What if I told you the first dedicated Smurfs story was a 1950s zombie tale?
Whether a rookie card or the first appearance of a comic character I was trained by guides to value more things than others things in hobbies and recently I picked up some related to the Smurfs, a cartoon that’s reruns was on constant rotation when I was really young.
The Smurfs, however, I think are MUCH older than most think.
The Smurfs were created by Peyo and first appeared in the 1950s, in a French/Belgian comic magazine called Spirou and look largely the same today as they did in their debut.
The image above is the very first time a full Smurf ever appeared in 1958 when they appeared in the storyline La Flûte à six trous (“The Flute with Six Holes”) in a chapter of a continuing story centering around Johan et Pirlouit or, if you are an American and recall the cartoons, Johan and Peewit.
The next issue of Spirou would feature the Smurfs first cover appearance, including an ax-wielding Papa Smurf.
I have a few sets of these now but always on the lookout for items like this that combine pop culture items from my life and hobbies that I already am a part of like comics.
The Smurf brand has taken a bit of a hit, to say the least, in recent years with some truly fundamentally bad films but it was still a definite part of my early childhood.
When considering character designs as it relates to iconic characters, they are largely identifiable to their first iterations: Spider-Man, Batman (even with Bob Kane’s shitty art), and even newer character like Deadpool are largely visually the same as they were, even though dozens to hundreds of creators have since added their own spin to them.
Here are the Smurfs. Sixty years later and they look like… the Smurfs. I’m kind of here for Papa Smurf Ax Rampage though.
Speaking of Papa Smurf. Ever see him without his hat?
I got you.
Some issues of Spirou, which was an anthology of many comics, at this time also came with mini-comics within them. One of the earlier ones was this one:
Les Schtroumpfs noirs (The Black Smurfs) was released in 1958 (and later published in a collected album and adapted to the cartoon) and besides being a zombie-ish Smurf story it has I think the only time we’ve seen anything challenge Papa Smurf to the extent of knocking off his iconic hat.
I have to admit I never really considered crucial questions like what hairstyle would Papa Smurf be rocking? Do all the Smurfs share the same one? Does the the later appearance of Smurfette usher in a new sense of style to the Smurfs? Peyo had the answer, at least to the first question, almost from the beginning.
Papa Smurf went bald with his traditional strong facial hair. You will notice, as the title indicates, Papa Smurf is black after catching the boom (or BAOM! to be precise). In the animated and recent U.S. Smurf adaptations the ailment makes Smurfs purple, a switch presumably made to be less socially problematic, and is titled The Purple Smurfs.
This mini-comic is actually the first 100% Smurfs publication, not being part of an anthology.
As a comic and manga collector I love getting and seeing these early appearances of characters and properties and being able to experience them in their primal form, and to think that from this Belgian mini-comic, which would fit completely in the palm of a child’s hand would be adapted several decades later into a cartoon that would be part of a time where Smurfs were ubiquitous in a decade’s childhood in the United States.
But what about the most famous Smurf? Their better half?
Peyo created and introduced the Smurfs in 1958 in the pages of Spirou but it would be 8 years later… I’m guessing eight LONG years later if you’re a pre-existing Smurf to be blessed with a better half version of themselves.
… and they have their arch-nemesis to thank for it.
A couple issues earlier Smurfette was created by Gargamel in a scheme to get at the Smurfs and this strip, fresh out of yesterday’s mailbox, is Smurfette’s first full appearance and you will immediately notice something different about her.
Smurfette a brunette?
She would not get her much more signature blonde locks for another 8 issues, courtesy of Papa Smurf (I’d say the local expert on unique head fashion in Smurf Village).
Important: Smurfette does debut matching though. White hat, sundress, and kicks, she’s out there.
What I like about just looking at this one page strip in an issue full of many other creator’s strips is that much like with the best Disney comics, Peyo’s storytelling language is universal just with his imagery. When reading it just now it never occurs to you that you don’t speak or read the language within the word balloons.
- If you enjoyed this and want to check out the first appearance of the Smurfs’ arch nemesis, check out my post on Gargamel.