Smurfs Vol. 1: The Purple Smurfs

Written by Peyo and Yvan Delporte
Art by Peyo
56 pages, color
Published by Papercutz

I have a confession to make: I was never a big Smurfs fan. It’s not that I disliked them, but rather that I never got swept up in Smurfmania when they made their big splash in the United States. So I watched the occasional episode of their show, and I remember flipping through some of the earlier printings of the Smurfs comic albums at my local bookstore. But I’d certainly never sat down and read one of the books until now, so with Papercutz’s low-priced reissues it seemed a good a chance as any. And you know what? Forget the insipid "la la la la la la" theme song from the animated show, this was a lot of fun.

The lead story, "The Purple Smurfs," is notable in part because it was originally not printed in the United States since the original version had the evil, infected Smurfs becoming black. Here, Papercutz took a cue from the animated series’s decision to make them purple, to avoid any unintentional statements about race. More importantly, though? I’m pretty sure the cartoon wasn’t so creepy. What starts as a simple fly beat turns into a rage-virus spread by one Smurf biting the next, and Peyo and Yvan Delporte let the decaying situation sneak up on the reader, until the village of Smurfs is almost entirely overtaken thanks to sheer numbers, even with an antidote in hand. The purple Smurfs are a dangerous foe here, and I have to commend them in keeping them dangerous from start to finish, even up until the moment of accidental victory.

While not at the same level as "The Purple Smurfs," there also a lot to like about "The Flying Smurf," the first of the two shorter stories included in this volume. Delporte and Peyo make the Smurf who is so desperate to fly a strange combination of pathetic and admirable, as he refuses to give up in his quest to become Flying Smurf. It’s a story that goes on slightly too long in the never-ending sequence of attempts and failures, although the growing chorus of annoyed Smurfs whose possessions he’s taken or ruined does get amusing. It’s some of the little things in Peyo’s art that I found especially amusing, like how the newly-heavy Flying Smurf’s feet are actually pushing the bottom panel border into a little wavy line as he walks across, or the looks of jubilation and despair on his face as his plans succeeded and then failed. It’s a nice story and it helps cement The Purple Smurfs as an enjoyable read.

The book concludes with "The Smurf and His Neighbors," a story originally from a much later volume but used to replace the story that introduced Gargamel that was included in a special introductory Smurfs comic earlier this year. (The editors do note that they will include "The Smurfnapper" in a later volume.) It’s not as strong as the first two, feeling rather simple as a Smurf is sick of everyone else in the village and tries briefly to move farther away for some peace and quiet. It’s lacking a bit of the subtlety that the stories written by Delporte had, and while it’s not bad, it’s definitely not as entertaining.

I have to give Delporte and Peyo credit; I never thought I’d find myself a fan of Smurfs graphic novels, but that’s exactly what happened here. And while I wish the books hadn’t been shrunken down (I do remember the old large albums from the first publishing attempt many years ago), at $5.99 a pop it’s hard to argue too much with the decision for smaller and more economical volumes. Generally speaking I’m getting sick of the invasion of pop culture from the ’80s, but I guess for Smurfs I’ll have to make an exception. It’s Smurftacular.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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