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!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Welcome to Grafik Comics!

Reading books especially Comics had been my prime source of entertainment during childhood. As a kid grew up in the 80s, I was exposed to a wide variety of comics published in the Tamil language during that time - it indeed was a golden era in the history of Tamil comics. With a paltry pocket money that hardly adds up to a few rupees every month - I certainly didn't even have enough bucks to buy all those wonderful books from different publishers.

In 1997, when I joined in a job, I quit the habit of reading Comic books or any other book for that matter! In the early 2000s almost each and every Tamil Comics publisher shut their shop, well almost!!! And when Lion & Muthu Comics were 'relaunched' in 2012, I restarted my reading habit too! Years have rolled on, I am no kid but in my mid thirties, pocket a modest income; But, I still feel that do not have enough money to buy all the comics I want, English that is! :) As is true with most of the Tamil comics fans - I never really ventured into reading English comic books! There are several reasonss behind that:

Reason #1 is plain and simple, the cost of the English comic books were and ARE prohibitive. Three or four years ago, Comicology Rafiq and a few other bloggers used to blah... blah... blog a lot about Indian editions of foreign comics including the ones from Cinebook being sold at Rs.199/-. Back then I used to feel, spending 200 bucks for a 50 page book is certainly NOT a wise thing to do! ;) May be I was wrong but I simply wasn't willing to spend so much on Comic books! Even now, I feel 200 is a bit on the higher side considering you get a similar quality book at 50 from Lion in Tamil. I understand we really shouldn't be comparing these two; because the fundamental business model of the publishers of Lion-Muthu Comics (Prakash Publishers) is very very different from any other Indian / Foreign English comic publisher. Cost of acquiring the English language licensing rights and the logistics involved in distributing and stocking these books across the major book retail chains in India are just too high. Where as Prakash Publishers work on tighter margins and rely solely on direct selling through subscriptions, book fairs & their ebay shop! I know there is an easy and free alternate does exist - download those damn CBRs and read them on your computer, tablet or even mobile screen. But for whatever reasons I just do not like that idea!

Another reason why I avoided English comics is that I do not feel connected with the plot or the characters - not because I don't understand the language - but mainly because I have grown reading comics only in Tamil and somehow I was not able to get out of that comfort zone! Last but not the least, it took a 'Lion' to kick my butt and get back to my reading habits! :)

I am no stranger to American, British, Franco-Belgian and other European comics but so far I've been reading them only in Tamil! Finally, I've decided that it is time to to explore and find out what I have been missing in the translation all these years, pun intended ;) I will go after the Comics Genres that may never see their light of day in Tamil. I will not just stop with the European Comics but also check out what the Americans have to offer! I will keep blogging about each and every comics that I come across and some of those posts will get back ported to Bladepedia in Tamil!. And of course I am going explore different kind of genres meant for different kind of audience; for the starters, I will begin with some titles from Cinebook! ;)

And I did start already, I opened the Pandora's box the day before! No, I am not referring to 'reading Comics in English' as the Pandora's Box - but a Cinebook series by the same name! Amazon India has some Cinebook titles at discounted price (ranging from 87 to 150), so here is my first set of Cinebook purchase from Amazon (and some from Infibeam too!):
  1. Alpha: 1 - Exchange
  2. Alpha: 2 - Wolves
  3. Alpha: 3 - The List
  4. Lady S: 1 -  Here's to Suzie!
  5. Pandora's Box: 1 - Pride
  6. Pandora's Box: 2 - Sloth
  7. Pandora's Box: 3 - Gluttony
  8. Pandora's Box: 4 - Greed
  9. The Bluecoats: 1 - Robertsonville Prison
  10. The Bluecoats: 2 - The Navy Blues
  11. The Scorpion: 1 - Devil's Mark
  12. The Scorpion: 2 - Devil in the Vatican
Though I have lived in Bangalore since 2001, you would be surprised to know that I have hardly visited any of the popular local book stores and chains like Blossoms & Landmark! I regret, I've missed all those occasional heavy discount deals offered by these stores all these years! I do realize that it will be very hard to get the 'NEWER' titles from Cinebook for anything less than 500; especially because they do not have a Indian edition any more. And the Indian editions of older titles are already off the shelves, almost! Only a few volumes of different series like Thorgal, Scorpian, Navy Blues, etc. are available in some book stores and online shops - I will try to buy these in the coming months; I am already over quota this month! ;)

I have been blogging on Bladepedia in Tamil for more than an year now and that really has helped polish my Tamil writing skills! But, even after 16 long years on the job - professional business written communication could not do the same magic to my English! ;) May be this new blog will do the trick in less number of years, let's see! :) May god save you guys!

The reason for naming this blog "GRAFIK COMICS" is very obvious - I wanted the blog name to represent both Graphic Novels and Comics! And yes I did create a a facebook page too - for micro posts & updates!

Bye for now guys, it is time to get Grafiking; I have some serious readings to do! :)