June 17th, 2009

A Pocket Full of Murder

I feel Blue

watchmebe a.k.a. Jackson Pearce (author of the forthcoming As You Wish, which I am dying to read) has posted a hilarious video from her recent trip to Savannah with the Gothic Girls, in which they all retell their stories using zombies.

But although this post was inspired by watching that video, it is not zombies I wish to speak of, dear readers. Rather, I was moved by the closing music of the video to talk about the Smurfs.

As a cynical child, I totally hated the Smurfs. All these smarmy little blue people being cute and singing their little la-la-la song, and the only hint of conflict or danger was that evil wizard Gargamel (whose motivations for persecuting the Smurfs were obscure to me, to say the least). When I sat down to watch Saturday morning cartoons, I resented the Smurfs for taking up time that could otherwise be spent watching shows that were really awesome, like Drak Pack and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.

But then one day I was browsing through my local bookstore, feeling frustrated that I already owned every Tintin comic in existence and that there weren't any new Asterix to be had, and I came upon -- what's this? -- an actual comic book of the Smurfs, as created by their original author, and translated into English by the same clever folk (Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge) who did Tintin and Asterix?


I picked it up. I flipped through it. I laughed in surprise.

And then I bought it.

You see, Peyo's Smurfs were not the nauseatingly perfect little darlings of the cartoon. They were not reduced to a convenient set of stereotypes endowed with different costumes so you could tell them apart (well, apart from the obvious differences of Papa Smurf and Smurfette, that is). They had actual attitude and personality, and what amused me most was that they used the word "smurf" in totally different ways than the cartoon did.

On TV, "smurf" was a cute little substitute for random nouns and verbs -- "Oh, that's absolutely smurfly! What a smurfy day for a picnic!" Whereas in the comic, "smurf" frequently ended up being a euphemism for things that could not be said in print. "I'll smurf you in the smurf, you smurfing smurf!" *cue tornado with flailing blue fists here*

And then of course Papa Smurf had to come break it up, but even he wasn't nearly so smug and condescending as in the TV series. He could be cranky and impatient and, well, more like a real person would be if they were saddled with being the father figure to a village full of little blue savages.

Okay, maybe I am exaggerating the Smurf aggression factor a little. But there was definitely enough wit (including sarcasm) and conflict that the Smurfs could actually have plots all their own, instead of having to rely on some outside baddie (i.e. Gargamel) to come and persecute them. In fact, Gargamel was hardly in the Smurf comics I read at all.

In short: TV Smurfs = meh. Comic Smurfs = kind of awesome.

You would think I would turn this into some deep authorial musing on the importance of writing three-dimensional characters with flaws as well as virtues, wouldn't you? Nah, you can probably figure that part out yourself.

However, I fear I have sad news. The Smurfs did not fade gently away when their TV show was cancelled, nor enjoy an eternally cozy existence between the pages of Peyo's comics.

No, I am afraid that with the full approval of their creator, they were bombed to death by UNICEF.

You think I'm kidding, don't you?

Which just goes to show, sometimes you can take that whole conflict thing a bit too far.