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Have you ever wondered where the Smurfs came from? Once in a blue moon, a Smurf is delivered to the Village by a stork... but long before that, a man named Peyo created The Smurfs.
Peyo & The Smurfs

Who was the man who dropped out of art school almost as soon as he entered, and whose teacher told him he had no future in cartooning?

Who was the mastermind behind the blue empire that helped define a generation of kids in the 1980s?

The television show he inspired ran for nearly ten years. His ephemera invaded the homes of millions. Little blue and white creatures were everywhere - and one man from Belgium was responsible for it all.

Pierre Culliford Loves The Smurfs
Meet Pierre Culliford aka "Peyo"
The Smurfs begin with a man named Pierre Culliford, otherwise known as Peyo. Peyo was born in Brussels, Belgium in 1928 to an English father and a Belgian mother.

Smurf Cartoonist Peyo
Smurf daydreams about Johan & Pirlout, Benoit Brisefer and Poussy.

Creation of The Smurfs
Creation of The Smurfs
He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels but dropped out at 17 to work in advertising. This brought him together with another cartoonist, Maurice de Bevere (aka Morris), who went on to create Lucky Luke in 1946.

Peyo followed suit in 1947 and created Johan for La Derniere Heure. This "prototype" Johan strip was about a medieval page boy and ran for a single year.

Peyo also made comics for other publications, including one about a cute kitten called "Poussy" (Pussy) as well as the Indian brave title "Pied Tendre" (Tenderfoot).

Peyo decided to follow Morris to the popular weekly comic "Spirou" in 1954. Johan needed some retooling, so his hair color was changed from blond to black. He was given a "peewee" sidekick. Pirlouit (also called Peewee or Peewit) was his mischeivous new companion who brought levity and conflict to the comic. The comic was renamed Johan et Pirlouit.

It was, in fact, Johan et Pirlouit that gave birth to Peyo's most popular creation... The Smurfs!

1958 was the year it all began - the year that would change Peyo's life and legacy forever.

Two important things happened in 1958:
  • The Smurfs were born
  • Smurf figurines made their debut

In 1958, Peyo created a Johan et Pirlouit story called La Flûte à Six Trous (The Flute with Six Holes). In this story, Johan and Pirlouit meet our little blue buddies, The Smurfs, for the very first time. The Smurfs1 are three apples tall2 and live during the medieval era. Peyo has stated that the Smurfs were inspired by the trolls of Nordic fairy tales, and that the Smurfs' blue pallor was selected because it was a color he thought children would like. Dupuis, the company that published Spirou, released a Pirlouit figurine that same year as well. Slowly but surely Peyo's Smurf figurine army was beginning to assemble - starting with a single Pirlouit figure.

The Smurfs First Appearance
The Smurfs First Appearance
Original 1958 Smurfs Drawing
Original 1958 Smurfs Drawing

Spirou wanted to see if The Smurfs could be spun-off from Johan et Pirlouit. They tested The Smurfs comic in special mini-stories3 to see if the Smurfs would be popular solo. And yes, readers loved The Smurfs! Not only did The Smurfs become a standalone comic, they had there very own figurine debut. Numerous Dupuis figures were released between 1959 and 1966. Schleich started making Smurf figures in 1965 and still do to this day. The Smurfs soon eclipsed Johan and Pirlouit in popularity.

Spirou Magazine # 2857
Spirou Magazine #2857
Smurf Cover
Spirou Magazine featuring Peyo # 3423
Spirou Magazine #3423
featuring Peyo
50 Years of The Smurfs
50 Years of The Smurfs

The Smurfs were popular basically everywhere French-language comics were sold in the 1960s. A Smurf film was the next logical step. La Flûte à Six Trous - a full length Smurf movie, was released in 1976. All the Smurfs needed to do next was conquer the rest of the world in multiple languages.

