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The Smurfs Anthology

A sleepy European village finds itself torn apart by terror when one of their own gets bitten by a strange insect. Its venom turns his flesh the color of rot and leaves him insensate. The infection spreads as he pounces upon his fellow villagers and tries to tear at their skin with his teeth.

Early 60s Italian zombie movie, perhaps? Nope. I can't prove it, but Bava, Argento and maybe even George Romero just might have gotten their ideas from a Belgian cartoonist who took the name "Peyo."

How about this one? The kindly old wise man who leads the villagers must leave for a while to take care of some personal matters. In his absence, the villagers fight over who should be leader in his absence, scrolling through a variety of political forms until finally dictatorship threatens to destroy their way of life. Only the return of the wise man saves the village.

Political fable? In a kids' book? (Well, yes, Dr. Seuss did it in Yertle the Turtle, too.) But Peyo was coming from a deeper place -- having grown up in the shadow of Nazi Germany.

And yet his creations ARE delighting children, even today. Because I'm talking about The Smurfs. Forget what you know of them from the Hanna-Barbera animated series. Forget, perhaps, what you know from the upcoming Smurfs 2 (though that does feature the last performance of Jonathan Winters, so maybe it will have its value, too). Peyo's original European work has depth, charm and some top-notch cartooning.

The original graphic albums should stand proudly on a shelf alongside Tintin, Asterix and Pogo as sterling examples of the Ninth Art, and Peyo's reputation should be stronger than it is. Luckily, in the United States, Papercutz agrees. Or rather, I was able to find this out thanks to Papercutz.

For a couple of years, they've been releasing small paperback reprints of Peyo's work, which is great for kids. At last they're giving it the archive treatment, with the first volume hitting stores in plenty of time before the movie, to show you just how good the source material is.

In addition to "The Purple Smurf" (that proto-zombie story) and "The Smurf King,"The Smurfs Anthology vol. 1 features their first appearances in Peyo's previous series, Johan and Peewit. (Though it's a misrepresentation on the back cover -- though the Smurfs series itself is reprinted in chronological order, their first appearance is the last story in this volume.)

You may also encounter the origin of Gargamel's pursuit of the little blue people, which always seemed kind of arbitrary to me. I was wrong. Well, it's still kind of silly, but at least there's a reason.

The book itself is well put together, bright inks on slick paper that really make Peyo's work pop. In addition, Papercutz includes the original covers and articles putting the stories in context for their times, making it a value for archival potential while still being entertaining reading. For $19.99, it's also a pretty good deal.

I can't say how this stacks up to the movies (or vice versa, if you prefer), but this volume is good enough that I suddenly have the urge to see them.

Derek McCaw

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