Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How did I smurf the Smurfs for so long?!

If you interpreted the title of this post rightly as "How did I miss the Smurfs for so long?!", then you know what I am talking about! A month ago I was cruising on a busy road in Bangalore with my family - my wife hurriedly demanded me to look at a Billboard on her left carrying a advertisement of a film; As I was concentrating on driving the car, I was hardly able to notice much except for a few cute looking tiny blue animated figures. She went on saying that she has watched the 1st part of that movie - "The Smurfs" and loved it. I did not pay much interest as animation movies are churned out every other week starring humans, animals, puppets, monsters, vehicles and what not - in all kind of shapes and sizes! I didn't realize then that I am going to smurf my ignorance soon! And I did regret it, but not for ignoring that movie!
About a week ago, when I was browsing through a online shop for buying a certain Cinebook volume - I bumped on these little blue creatures again but in the form of a book. I was surprised to notice that it indeed was a comic book on Smurfs from Papercutz! Further research on internet proved how ignorant I was about this hugely popular Belgium comics series for so many years! Even the North American comics community was largely ignorant of these Blue Buddies until Papercutz reintroduced the Smurfs in English in 2010.

is the creator of Smurfs and he created them some 55 years ago! Though I was not familiar with Smurfs, the trademark signature of Peyo appears to be too familiar for my eyes! May be I must have seen it somewhere on a newspaper cartoon strip! Peyo has written several story lines and drew for some including the Smurfs! He introduced Smurfs as supporting characters to his personal favorite Johan and Peewit; but later he put together a creative team in his studio to develop Smurfs as an independent series as the little blue buddies were becoming increasingly popular across Europe.

Smurfs live in the Smurf village isolated from humans in a very far off place! They are very short, very old (despite of their young looks), blue in color, mostly male, speak the Smurf language, dwell in Mushroom shaped houses and most importantly they are very very cheerful! :) Like all the men in a foreign country look alike to our eyes, the Smurfs also are indistinguishable from one another, except for a few that is! The Papa Smurf - the head of the clan is a very caring person and takes good care of his people. However, make no mistake there are 82 different type of Smurfs identified by their attire or attitude!!! :)

Speaking the Smurf language is pretty easy! You just need to replace certain nouns, verbs and adjectives with the word "smurf" as you speak, yes it's that smurfy! With this little introduction shall we smurf on to doing a little review of the first Smurfs volume from Papercutz?

Trouble looms over the Smurfs village when a little purple bee bites one of the smurfs, his color changes from blue to purple and turns a rogue! He starts chanting nothing but a single word GNAP and starts chasing his mates in the Smurf village, biting their tails and turning them purple in the process. Papa smurf with a bunch of surviving blue smurfs tries to make antidote to cure the purple ones. Nothing works as planned for the Papa Smurf but the story and the sketches work wonders. There is not a single dull moment and you just can't keep the book down till the very last page of the story! And the dialogues heavily stuffed with the word 'smurf' all over also significantly adds to the fun factor!

The first volume also includes two more short stories, "The Flying Smurf" and "The Smurf and his Neighbors" which are equally entertaining but I liked the Purple Smurf the best! When Peyo originally drew the sketches there were no purple smurfs but they were black instead. Since, Papercutz is a North American publisher they didn't want this to be misinterpreted by the African-Americans so they 'smurfed' all the black smurfs into purple ones! Papercutz' editor Jim attributes the credit for Purple Smurfs to Hanna-Barbera studio which did the same to their animated series on Smurfs.

In "The Flying Smurf" - a Smurf tries hard to set himself flying high on the sky but ends up falling on the ground at every attempt; In "The Smurf and his Neighbors" - a Smurf is so annoyed by his noisy neighbors, he packs off the Smurf village and shifts his house to deep forest just to get some peace of mind and sleep. Did they finally succeed in their attempts makes the rest of the respective stories.
Papercutz has so far published 16 single volumes of Smurf ($6 a copy) and a anthology combining the first 3 volumes with a few more on the pipeline. However the single albums were published in little out of sequence as compared to the original order. Most notably the first appearance of the Smurfs - "The Smurfs and the Magic Flute" was published second in line, where as the "The Purple Smurfs" took the front seat. This was done understandably because the Magic Flute story is essentially a Johan & Peewit adventure with the Smurfs appearing in a cameo role. Naturally, Papercutz wouldn't have liked that volume to be the launch pad for the lovely Smurfs in the US!

The quality of the paper and printing are top notch! But, if there is one thing that I didn't like about this Papercutz edition is its size! True to their name, the size of the book is cut too small for a comfortable reading experience! A four tiered European comics which is meant to be printed on A4 sized papers just doesn't fit on the standard smurf sized American comics book format (6.5x9"). Be warned if you manage to read all the 'smurf' sized Smurf volumes from Papercutz, you may end up visiting a Ophthalmologist with smurf filled eyes!

I would recommend you rather buy the 3 in 1 Anthology hardbound edition which comes in a bigger format (8.5x11") at a bargain price (just $2 more than the combined price of 3 singles). But it may take couple of years for all the volumes to be published in this bigger format! "The Smurfs Anthology Vol 2" (next set of 3 single volumes) is scheduled to release later this year!

There are no Indian editions available, but the imported copies are being in sold in India across various (online) book stores. The first seven volumes were perhaps imported couple of years ago and hence are priced lower at ₹199; where as Vol-8 and above are being sold at ₹320! You may get up to 25% discount off the cover price in some online shops.

After I finished reading the first volume the very next day I happened to watch "The Smurfs (2011)" movie on TV ! But, I must say I was disappointed because the story was set in New York in a typical Hollywood style and the Smurfs did not feel as lovely and innocent as they did in their Comics version. Later I was looking at the reviews for "The Smurfs 2" which was released last month but they were mostly negative. They are planning to release the third installment in 2015! Some Comics are better left alone, isn't it?!

And the best part about the Smurfs is my wife for the first time in her life read a Comics book completely in one stretch!. My previous attempts to make her read Comics (in Tamil language) had so miserably failed that this came as a pleasant 'smurf' to me! She liked it so much so that she has already smurfed through the second volume, even before I smurfed it! :) My smurf sized son is not too behind and has become fond of looking at these Smurfs and made us smurf a few pages for him! Though the Smurf Comics are targeted for ages 7 and up, it still is a good read for all ages. Don't smurf it!

PS 1: Other interesting titles from Peyo / Papercutz!:
Benny Breakiron (BenoƮt Brisefer) seems to be another interesting Comic series from Peyo after the Smurfs. I guess it will appeal to readers like me who are still very young at heart! ;) I read the preview on Amazon and it looks quite impressive! Here is a European Super (Kid) Hero who is very different from the usual flashy American Superheros and is innocent to the core! Benny was also known as Steven Strong in some UK English editions, but they are not in print anymore.

Benny is somewhere on the top of my ever growing reading list! I am planning to buy his first appearance - "The Red Taxis" published by Papercutz but the price is the only stopping factor. I hope they release a cheaper paperback edition soon!

PS 2:
I am sure if Smurfs is translated in Tamil, it is going to be a Smurf shot blockbuster hit among kids! I will write more about this later this month on my Tamil blog - Bladepedia!