Passports are usually no-nonsense and all-business. Not so with one country’s updated version. Belgian passports are garnering the title “world’s coolest”—and placing a national product in the spotlight.
In February, Belgium unveiled a new passport design. Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmés says it “honors one of the jewels of our culture: the heroines and heroes of comic strips.”
Characters from some of the country’s most famous comics, including Tintin and the Smurfs, now adorn passport pages.
Wilmés isn’t embarrassed by having children’s pictures printed on her country’s official documents. On the contrary, she says Belgian comics are the country’s pride. They’re also one of its most significant exports to other countries.
“We are very proud of the comics and the Belgian comics that our country has managed to develop,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s soft power, but it’s very powerful.”
The Adventures of Tintin is a comic book series created in 1929 by Belgian artist Georges Remi under the pen name Hergé (AIR-zhay). Tintin gained renewed global popularity after a 2011 animated film about the fearless boy journalist and his dog Snowy.
The Tintin website says images chosen for Belgium’s new passport feature Tintin’s travels around the world and into space.
Hergé’s fame thrust comics into the Belgian consciousness and motivated others to work in the genre. An article on Smithsonian.com notes that “after World War II, comic strips became as common in newspapers as want ads” in Belgium.
More recently, comics artists began moving to Belgium because of its affordability and strong comic book culture. There, comics appear in cafés, museums, shops, and the famous Brussels Comic Book Route. That’s a collection of 65 murals depicting well-known comic book characters.
The new passport also features other Belgian comics characters, including the famous blue Smurfs. The Smurfs is another popular Belgian comic by Pierre Culliford (known by the pen name Peyo).
In Brussels, the new passport has earned positive responses.
“It’s typically Belgian,” comments Brussels resident Ingrid Vergote. “No other country would think of doing this kind of thing. This is what we are famous for.”
Belgian-Canadian student Sarah Murawsky says, “A lot of people associate cartoons with Belgian culture, so I think it’s really cool to be able to identify with that through the passport.”
But Belgium’s new passport isn’t just fun. Wilmés claims it’s “even more secure, thanks to new security and personalization techniques.”
Meanwhile, passport holders in other countries must continue carrying their bland booklets. One Twitter user summed up some folks’ feelings: “Brb [be right back] moving to Belgium.”
Why? Moving from country to country requires documents that prove identity and citizenship. For those whose citizenship is in heaven, the only ID needed is forgiveness by the blood of Jesus.