After June’s $1 preview comic book, Papercutz begins their reprinting of the classic Peyo comics in earnest with The Smurfs and The Magic Flute and The Purple Smurfs. In some ways, reviewing artist Pierre “Peyo” Culliford’s and, in a few cases, co-writer Yvan Delporte’s comics seems a bit silly, as their place in history, their longevity and their cultural influence and significance all serve as pretty good clues as to the quality of the comics.
They are, or course, great comics.
Based on these 120 pages or so worth of Peyo’s Smurfs comics, they’re also remarkably timeless. Like most Americans my age, I spent a significant portion of my life watching Smurf cartoons, the theme song is permanently embedded in my head, and, when I would think of the Smurfs, I would think of a once irritatingly ubiquitous marketing presence. Even as a little kid I had grown sick of the Smurfs.
And yet these comics are strong enough that they erased all of my negative memories and associations. These comics are still fresh, and when I was reading them it was like I was meeting the characters and concepts for the first time.
Anyway, given the fact that we’re even reading Smurfs comics over 50 years after they first started appearing, a regular review assessing the quality of those comics seems less relevant than assessing certain elements of their new presentation.
So let’s do that instead.
The presentation. I rather liked the overall look and design of the packaging. They’re slim trade paperbacks (although hardcovers are also available for a few extra bucks), and both are between 50 and 60 pages (although the high number of panels per page help them “read” longer).
The main colors are, of course, blue and white, and Papercutz uses the former in inventive ways, like using blue ink instead of black or the page numbers. The title of each trade is presented nice and big, with a smaller “Smurfs…by Peyo” logo across the top. The Papercutz “Z” logo is itself tiny and unobtrusively placed, and there are little Smurf silhouettes indicating the numbers in each story.
The price: Each of these are only $6, which is a pretty great deal anyway you look at it. That’s the cost of two to two-and-half 22-page DC or Marvel super-comics, and a little more than half of what you’d pay for a manga or digest comic that would offer a similar reading experience (Obviously the page counts in most manga books are a lot higher, but the panel-per-page ratio is a lot higher in the Smurfs books).
That’s a pretty great value—you get a good, solid, substantial reading experience in an ad-free, trade format that only costs a coupla bucks.
The order/numbering: The Papercutz collection is broken into volumes. The first volume, The Purple Smurfs, contains three short stories: “The Flying Smurf,” “The Smurf and His Neighbors” and the title story. The second volume, The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, contains a single story, which is actually the first Smurfs story—something made rather apparent by both the text of the story and the fact that the designs for the familiar characters are a bit rougher and more emaciated than the rounder, more familiar versions that appear in Purple Smurfs (and, more likely than not, your memory).
The logic of this decision isn’t hard to figure out. No Smurf actually appears on-panel in The Magic Flute until the fortieth page of this 60-page story, in which the little blue guys are actually just supporting characters helping out Johan and Peewit as they seek to stop a bad guy from exploiting a magical flute.
In other words, while it’s a great comic, it may not be the very best story with which to introduce the Smurfs to new readers.
I personally would have preferred the numbers being switched around, as most modern reprinting programs tend to publish works in the order in which they were originally created and released.
Of course, since the two books are being released simultaneously, and they are both completely self-contained, the numbering isn’t really that big of a deal—you can read them in either order, or one and not the other, with no problems.
The translation: Sorry, as someone who has never read or even seen a single Peyo Smurf comic that wasn’t published this year by Papercutz, I have no idea how to assess whether or not they did a good job of translating it. I found the writing to be fairly sharp though; I was surprised and amused by how tough Papa Smurf could get with his sub-Smurfs, and I was surprised to find myself laughing at various riffs on”the Smurf language,” particularly in Peewit’s attempts to learn it.
Apparently, there are a lot of subtleties in the pronunciation of the word “smurf” that alter what part of speech it is and its definition quite dramatically.
Cultural changes: As you may be aware, “The Purple Smurfs” was originally “Les Schtroumpfs Noirs,” or “The Black Smurfs,” but it was changed to purple to avoid the appearance of racism. The story is about a smurf, whose name is, I believe, Smurf, getting bit by a red-eyed, purple Bzz fly. This results in the afflicted Smurf’s skin turning purple, his eyes turning red, and him saying “Gnap!” while hopping around, looking for other smurf tails to bite, and transfer his infection too.
It’s kind of like a Night of the Living Dead, zombiepocalypse sort of story, only with purple smurfs instead of dead people.
I don’t think the change is terribly significant—and the cartoon producers made the same one when they adapted the story—and in some ways works better. Not only is purple a better color for a dark version of blue than black, but it looks better with the red eyes and white clothes (and it’s certainly a better fly color; a black Bzz fly would be indistinguishable from a housefly).
The lettering: The script-like font in the dialogue balloons took me a bit to get used to, but the only instances where I felt the lettering looked artificial enough to bounce me out of the story were certain panels where English lettering has been added on top of, say, a door or a sign.
This is a pretty tricky matter for foreign language comics republished for English audiences, and one we’ve seen manga publishers wrestling with in various ways over the last decade or two.
I think the best way to address foreign language words embedded in the art is to leave them there, and then to use an asterisk to translate them, but I don’t think it’s that big a deal, really. The occasional imperfect-looking panel is a small price to pay for easy access to such great comics.