Review by Jamie McNeil
The Smurfs & Friends Vol.2 continues to showcase a wider selection of Smurfs creator Peyo’s work on his other creations, and the work of others on the Smurfs. Peyo owes a great deal to the animated TV series that aired between 1981 to 1989. Peyo also worked on the storylines for that show and those who watched it as kids remember it fondly, and one result was the increased popularity of the Smurfs’ nemesis Gargamel. Peyo, the consummate businessman, commissioned companion guides to the series. They regularly featured Gargamel and his various relatives, all sharing a physical resemblance. This collection opens with some of those stories collected as ‘The Smurfs Universe’.
There’s a run in with an ogre and Gargy’s twin brother pays a visit. His triplet nephews learn how to catch Smurfs, and his cousin Sagratamabarb the Sorcerer moves into the neighbourhood. They all look more like the show’s animation than Peyo’s familiar smooth line, with the panels more detailed, and while the illustration is good, it feels cramped sometimes. It’s the latter of the four tales, ‘Gargamel’s Nephews’ and ‘Sagratamabarb’ that are best. It’s odd to think the TV show courted its share of controversy during the 1980s when Christian groups denounced themes of magic and sorcery and, frankly, Gargamel was terrifying. ‘Sagratamabarb’ (also in Gargamel and the Smurfs) would have them clutching their pearls with its wonderfully illustrated entities. There’s a devilish delight to imps and demons, and its a little scary even now. Among the Smurfs material is the second collection of ‘The Smurfs Comic Strips’, 120 single and treble panel gag strips. Funny and dynamic, they use real life circumstances and human interactions to brilliant effect.
Peyo’s first attempt at long-form narrative was Johan for the long-running French comic Spirou, and the second installment, ‘The Baron of Roucybeauf’, continues Johan’s solo adventures. In it he helps the Knight Hugh solve the mystery of his missing father, the baron of the title. When Hugh returns home after a three year absence, he finds the barony in a sad state. Later Johan foils an assassination attempt on his life. Together they must uncover the ring-leader: Hugh’s brother Bertrand, cousin Thibaud or Uncle Amauri? Published in 1953, it has the same period charm of its predecessor but with noticeable improvements to the art and writing. The line’s smoother, and there’s more detail to medieval buildings. Sadly the big battle scenes from ‘The Punishment of Basenhau’ (see Smurfs & Friends Vol.1), are absent. Combat is still energetic but there are hardly ever more than four people in a scene. The improvement is that more attention is given to each character. It’s an on-the-job learning curve, but Peyo learned swiftly.
Ten years later he created Benny Breakiron (Benoit Brisefr) and ran his own studio. Benny is a little boy with superhuman abilities, though no one believes him. ‘Madame Adolphine’ bases its plot around a polite elderly lady of the same name Benny meets in the park. When she suddenly collapses, Benny helps out, but she seems to undergo a dramatic personality change the next day. Benny sets about investigating it all with charming child-like innocence. It’s a neat story with artist Will providing the sumptuous backgrounds. You can find it separately as Benny Breakiron: Madame Adolphine.
All in all this is a nice collection of work from Peyo the man and the brand. Smurfologist Matt Murray’s notes are interesting, the stories are charming and the artwork is great. Papercutz has more of Peyo’s work to showcase in The Smurfs & Friends Vol. 3.