The adventures of Antwerp port
A commemorative comic strip celebrates the history and impact of the port of Antwerp as work continues on the largest lock in the world
The port as comic strip
The main character, Sylvester – the name refers to the mythological Roman soldier Silvius Brabo, killer of the giant Antigoon, who guarded the Scheldt – is based on illustrator Jan Bosschaert’s 17- year-old son. While exploring the dredging works for the new Deurganck lock, Sylvester finds an antique jar containing a ghost that transports him back in time.
“The idea was to explain the importance of the Deurganck lock to the readers,” says the strip’s author Peter Van Gucht. “And, in the same story, to boost public awareness about the port’s investments and continuing expansion. We were given carte blanche, so we broadened the horizon and instead of concentrating on the lock and its impact on business and the environment, we used the whole port history as an inspirational background.”
Van Gucht and Bosschaert were commissioned by the Port Authority to produce a comic strip based on the past, future and overall economic impact of the port. The pair have impressive careers both in their own right and occasionally as a duo: Van Gucht is head of the editorial team for the Suske en Wiske comics, and Bosschaert is a comic strip designer and illustrator.
Archetypal comic strip
It took the pair about a year to complete the comic; once the basic script was ready, Bosschaert started to draw. “With little material or history available about the port in the fifth century, I allowed my imagination to take the lead,” he says. “What a great gift for a comic designer like me!”
I allowed my fantasy to take the lead. What a gift for a comic designer!
According to Van Gucht, as well as being a visually attractive and educational story, De Havengeest is an archetypal comic strip – a mix of humour and adventure. “But the bottom line is that the port of Antwerp is a source of prosperity,” he says.
The book also includes an explanatory section about the construction and technical operation of the new lock. “De Havengeest focuses on the consequences of the on-going expansion of the port, the budget and the social debate,” says port alderman Marc Van Peel. “And the key question: Is it worth the investment and the sacrifice of open space?”
Forty thousand copies of De Havengeest will be available for young visitors to the port pavilion at the MAS Museum, the Lillo Port Centre and on guided tours of the construction of the Deurganck lock.
The final excavations near the Waasland canal are now being carried out. “Since we started the project 30 months ago, we have moved three million cubic metres of soil and replaced it with 400,000 cubic metres of concrete,” explains engineer Freddy Aerts, head of the Flemish government’s maritime access division. “The lock doors and bridges are being manufactured in Shanghai; their arrival in Antwerp next spring will be an event to look out for.”
Construction of the Deurganck lock is on schedule, with the opening planned for September of 2015.
Photo: Peter Van Gucht (left) and Jan Bosschaert relay the history of the port of Antwerp in a new adventure strip
Port of Antwerp
barges entering the port daily
companies in the greater port area
tonnes of freight handled in 2012