Brussels Cartoon Postcards

« Contre la famine » « Oui ma chère, comme ça je suis tranquille » [Against starvation] [Yes dear, this way I don’t need to worry]

« Contre la famine »
« Oui ma chère, comme ça je suis tranquille »
[Against starvation]
[Yes dear, this way I don’t need to worry]


A number of reasons caused a revival of the caricature during the war in Belgium. It’s an interesting medium. Exaggeration or simplification of facts creates a comic effect and it reflects the essence of a situation so it can be comprehended at one glance. At the same time, it can contain deeper meanings that are only accessible through imagination. This turns the cartoon into a complex medium, sometimes hard to interpret as soon as the context changes.

« Le voleur fermier » « Les rôles inversés » « (le citadin) Pardon ! votre grâce daignerait-elle s’occuper de moi s.v.p. » « (le paysan) hum ! ça dépend du prix que vous y mettez janverdouche !!! » [The thief farmer] [Reversed roles] [(the city-dweller) I beg your pardon! Would be so kind to attend to me please?] [(the peasant) Hum! It depends on the price you will offer, damn it!!!]

« Le voleur fermier »
« Les rôles inversés »
« (le citadin) Pardon ! votre grâce daignerait-elle s’occuper de moi s.v.p. »
« (le paysan) hum ! ça dépend du prix que vous y mettez janverdouche !!! »
[The thief farmer]
[Reversed roles]
[(the city-dweller) I beg your pardon! Would be so kind to attend to me please?]
[(the peasant) Hum! It depends on the price you will offer, damn it!!!]


The war caused a particular atmosphere in which rumours could thrive. They were often the subject of caricatures and cartoons. This shows us how caricatures can play a double role as a medium: the rumour has been magnified to create a comic effect, while it sustains and spreads it at the same time. Propaganda determined the content of the caricatures and cartoons as well. It was part of daily life. In Belgium there was German propaganda on one side, and anti-German propaganda on the other. Our collection of caricatures and cartoons is situated on the anti-German side, but mainly deals with daily life in Brussels. Cartoons and caricatures are supposed to keep up morale and encourage resistance.

« Les petites recettes de guerre » -« Wei. Pour avoir du beurre hein, je mets cette boutelle de lait dans ma poche et après deux heures de bicyclette sans arrêtei sur un chemin avec des gros cailloux, j’aie une livre de beurre… » -« Tiens! Moi ça est du fromage de Bruxelles ! » [Some war recipes] - [Yeah. To get butter, I put this bottle of milk in my pocket and after riding my bike for two hours nonstop on a bumpy cobbled road, I have one pound of butter…] -[Look! In my case I got Brussels cheese!]

« Les petites recettes de guerre »
– « Wei. Pour avoir du beurre hein, je mets cette boutelle de lait dans ma poche et après deux heures de bicyclette sans arrêtei sur un chemin avec des gros cailloux, j’aie une livre de beurre… »
– « Tiens! Moi ça est du fromage de Bruxelles ! »
[Some war recipes]
– [Yeah. To get butter, I put this bottle of milk in my pocket and after riding my bike for two hours nonstop on a bumpy cobbled road, I have one pound of butter…]
– [Look! In my case I got Brussels cheese!]


The occupation of Belgium influenced individual as well as collective experience: people had to face emotions such as fear, insecurity, indignation and rage on a daily basis as a result of the hunger, cold, illness, poverty, restriction of freedom… Cartoons were an outlet for emotions that everyone knew so well. Caricatures and cartoons evoke a smile and put things into perspective. In addition, they generate a sense of recognition and connection: universal archetypes, mythical events and characters are often incorporated in the images. Those elements position new situations and events in the collective consciousness. Artists frequently represented certain characters as animals, or with typical recurring facial or body features (e.g. the fat profiteer). Like myths, they satisfy the need for reassurance and simple explanations. Negative archetypes that are frequently used in the Brussels cartoons are of course the enemy, but they can also be found within the local population. War profiteers, ‘nouveau riches’ and hoarders were popular targets.

« Quand le prix augmentera du beurre y aura » « En attendant fouillez-vous !!! » [When the price rises there will be butter] [In the meanwhile search on yourself!!!]

« Quand le prix augmentera du beurre y aura »
« En attendant fouillez-vous !!! »
[When the price rises there will be butter]
[In the meanwhile search on yourself!!!]


