Back when the first wave of Smurfs popularity hit in the 80s, I had several album-sized translations of Peyo’s original comics. They were my first introduction to Euro-comics, and I adored them. Those books have been lost through multiple moves, so I was heartened to hear that NBM, through their Papercutz imprint of children’s comics, was bringing new editions to the U.S.
The first two volumes, The Purple Smurfs and The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, are out now in hard-cover and soft-cover editions. I sprung for the hard-cover editions, and I’m glad I did. They’re nice, sturdy books that look good on my shelf, next to my Asterix books. Which leads to my only major complaint with these editions: they’re small. I prefer my European comics in album format, but Papercutz has gone for a size that’s close to the trade paperback size for novels. It’s the same approximate size that many of the graphic novels aimed at children and teens are published in, and I’m sure it’s preferable to the book trade, so I can see the logic in going with this size. At the small size, some of the lettering becomes absolutely tiny and hard to read, however, and details of some of the art feels lost.
Apart from that, the production quality is very good. The design uses a blue spine with white backgrounds on the covers, giving them a nicely uniform appearance that also matches the blue and white color scheme of the Smurfs themselves. Despite the tiny text that pops up from time to time, the font used for the lettering closely approximates the lettering style in the original comics, which is a nice detail. The computer lettering is occasionally distracting when it is used to label objects that were clearly meant to be hand-lettered, but that’s a minor nuisance I can live with. The coloring is also faithful to the original colors, with bold, matte colors used throughout and very little of the gradient-heavy, obviously computer-assisted coloring that most contemporary comics use.
The Purple Smurfs is actually a collection of three short Smurfs stories. The lead story, “The Purple Smurfs” is an action tale about a contagion that spreads through the Smurf village, transforming the normally agreeable blue imps into vicious, tail-biting purple monsters. It’s largely a comedic spin on the sort of structure that would come to dominate zombie stories, and is a pretty good adventure story akin to an Asterix tale or a Barks duck story. “The Flying Smurf” is a more typical Smurf story, about a Smurf who suddenly develops a mania for flight, and whose attempts to achieve his goal result in chronic, humorous misfires and the ire of the other Smurfs. The final story, “The Smurf and his Neighbors” is in the same vein, a brief morality tale about being careful what you ask for, focused on a Smurf who moves out into the woods to escape his annoying neighbors and learns to regret it. All three stories are funny, with snappy dialogue and gorgeous, expressive cartoon art from Peyo, and a lead story that’s fun and adventurous.
The second volume, The Smurfs and the Magic Flute is actually The Flute with Six Holes, a Johan and Peewit story by Yvan Delporte and Peyo that introduces the Smurfs. It’s fairly typical of European children’s adventure comics, with typically engaging art by Peyo, but the story is overly long and highly repetitive. The plot involves Peewit stumbling upon a flute that compels people to dance before collapsing in exhaustion, which is quickly stolen from him by a conman, prompting Peewit and the young knight Johan to attempt to recover it before too much havoc can be wreaked across the country. The Smurfs don’t even appear until the midway point of the story, as the creators of the flute, and are mostly recognizable, though still very visibly an early, rough design in comparison to their later, more refined appearance. In the end it’s a slight story, fairly unremarkable, and primarily notable for being the first appearance of the Smurfs.