A great injustice is about to be set right, thanks to publisher Papercutz. In an announcement on its website, the publisher of graphic novels based on mega-popular children’s fare such as Geronimo Stilton, Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew, presented a new series of graphic novels featuring Belgium’s finest dwarfs : the Smurfs. To us, Belgians, it’s quite unbelievable, but it would seem that, as Papercutz Publisher Terry Nantier states, “not many people realize that the Smurfs originally appeared in comics”, let alone that they have been around for more than half a century. And no, the comics Nantier is talking about, are not the run-of-the-mill attempts that Marvel published for a while under its Star Comics children’s label. This is the real deal : the graphic novels that Smurfs creator Peyo wrote and drew after the little blue dwarves had made their début in his earlier series, Johan Et Pirlouit, and had proven immensely popular during the stories’ run in Spirou Magazine. There had already been an English edition, by Hodder and Staughton, but this would seem to be the first truly American edition for the mass market.
(The Smurfs enjoy some Masonic themed opera)
Two books will kick off the series in October, 2010. The Smurfs and The Magic Flute originally appeared in the Johan Et Pirlouit series, where it introduced the Smurfs (albeit in a proto-format). In the late seventies, this story lead to a local Smurf craze in parts of Europe when it was used by Belgian animation studio Belvision as the basis for an animated feature. The other one, The Purple Smurfs, has a trickier past. This story, in which Smurfs turn evil after they’ve been bitten by a certain type of fly, originally was called Les Schtroumpfs Noirs (the Black Smurfs). For obvious reasons, the American producers of the cartoon series that would make the Smurfs in the global succes they have become, weren’t too keen in casting a group of black characters in the role of the black guys (even though the good guys are blue, and they all wear white clothes). So they decided to lighten the tainted Smurfs’ teint and called them the Purple Smurfs. Which they remained.
Incidentally, among French cognoscenti it is an ongoing dispute whether Les Schtroumpfs Noirs predates Night Of The Living Dead by five years as the first real popular culture stories to feature Zombie-like creatures. After all, the Black Smurfs try to turn their blue counterparts by biting them, not in the brain, but in the tail. And in the end, only a few remain… OK, so it all ends well – this is a children’s story, remember ?
(“Purple Smurf, all in my brain…“)
Later in the series, one of the best comics ever to come out of Belgium will also be translated : The King Smurf (which, I guess, would be more recognisable and less political than the original title, Le Schtroumpfissime) from 1964, one of the best satirical treatises on the origins and dangers of absolutism. Here too, all’s well that ends well, but at least one little Belgian kid got his first lessons in political sciences from a cartoonist and his little characters…
To promote the new series, a special low-price promo comic will be published in July, featuring the story, the Smurf-napper, which introduces the Smurfs’ arch-enemy, Gargamel, and his cat, Azrael. Expect a lot more Smurf mayhem when the release date of the movie gets closer.
Wim Lockefeer lives in Belgium where sightings of small, blue men are not at all unusual ; you can read more of his comics musings on The Ephemerist blog