Peyo, Pierre Culliford, Creator of The Smurfs

January 25, 2008

     This year, 2008, The Smurfs celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of successful imp production. Fans around the globe are enthralled with the busy, little blue people and the mushroom village they call home. Using the pen name Peyo for his innovations, Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford spent his whole life as an enthusiastic, imaginative cartoonist and creator.

     The son of a Belgian mother and and English father, Pierre Culliford was born in Belgium on June 25, 1928. He attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, adopting the pen name Peyo as his signature. (Peyo was a shorter version of Pierrot, a form of the name Pierre.)

     On completing his studies at the Academy, the graduate had two choices in mind: dental assistant or illustrator. Arriving to find the dental job already taken, according to smurf.com, Peyo accepted a position with an animation firm called Compagnie Belge D'Animation, a "hothouse of comic strip artists". Unfortunately, the studio closed in short order, but it gave him an opportunity to meet like-minded artists. Finding work in advertising, Peyo created his first comic strip characters called "Johan". The cartoon creation was very popular and appeared in the comics pages of Le Dernière Heure, Le Soir and Le Journal de Spirou in the 1950s. Peyo also created another strip called Poussy for Le Soir. Eventually, his "Johan" character picked up a new sidekick in another strip, "Johan et Pirlouit".

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Image Courtesy HappySmurfday.com

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      In 1958, one episode of "Johan et Pirlouit" welcomed a bunch of little blue people, Les Schtroumpfs, as secondary characters. Peyo's editor "saw the possibilities of the 'Smurfs' and persuaded" him, noted Lambiek, "to create a spin-off". The Smurfs began running in the mini-recit section (mini-stories) of Le Journal de Spirou in 1959. With much fanfare for his new cartoon, Peyo drew them in larger size to fit the regular comics page instead. The cartoonist's imagination must have been running in overdrive. Soon after, he also began a strip, "Benoît Brisefer", and another one after that, "Jacky et Célestin".

    The popularity of The Smurfs caused Peyo to open his own studio, Cartoon Creation, hiring and training a number of Belgian cartoonists. The Smurfs not only appeared in magazines and books, they also had several musical hits, performed by Michel Legrand and Vader Abraham. Taking Belgium and Holland by storm, the world was next, with merchandise in almost every form. Peyo gradually eased out of the creation department and put himself into the business arm of his studio, watching over the huge merchandising section: licences for products were in the tens of thousands.

     It wasn't long before Hanna-Barbera, the renowned animated cartoon production firm, caught wind of The Smurfs - North America was enchanted with the little blue characters filled with personality and charm, and only one girl, Smurfette.  In 1981, The Smurfs were on Saturday morning televisions in Canada and the United States, the start of over 256 episodes. The cartoons are now enjoyed in at least 30 countries.

    Keeping it in the family, in the late 1980s, Peyo gave control of the Cartoon Création studio to his son, Thierry Culliford, and put his daughter, Véronique, in charge of IMPS, The Smurfs merchandising division.

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     Peyo, Pierre Culliford, died of a heart attack on December 24, 1992. He was 64 years old. His creations in good hands, The Smurfs continue to rule the world with new episodes, merchandise and books, as Peyo's legacy of a lifetime of imaginative work.

    In celebration of 50 years of The Smurfs, the Culliford family of Pierre's widow, Nine, his son Thierry and daughter Véronique are promoting the characters in lively stops in cities around Europe from January to October. Huge Smurf statues, Smurf films, Smurf goodies and small Smurfs for kids to paint themselves for a creativity contest, are all part of the year-long fun.

     Happy Smurfday, Culliford family!

    Visit the Happy Smurfday website.

    Visit The Smurfs site.

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© Susanna McLeod 2008
TheCartoonists.ca