Whereas the Smurfs owe their global popularity and being a household name to the animated American television series of the 1980s, they had actually debuted in the comics medium in continental Europe in the late 1950s.
The Smurfs were created by the Belgian comics artist Pierre Culliford (1928-1992) who signed his works as "Peyo". In 1946, Peyo had created a strip for the Belgian newspaper La Derniére Heure chronicling the adventures of a medieval page named Johan. In 1952, he began working for the comics magazine Spirou and continued writing and drawing Johan there, soon to be re-titled as 'Johan et Pirlouit' as the lead character was joined by a side-kick. Peyo introduced the Smurfs (Les Schtroumpfs) in the 9nth 'Johan et Pirlouit' adventure serialized in Spirou. Originally titled as 'La Flûte à six trous [The flute with six holes]', this adventure, which began in Spirou no. 1047 dated May 8th, 1958 and ended in no. 1086 dated February 5th, 1959, revolves around an enchanted flute which compels everyone around to go dancing involuntarily when played. Accidentaly left behind from a street seller, Pirlouit gets hold of it.
On page 18, the readers are given a glimpse a pair of mysterious eyes spying on Johan and Pirlouit:
On pages 20-21, when this mysterious creature unsuccessfully attempts to pilfer the flute, we see that s/he has blue hands!, and that's when the word "schtroumpf" is first uttered:
Eventually, a villainous human character steals the flute from Pirlouit and begans to utilize it in a series of robberies as a means to incapacitate everyone around by compelling them to dance! Realizing that the only way to defeat this villain is to have another enchanted flute, Johan and Pirlouit go to their old acquaintance, Homnibus the enchanter.
Homnibus tells them that the enchanted flutes are manufactured by Les Schtroumpfs who live in the "cursed land!" where no road leads to. To go there, "one must cross raging streams, marshes that emit deadly vapours, forests infested with snakes and quicksands"... However, Homnibus manages to somehow transport Johan and Pirlouit to the land of the Smurfs by "hypnokinésie" and our heroes finally meet a smurf in full person on page 37:
Note that the pyhsical apperance of the smurfs as first drawn by Peyo way back in 1958 is slightly different than we are now used to, with respect to their hats especially. The smurf village seen for the first time in the same page is also located in a rather bleak terrain, much different than the green landscape we are used to:
Papa Smurf or Grand Schtroumpf, as he is named in the original French-language editions, is introduced to Johan and Pirlouit in the next page:
In this adventure, only Papa Smurf is differentiated from the rest of the smurfs none of whom are given individual identities.
The rest of the adventure has the smurfs making an enchanted flute for Johan and Pirlouit who use it to overpower the villain. In the end, the smurfs take back the enchanted flutes so that they won't fall into wrong hands again.
The Smurfs would soon have their own adventures in pocket-sized supplements of Spirou and when 'La Flûte à six trous' would eventually be reprinted in album format in 1960, it would be re-titled as La Flûte à six schtroumpfs to acknowledge the newly rising popularity of the Smurfs. It would also be adapted to the screen as a feature-length animated movie in 1975, which I will cover in this blog in the future.
The next post in this blog will be on the rather unbeliavable Turkish edition of 'La Flûte à six trous/schtroumpfs'.