In 1978, Father Abraham released his famous Smurf Song. The song was an instant hit, and most importantly, it was in English. Finally, the Smurfs were accessible and relevant to English-speaking audiences. Almost the instant after Father Abraham released his song, the UK, Australia and North America began to take notice of the Smurfs. The stage was set for an American invasion - one started in the most peculiar way imaginable: all thanks to a little girl.

The Smurfs on NBC

Melissa Silverman loved the Smurfs. Melissa wanted a Smurfs TV show. Melissa could make it happen. How could this little girl make a Smurfs TV show? Anything is possible when your dad is NBC television executive Fred Silverman!

Mr. Silverman contacted Hanna Barbera and the famous Smurf animated series was born. It really was that simple.

Peyo's creation began to ride a tidal-wave of success.
NBC Smurfs
NBC Smurfs

Peyo could not have imagined how popular his little blue friends would become. During the height of the Smurfs' mania, he once lamented that he liked Johan et Pirlouit more than the Smurfs. Even Peyo, the Smurfs creator, was overwhelmed by the Smurfs' success. The sheer volume of Smurf figurines, plush dolls, music and other collectibles (like badges, mugs and bedding, etc.) sold in the American market was astounding. Coleco and Wallace Berrie made every type of Smurf toy imaginable. It was absolutely impossible to be alive in the United States and not see, hear, and experience the Smurfs in the 1980s. They were everywhere: even live Smurf mascots could be found at amusement parks! The Smurfs were icons of the 1980s but things started to slow down in 1989. Once The Smurfs cartoon show ended, Smurf mania began to subside. It was an amazing decade... but the Smurf fun isn't over yet!

Pierre Culliford
Pierre Culliford - Father of The Smurfs
The Smurfs Creator - Peyo
The Smurfs Creator - Peyo

The Smurfs didn't disappear, however. Nothing could stop the success of Peyo's creation - not even his own death. Peyo died of a heart attack on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1992. Unhappy though his death was, Peyo had created something much bigger than himself. Peyo's heirs have continued to support the Smurfs with collectibles, promotions and publications throughout Europe and the rest of the world. In America, Peyo's legacy continues with the Columbia Pictures Smurf Movie being released in 2011, part of a planned trilogy. Thanks to the movie, we are finally getting new waves of Smurf collectibles too. It is an amazing time for Smurf collectors because of all the exciting new merchandise (toys, books, clothing and more) currently available for sale. Peyo's creation is alive and smurfing!

Oh...and how did Peyo he get his nickname, you ask? And what about the word "Smurf"? Like all good art, the word "Smurf" echoes from somewhere else. In this case, the German surnames "Schlumpf" and "Schlumpff". The story goes a little somthing like this... Peyo was at the dinner table and found himself at a loss for a word. He ended up saying, "Pass the ... er ... er ... Schtroumpf" (the equivalent of the colloquial term "whatchamacallit"). The word had just the kind of audial quality he was seeking for his newest creation. Thus, the Smurfs were born. It is appropriate that a word-accident lead to the naming of the Smurfs, because Culliford's own sobriquet, Peyo, is the result of his cousin's inability to pronounce his Dutch name, "Pierrot", properly.

Read what everyone has to say about Peyo...
and share YOUR thoughts here!

1The Smurfs are tiny little creatures that live in a hidden village deep within the forest. They're blue, wear white hats and pants, and stand about three apples tall. Some Smurfs, like Papa Smurf, wear special outfits - his hat and pants are uniquely red.

2The original French comics actually use the expression "haut comme trois pommes", which simply means "small", and has nothing to do with apples. It is analogous to how the English expression "knee high to a grasshopper" doesn't actually have anything to do with grasshoppers (it is an expression about being very young). Regardless, Hanna Barbera turned "three apples tall" into one of the dominant phrases associated with the Smurfs. "Three Apples Tall" is now synonymous with "The Smurfs".

3Mini-stories (mini-récit) were special stories that the reader would detach from the center of the Spirou comic and fold into tiny little mini-comics.

Nine Culliford
Nine Culliford (Peyo's Widow)
Thierry Culliford
Thierry Culliford (Peyo's Son)

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