Popular themes were of course the enemy and the role of the allies, but most caricatures and cartoons talk of daily life: the changeover to German daylight saving time, the recurring and changing German regulations that constantly made life harder, but especially the scarcity of food and all its consequences.

« La dernière affiche! » « PERDU, Boulevard du Nord, 1 pomme de terre, grosseur moyenne, rapporter contre forte récompense. » [The last poster !] [LOST, North Boulevard, 1 potatoe, middle size, bring back in return for big reward.]

« La dernière affiche! »
« PERDU, Boulevard du Nord, 1 pomme de terre, grosseur moyenne, rapporter contre forte récompense. »
[The last poster !]
[LOST, North Boulevard, 1 potatoe, middle size, bring back in return for big reward.]


Because of the war, Belgium was stricken by food scarcity. The blocking of imports by Great Britain had severe consequences for a country with an external orientated economy, a country that feeds its people mainly by import. Internal agricultural production was insufficient and the German claims issued to support their participation in the war had worsened the scarcity. Brussels found itself in a very fragile position, with the imports having stopped and a very restricted access to local rural production. Food became a significant concern and worry for the people in Brussels.

« Les progrès de l’alimentation en 1916. » « Oignons de pieds de facteurs – Oeils de perdrix de camelots – Saucisson de Fox-Terrier – Pâté de mouche à viande – Salami de rats d’égoût – Civet de chat de gouttière – Rognures de pneumatiques en brochettes – Moutarde W.C. – Compote de mannetons – Huile d’asticot naturelle » « Etalage de charcuterie. » [The evolution of food in 1916] [Postman feet onions – Vendors partridge eye– Fox-Terrier sausage – Blowfly pâté - Sewer rat salami - Stray cat stew – Tyre pieces kebab – Toilet mustard - Crankpin marmelade – Natural maggot oil] [Assorted meats in shop window]

« Les progrès de l’alimentation en 1916. »
« Oignons de pieds de facteurs – Oeils de perdrix de camelots – Saucisson de Fox-Terrier – Pâté de mouche à viande – Salami de rats d’égoût – Civet de chat de gouttière – Rognures de pneumatiques en brochettes – Moutarde W.C. – Compote de mannetons – Huile d’asticot naturelle »
« Etalage de charcuterie. »
[The evolution of food in 1916]
[Postman feet onions – Vendors partridge eye– Fox-Terrier sausage – Blowfly pâté – Sewer rat salami – Stray cat stew – Tyre pieces kebab – Toilet mustard – Crankpin marmelade – Natural maggot oil]
[Assorted meats in shop window]


Facing this new situation, the government and private charities organized to meet the needs of the population with the distribution of meals, community department stores, price regulation of basic products, the cultivation of public grounds. These measures helped to supply the population, but they also caused endless queues and unwieldy and limitless administration. These are often topics in the cartoons. Government intervention was nevertheless a useful and much needed measure because prices on the market hit the roof! The grave scarcity of food made it possible for producers and salesmen to impose extravagant prices. Some of them took advantage of the situation to enrich themselves. Those ‘dealers’ and ‘profiteers’ are often put on display in the Brussels caricatures and cartoons. Other consequences of the food scarcity were the all-round emergence of food falsifications, and the development of a black market.

« Sur les Terrains Communaux cultivés » « Et bien, l’ami, qu’en (quand) pensez-vous qu’on les mangera dis ??? » [On the Municipal fields] [So, my friend, when do you think we’ ll eat them ???]

« Sur les Terrains Communaux cultivés »
« Et bien, l’ami, qu’en (quand) pensez-vous qu’on les mangera dis ??? »
[On the Municipal fields]
[So, my friend, when do you think we’ ll eat them ???]

« Chacun son tour d’exploiter la situation! » « Puisque la viande et les œufs on sait plus en achetei, que les gens n’ont pas de patates et que le pain est rationné, ça est tout naturel hein que nous vendons les légumes très cher… on doit qua même en achetei si on veuie pas mourir de faim ! » [Everyone his turn to exploit de situation !] [Now that meat and eggs are no longer for sale, people have no potatoes and bread is rationed, it is completely natural that we charge a lot for vegetables… People need to buy them anyway if they don’ t want to starve to death!]

