Move over boring government documents, Belgium is changing the game. The small western European nation is making a big splash with their newly designed passport — an artistic showcase of their beloved, homegrown comic strip characters. The Smurfs, Blake and Mortimer, Tintin, Lucky Luke and many more iconic characters make appearances throughout the new passports. And the famous Belgian comic strip stars have now been given a role that goes beyond entertainment and cultural representation — their special design helps protect against counterfeiters.
In a press release, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès said, "The Belgian passport is one of the best in the world, it is a source of pride for us, but also an object of desire for counterfeiters. This is why we are constantly working to improve its security. The introduction of this new passport is also an opportunity for us to highlight the 9th art, the comic strip, which is a central element of our culture and our influence abroad."
Why Comic Strips?
In Belgium, comic strips are considered to be the "ninth art" and are widely seen as a part of the shared national identity (the eight other arts are painting, sculpture, theater, architecture, music, dance, literature and cinema). Their popularity began in the late 1920s with the creation of Tintin and grew to a high in the 1950s when Blake and Mortimer and the Smurfs entered the scene. While the characters, drawing techniques and media formats have changed over the years, comic strips still remain quite popular. Even today, Belgium has more comic book artists per square kilometer than any other place in the world.
It's been said that the Belgians' take on the comic strip reflects their way of thinking and how they've seen foreign countries throughout modern history. So, adding the comic strip heroes and heroines to their passport seems like a logical — and endearing — way to commemorate the legacy and unique perspective.
Counterfeiters will no longer get the last laugh when trying to fool authorities. The characters' silhouettes are visible to the naked eye, but some parts of the design — such as texture and facial expressions— only show up under UV light, creating a complex layer of safety. Since Belgian passports are highly sought after by counterfeiters, the upgraded safety will make customs officers' jobs a little easier and may even add a touch of humor and fun to their day.
The new passports went into effect Feb. 2, 2022. The previous version of the passport is still valid until it expires. Luckily for passport holders, there won't be an increase in price for the addition of all that Belgian pride.
A Celebration For All
If you find yourself standing in line at customs next to a Belgian citizen, you may feel a little jealous — or have a sudden desire to go watch an episode of the Smurfs. But for those of us who don't get to see one in person, the cultural tribute will hopefully still remind us to revisit the characters that have captivated minds and hearts, of all ages, all across the globe.