Anniversary Post: Smurfs

SmurfOn this day in 1958, the Smurfs first showed up in the funny pages. That’s distinct from the television series, The Smurfs. Same characters, but it took a while before they got off paper. And they didn’t have their own comic. They first appeared in Johan and Peewit — a Belgian comic created by Pierre “Peyo” Culliford. It was a medieval cartoon, like Don Quixote, in a way. Johan is a brave night who rushes into dangerous situations. Peewit is the court jester, but gets dragged along on Johan’s adventures. Whereas Sancho rides a donkey, Peewit rides a goat.

Like Peewit, the Smurfs are dwarfs, but of the blue variety. Frankly, I don’t find them nearly as interesting in Johan and (especially) Peewit. I want to run out and find some of the books. The Smurfs got their own strip a year after they first appeared. And the rest, as they say, is history. And like most history, they are racist. The enemy of the Smurfs, the evil magician Gargamel, is a stereotype of a greedy Jew. But more than that, there is the question of the “black Smurf.”

The first Smurf book was, Les Schtroumpfs Noirs. When it was translated to English, it was turned into, The Purple Smurf — with the requisite change in the coloring. You can see a comparison:

The Black Smurfs

I found an interesting article at Simply Maya, 55 Years of Belgian Blues. They put Les Schtroumpfs Noirs in the context of its time. It was the first Smurfs book, and it came at an important time in Belgian history, “‘The Black Smurfs’ came at a time when colonial empires were falling and just three years earlier Belgian Congo had gained independence to form what became the Democratic Republic of Congo, after years of brutal rule under Belgian kings where millions of African people had been killed.” It’s funny how our unstated assumptions ooze out onto the comics page.

3 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Smurfs

  1. My primary exposure to the Smurfs was through the cartoon show and I never noticed that they were indoctrinating me into believing communism is good because Papa Smurf wore red.

    It failed because I also watched Jem which taught me that it is okay to commit numerous felonies as long as you are in a famous rock band and She-Ra that taught me hordes are bad and flying horses are good.

    I guess this means I am a felonious commie on a flying horse.

    • I must admit to having never seen The Smurfs. I have requested the purple Smurf book from the library. The other two I haven’t heard of — too old I’m afraid. But really, I’m a Rocky and Bullwinkle and Looney Tunes kind of guy.

      • I was a child of the eighties, mostly horrible cartoon years. So I did watch some of the ones that your generation did but mostly these cheaply made, produced and written cartoons.

        Jem was about a woman who had a magical computer that let her go from a mild mannered owner of an orphanage to a world famous lead singer of a band-the very creatively named Jem and Holograms. It followed her adventures as she battled a nearly as popular band the Misfits.

        She-Ra was the female version of He-Man. She started out as a mild manner woman who when she held her sword aloft could turn into a fighting princess.

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