« Chacun son tour d’exploiter la situation! »
« Puisque la viande et les œufs on sait plus en achetei, que les gens n’ont pas de patates et que le pain est rationné, ça est tout naturel hein que nous vendons les légumes très cher… on doit qua même en achetei si on veuie pas mourir de faim ! »
[Everyone his turn to exploit de situation !]
[Now that meat and eggs are no longer for sale, people have no potatoes and bread is rationed, it is completely natural that we charge a lot for vegetables… People need to buy them anyway if they don’ t want to starve to death!]


In addition to the artistic value, these caricatures and cartoons offer us a unique outlook into how people experienced the German occupation in Brussels. Focused on the scarcity of food they show us to what extend daily life got more difficult and the irritation and resentment that grew among townspeople towards the farmers. The cartoons and caricatures illustrate how people tried to deal with these emotions in a humoristic way.

« Les légumes et les fruits sont tarifés au marché matinal. Juin 1918. » -« Puisque je peux pas les vendre au prix que je veux, je retourne avec et je les donnerai aux bêtes !! » [Prices for vegetables and fruit are fixed at the morning market. June 1918.] -[As I am not allowed to sell them at the price I want, I’ll take them back home and give them to the cattle!!]

« Les légumes et les fruits sont tarifés au marché matinal. Juin 1918. »
– « Puisque je peux pas les vendre au prix que je veux, je retourne avec et je les donnerai aux bêtes !! »
[Prices for vegetables and fruit are fixed at the morning market. June 1918.]
– [As I am not allowed to sell them at the price I want, I’ll take them back home and give them to the cattle!!]

 -« Spèce d’imbécile, vous voyez pas que vous êtes en train de vous lavei avec la soupe du Restaurant… » -« Mô Mélanie, moi je croyais que ça était une cruche d’eau, sei-vous ! » « On se plaint de la soupe ! » - [Idiot,  don t you see you are washing yourself with soup from the Restaurant…] -[But Mélanie, I thought it was a jug of water, you know!] [People complain about the soup!]


– « Spèce d’imbécile, vous voyez pas que vous êtes en train de vous lavei avec la soupe du Restaurant… »
– « Mô Mélanie, moi je croyais que ça était une cruche d’eau, sei-vous ! »
« On se plaint de la soupe ! »
– [Idiot, don t you see you are washing yourself with soup from the Restaurant…]
– [But Mélanie, I thought it was a jug of water, you know!]
[People complain about the soup!]

« Avis aux célibataires » « FILLE A MARIER » « Riche fermier offre sa fille à marier, donnera comme dot 300 ko pommes de terre, 1 quarteron d’œufs et 10 Ko de beurre […] au besoin un cochon !! Qu’on se le dise. Sotteghem 1916. » « Potferdom ! moi qui n’ai mangé de patates depuis une éternité, v’la mon affaire se-tu !! » [Notice for single men] [GIRL TO MARRY] [Rich farmer offers his daughter, will give as dowry 300 kilos potatoes, 1 quadroon eggs and 10 kilos butter […] if needed one pig!! Spread the news! Sotteghem 1916.] [Darned! It s been an eternity since I last ate potatoes, now there’ s a bargain for me!!]

« Avis aux célibataires »
« FILLE A MARIER »
« Riche fermier offre sa fille à marier, donnera comme dot 300 ko pommes de terre, 1 quarteron d’œufs et 10 Ko de beurre […] au besoin un cochon !! Qu’on se le dise. Sotteghem 1916. »
« Potferdom ! moi qui n’ai mangé de patates depuis une éternité, v’la mon affaire se-tu !! »
[Notice for single men]
[GIRL TO MARRY]
[Rich farmer offers his daughter, will give as dowry 300 kilos potatoes, 1 quadroon eggs and 10 kilos butter […] if needed one pig!! Spread the news! Sotteghem 1916.]
[Darned! It s been an eternity since I last ate potatoes, now there’ s a bargain for me!!]

Sources:
Jaumain S., Piette V. (2005). Humor op oorlogspad. Brussel en de karikatuur in 14-18. Brussels: Archief van de Stad Brussel
Jaumain, S., Piette, V., Pluvinage G. (2005). Bruxelles 14-18. Au jour le jour, une ville en guerre. Bruxelles : Archives de la Ville de Bruxelles

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