Smurfy-day Mornings of the 1980s

La La-La La La La-La La La La La

That was a tune I heard every Saturday morning throughout the 1980s. It was the tune sung by those forest dwelling creatures, the Smurfs.

I was a big Smurf fan when I was a kid and I still am. You can see by these photos. The first is the shelf above my drawing table. The second is of my comic collection. I love them so much they aren’t put away in boxes and proudly displayed on my bookshelf. They are currently being published by Papercutz and I highly recommend visiting your local comic shop and picking them up. The last picture is of my closet door where a Papa Smurf poster hang.

Although the Smurfs hit the Saturday morning airwaves in September 1981, they got their start 23 years earlier. The Smurfs first appeared as a Franco-Belgian comic in 1958 created by Pierre Culliford popularly known by his pen name, Peyo.

At the time Peyo was working on a comic called Johan and Peewit as they are called in America. Peyo was telling their adventures since 1947. Johan and Peewit was a fantasy sword and sorcery story set in the Middle Ages. In one adventure, a magic flute was causing havoc within the kingdom. Johan and Peewit got help from the Smurfs to deal with the flute. The Smurfs were so popular that by 1959 they appeared in their first solo adventure.

Before airing on Saturday mornings and being produced by Hanna-Barbera, the Smurfs made their first animated appearance in the European movie “The Smurfs and the Magic Flute”. It was based on their introduction comic and directed by their creator. I’m sure I’ll discuss this movie in the future so I won’t say much about it now. All I’ll say is that it was made in 1976 and if you are a Smurf fan it is worth the watch.

Now that you know a slight history, it’s time to GET IN TOON! with classic animated series with a nine year run, The Smurfs.

Premiering September 12, 1981 the series focused on the Smurfs. They were blue skinned and measured three apples high (about 3 inches). All the smurfs, but a few, wore white pants and a white hat. Papa Smurf wore red and had a white beard. He was the only smurf with facial hair besides Grandpa who appeared years later in the series. It’s almost impossible to tell Smurfs apart as they all look alike. The way to tell them apart was by their names which were based on their traits. For example there was Jokey who liked to give others exploding presents and laugh. Lazy preferred to sleep. Handy built things and Hefty was the strong one. Brainy was a bookworm and Vanity loved looking at himself in the mirror. They all lived in the Smurf Village in mushroom houses.

Very few humans knew of their existence. Johan and Peewit knew them of course. As did Homnibus, Mother Nature and the evil wizard Gargamel. The show primarily featured Gargamel and his cat Azreal trying to capture the smurfs. Gargamel wants the greatest wizard nor did he have any good luck. His home was a hovel. Made of stone with a straw roof, Gargamel was always up to no good but the Smurfs always foiled his plans. Sometimes when I go back and watch the show I actually feel bad for Gargamel. I don’t root for him to win and catch the Smurfs to turn them into gold (come on he is the bad guy) but I feel bad because of how he was written. It obvious Gargamel had a rough life. He’s bullied by every other wizard and ogre the like. His financial situation was bleak and when he’d lose, Gargamel would whine. Even though he was the villain all Gargamel was trying to do was improve his life. To me that’s great writing. Here in a simple kids cartoon we’re given a character who seems simple on the surface but is a very layered character. That’s some good storytelling. There was even a couple of times Gargamel showed he had a heart like in the 1982 TV movie, The Smurfs Christmas Special. It’s because he shows his heart I feel for Gargamel. It shows there is good in him, even if it’s buried incredibly deep within him. Without that Gargamel is a stereotypical bad guy that just does bad things for the sake of being bad. Honestly, Gargamel having a heart is rare. Beside the Christmas special, there is only other one time I remember. I don’t remember when it exactly was or what the episode was about. It was sometime between season 6 and 8 when Gargamel had a young apprentice named Scruple. All I remember was a kindness Gargamel showed to Scruple. It was only for a moment but it was there. At least, that’s how I remember it.

I love animation so much and there is something in almost every cartoon that will make me say, this is my favorite because…, but Hanna-Barbera is my all time favorite company. The art of the Smurfs is a thing of beauty. Taking Peyo’s style and adding the Hanna-Barbera flair made a lasting influence on my art. My style is very much Hanna-Barbera meets Peyo as you can see from artwork below.

Now let’s take a look at some of the art from the Smurfs. You can see how the art influences what I do.

The Smurfs animated series was targeted to children and the stories were very easy to follow. Episodes worked in two different ways. One week we’d see a full half hour episode while other weeks there would be two shorter stories within the thirty minute time slot. The stories were adapted from Peyo’s original comics. One of my favorite episodes was called “The Smurf’s Apprentice” where a Clumsy Smurf wanted to be Papa’ apprentice and was upset when Papa told him Brainy is more than enough of an apprentice. The next day Clumsy finds himself at Gargamel’s and steals a page from One of the evil wizard’s spellbook turning himself into a scaly lizard creature. With the help of Papa and his friends they return to Gargamel’s hovel to find the antidote.

