So you read the damning reviews of the Smurfs movie, and you at least felt some slight unease at the first glimpses of the blue dwarves in the trailer, and this has really brought you down. Were these the cool cartoon characters you knew from when you were a kid ? Could it be we are betrayed this much, even in this age when everything seems to be possible in digital animation ?
Well, I’m here to tell you : yes. You were betrayed. Even more so : you were betrayed into thinking the Smurfs were a cartoon series to begin with. No, my friends, they were a comic book series, and for the first ten books or so, they were one of the best series the European continent ever produced. So, without further ado, I present you five reasons why the Smurfs don’t suck, five books you should read.
At nr. 5, it’s Le Cosmo Schtroumpf (published as The Astro Smurf in English) – first published in 1970, after running in Spirou Magazine in 1969 (which was the year of the first moon landing), this is a story of how everything is possible if you believe in your dreams – and if you’ve got some help at hand. One of the smurfs builds a rocket, but fails to launch it and is severely disapponted. The other Smurfs decide to trick him into believing he actually went to the moon, by staging an elaborate hoax, disguising themselves as Swoofs, a tribe of red-skinned space people, and giving him the time of his life. It’s a funny story, with a quite philosophical undertone about man’s hubris and the values of community. Incidentally, this was the first story in the Hannah-Barbera cartoon series, but then with green instead of red Swoofs, something Papercutz has continued. Also, notice how in English, all references to the Soviet space programme (with cosmonauts) has been replaced by US terminology (with astronauts)…
Nr. 4 is Le Centieme Schtroumpf (The One Hundredth Smurf, not yet published in English), which originally ran as a minicomic in Spirou in 1962. It’s a tale of magical realism, in which one of the Smurfs creates a mirror to enjoy looking at his own beautiful self (never mind that all Smurfs look alike). When lightning strikes, however, his mirror image comes to life, as the 100th Smurf. This one, however, does everything as if through a mirror (he even speaks in mirrored type). In the end, though, he manages to turn himself around. The story is a good introduction in the most important Smurfs that still play the main parts in today’s stories. And it has some very mischievous humour !
As the third reason to read the Smurfs, I picked Schtroumpf Vert et Vert Schtroumpf. This story from 1973, was written by Peyo and Yvan Delporte (as were all original Smurfs stories), and has as yet not been translated in to English. Even though the Smurfs all speak the same weird language, it would seem that there is a slight difference between Southern Smurfs and Northern Smurfs, for example when talking about a corkscrew. Northern Smurfs will typically use the word “Corksmurf”, whereas Southern Smurfs refer to it as a “Smurfscrew”. This minute detail manages to completely divide the Smurf village, as the smurfs create a border right through it, and North and South starts rioting. Only an intervention of Papa Smurf, featuring Gargamel, is able to restore unity. Some people will use this story as en example of Peyo’s leftist tendencies – to me it’s a little parable about how people are essentially the same, and how we should work together instead of focusing on what divides us. But maybe I’m biased, being Belgian and all…
The second best Smurfs story ever written, is Les Schtroumpfs Noirs (better known in English as The Purple Smurfs, for reasons of political correctness), the very first Smurfs story that did not feature any of the characters from the Johan Et Pirlouit series. It tells of an epidemic hitting the Smurfs village, in which the blue midgets turn into their evil counterparts when bitten by a black fly. They start turning their friends by biting them in their tail, until only Papa Smurf remains. It all looks extremely hopeless, but thankfully everything ends well. Basically, this is the Night Of the Living Dead, but then pocket-sized, and six years earlier than Romero’s masterpiece. And with a better ending.
But the best, the very best Smurfs book ever published, is Le Schtroumpfissime (in English, The Smurf King). When Papa Smurf has to leave the village to go on an urgent errand, one of the other dwarves decides the should replace him. It takes a whole lot of effort, but in the end he manages to get all the other Smurfs to vote for him as their new leader. After which he quickly turns into a tyrant, who turns the community in a totalitarian state, locks up the opposition and wages all-out war on the village. Basically, as Papa Smurf tells them when he returns, he’s made them “behave like humans”. This is one of the best books about how totalitarianism starts, and how it manages to involve ordinary decent people, that I ever read. It should be compulsory reading in every Pol Sci class.
Well, there you have it. Five stories, enough to counterbalance the less-than-favorable mish-mash the movie has turned out to be.