics – from the moon rocket from Tintin to Lucky Luke on his Jolly Jumper. The comic parade not only celebrates art and culture, it also serves to protect against counterfeiting.

By Thomas Wagner.

As the French word “passeport” attests, official documents have granted entry at gates, doors and gates for centuries. Anyone who wants to gain unhindered access or cross borders needs a passport or permit. Today, passports are official state identity and travel documents, which by definition are usually as representative as they are unimaginatively designed: A discreet one-colour cover with the inscription “Passport” in several languages, but at least in that of the issuing country, its name and a national coat of arms or emblem – often embossed in gold. Inside – as forgery-proof as possible – information on the owner of the passport and about two dozen pages for official endorsements, visas, entry and exit stamps.

Officials in Belgium are being modest. Accordingly, the message from the Kingdom’s Foreign Office sounded sober: “On 27 January, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès presented the new Belgian passport. The new version is even more secure thanks to new security and personalisation techniques. The new Belgian passport will also be instantly recognisable thanks to its original design, a tribute to our cartoon characters.”

The design of passports is becoming fresher

The Smurfs by Peyo
Cover of the new Begian passport

The Smurfs © Peyo (Zum Vergrößern anklicken)

Indeed, it would be hard to find more original passports like the Belgian “comic booklets” that have been in circulation since 7 February. Although in recent years some countries have freshened up the design of their documents. Finnish passports once featured a moose in a flip-book, and currently the country is characterised not only by its coat of arms and national flag, but also by singing swans, a poem and a lake landscape. And on the pages of the new Norwegian passports introduced in 2020 in a cool design, mountains, glaciers and fjords are subtly depicted beyond tourist clichés by means of hatching, lines and dots. However, no other country has been as courageous as Belgium in designing its passports.

Cheerful with comic characters

On the second page, the red-and-white moon rocket from “Tintin” built by the absent-minded Professor Calculus is already waiting, ready for take-off. The following double pages are filled with characters from other famous Belgian comics. Besides Tintin, Lucky Luke (including Jolly Jumper and the Daltons in Monument Valley), Spirou and Fantasio, Largo Winch, Blake and Mortimer and the Smurfs are all in the mix. Not to forget the Marsupilami, who lives in the jungle of Palumbia – very rare, very shy, very difficult to observe and extremely fond of freedom, which is felt by all those who try to capture him or his children. In short, the Marsupilami and his cronies form a wonderful landscape and character panorama of widely known Belgian comics. Which is why Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmès said at the presentation of the document: “We all know how important comics are for Belgium.”

Forgery-proof thanks to rich detail

Of course, the comic scenes were not only depicted as a winking reference to how proud Belgium is of its comic culture. The pictorial motifs, whether buildings or a piece of landscape from Monument Valley to the rainforest, have so many unmistakable details that forgeries are easy to identify. Also, the comic figures, which are only recognisable as silhouettes in the drawings during daylight, only really come to life and become visible in all their details when UV light illuminates the pages. Thus, the new Belgian passport, designed by the French design and engineering firm Thales Group and the Belgian technology company Zetes, sympathetically combines Belgium’s official self-portrayal with a very special art. Sure, comics belong to Belgium like chocolates, frites and trap beer. But what other country would be so open and courageous as to officially represent itself all over the world through art, culture, wit and irony?

New Belgian Passport: Blake & Mortimer by René Sterne
Blake & Mortimer von René Sterne & Yves Sente, after Jacobs, S. 16-17 © Editions Blake & Mortimer / Studio Jacobs, 2021

The Belgian passport as an inspiration for other countries?

Will customs officials in faraway countries enjoy the comic passports or weigh their heads with suspicion? Hopefully, they will not immediately confiscate the document as a collector’s item. But many will think: what entertaining fellows and characters the document of the Kingdom of Belgium contains. After all, the import of a drawn moon rocket does not fall under any war weapons control law. Can one imagine anything comparable in passports here in Germany? Comics – or more seriously: picture stories – in the land of engineers? Hard to imagine. Although – a panorama from “Struwwelpeter” to “Max und Moritz” (or another of Wilhelm Busch’s moral tales) to the pointedly cryptic drawings of the New Frankfurt School, that would certainly have its appeal. But don’t worry. The possibility that Wilhelm Busch’s unlucky Hans Huckebein will soon be posing in German passports instead of the stern federal eagle can be ruled out. Well then, to the Belgians and their new passports, in the spirit of Marsupilami, an enthusiastic: Hooba Hooba Hop!!!!

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