The original Smurfs animated series lasted nine years and has made a lasting impression on children of the 80’s. In recent years the Smufs made a come back in CG animated films which I’m sure I’ll discuss in a future blog. Between comics, television, and movies the Smurfs have been around for 70+ years which demonstrates staying power. You can find some of the Smurfs series on DVD. I own a few of the DVDs, however I have been unable to find the completed series on DVD. I’m not sure but I don’t think the completed series is available in the United States. I highly recommend this series to kids of all ages.


Fantasy Storytelling

On Sunday February 10, 2019 I turned 43 years old. It was the first day in a long time I took a day to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a while. Starting at 9:30am I started a Lord of the Rings movie marathon. I pulled out my blu-ray extended edition of the movies and spent twelve hours with my wife watching my favorite trilogy series. February 10, 2019 was honestly the most relaxing and enjoyable birthday I’ve had in a while and may have to make this a tradition.

I’ve always loved fantasy stories. I can’t remember when it exactly started but I’m going to date it to September 17, 1983 when I was seven years old. It was on that date when the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon premiered. To this day it may be my all time action/adventure cartoon series. In my opinion, a cartoon series it still holds up today story-wise. I actually pull out the DVD set and watch it from beginning to end at least twice a year.

So why do I love fantasy stories so much? Simple, it’s because the fantasy genre is so open. Truthfully, anything that can’t happen in reality is considered fantasy. That means characters like Superman are technically fantasy. However, when most people think of fantasy they think of warriors, dragons, wizards, and such which is what I like to think about.

The reason I like fantasy is because I’ve always liked mythological creatures and stories which are woven in to a lot of fantasy stories. I’ll never meet a dragon or a elf or even a gryphon. Not that I’d want to meet any up close and personal but I like the idea of their existence in these stories and that’s the important thing. When I read a book, watch a movie or show, or read a comic I’m transported into these worlds. The characters are real to me but I’m just playing make believe in my mind.

Having this “pretend” experience is important to our brain. Not only does the story allow us an escape from our lives or to experience emotions by feeling for the characters, but it expands our imagination. I’ve talked to parents and children for years about the importance of creative play. Today, with kids on so many digital devices they are losing creative play. They spend too much time playing someone else’s imagination. I know what you’re going to say, “Michael, you just said that you play make believe by experiencing other people’s story so aren’t you contradicting yourself?” Actually, I’m not. As a child creative play is important to development. Imagination is important and something that should be cultivated in youth. Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge” and I’ve always believed that. Nothing happens without someone imagining it and then figuring out the knowledge of how to bring it to life. That’s why it’s important to have that creative play when the imaginative mind is fertile.

When I was kid my creative play mostly came from my action figures. He-Man was able to meet the Transformers and Batman. I even took it further and made my own paper figures and built ships and caves and rooms for those paper figures to interact with. There were other things I could have done but didn’t do for one reason or another.

One thing I never did as kid but wanted to was play Dungeons & Dragons. The cartoon introduced me to the world. I even picked up some of the manuals which I read and drew out of. However, I never played because I didn’t know anyone who did and at that time you were made fun of if you did. As a kid I was a bit of an outcast in school and didn’t need another reason to be made fun of. When I look back, I do wish I looked for people to play with. I didn’t play my first game until a few years back and I loved it. Now, I’m get ready to DM (Dungeon Master) my first game soon.

What I love about D&D is that it allows me to pretend I’m someone I could never be and do things I could never do like be a dragon born ranger that fights goblins in a dark forest. This game isn’t just for kids but for adults as well. As I researched more and more about D&D, I found out there is so much to the game. You can play it basic with just some paper and pencils and play what they call theater of the mind where you imagine everything in your head. However, there are visuals such as figures and sets you can use to have a visual representation of your game. There is a whole lot of do it yourself crafting that can be done. What I love most about the game is the storytelling aspect. Even though the DM sets up the story it’s a community storytelling game. The players say what they want to do and use dice to see how what they want to do works out. Based on the roll of dice the DM will explain the outcome so the DM’s story may change a bit.

I think role playing is a great way to have creative play for everyone. It doesn’t have to be Dungeons & Dragons. If you like science fiction there are Star Wars role playing games. There are horror role playing games. Actually, there are role playing games for every genre. Just look around and see what’s out there. My preference is fantasy worlds like Dungeons & Dragons.

One my birthday I couldn’t not draw. Even though I was watching Lord of the Rings I drew a piece from the Hobbit when Bilbo meets Gollum. Here is the pen and ink drawing.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Bilbo Baggins, here is a little song to tell you.

Fantasy is a great way to escape reality and explore imagination. You don’t have to enjoy fantasy for the reasons I do. Heck, you don’t even have to like the fantasy genre. I’m just sharing my thoughts and enjoyment on the genre. It’s the type of storytelling I most enjoy and we’re our lives is based around storytelling. From books to tv to movies to advertisements and even just telling someone how your day was, we are surrounded my stories.

If you’d like to learn more about storytelling you can purchase my app “A Simple Guide to Storytelling” app on both iOS and android for a reasonable price.

Remember, there is always time to GET IN TOON!