On this day in 1958, the Smurfs, a fictional race of blue dwarves, later popularized in a Hanna-Barbera animated cartoon series), appear for the first time in the story La flute à six schtroumpfs, a Johan and Peewit adventure by Peyo which is serialized in the weekly comics magazine Spirou.
At the time he came up with the creative idea for the Smurfs, Peyo was the creator, artist, and writer of the Franco-Belgian comics series titled Johan et Pirlouit (translated to English as Johan and Peewit), set in Europe during the Middle Ages and including elements of sword-and-sorcery. Johan serves as a brave young page to the king, and Pirlouit (pronounced Peer-loo-ee) functions as his faithful, if boastful and cheating, midget sidekick.
In 1958, Spirou magazine started to publish the Johan et Pirlouit story La Flûte à six trous (“The Flute with Six Holes”). The adventure involved them recovering a magic flute, which required some sorcery by the wizard Homnibus. In this manner they met a tiny, blue-skinned humanoid creature in white clothing called a “Schtroumpf”, followed by his numerous peers who looked just like him, with an elderly leader who wore red clothing and had a white beard. Their first appearance was published in Spirou on October 23, 1958. The characters proved to be a huge success, and the first independent Smurf stories appeared in Spirou in 1959, together with the first merchandising. The Smurfs shared more adventures with Johan and Pirlouit, got their own series and all subsequent publications of the original story were retitled La Flûte à six Schtroumpfs (also the title of the movie version of the story).
The original term and the accompanying language came during a meal Peyo was having with his colleague and friend André Franquin at the Belgian Coast. Having momentarily forgotten the word “salt”, Peyo asked him (in French) to pass the schtroumpf. Franquin jokingly replied: “Here’s the Schtroumpf—when you are done schtroumpfing, schtroumpf it back…” and the two spent the rest of that weekend speaking in “schtroumpf language”. The name was later translated into Dutch as Smurf, which was adopted in English.
With the commercial success of the Smurfs came the merchandising empire of Smurf miniatures, models, games, and toys. Entire collecting clubs have devoted themselves to collecting PVC Smurfs, and Smurf merchandise. In 2011, McDonalds produced a range of Smurf toys, including all of the famous characters, including Papa Smurf and Baby Smurf.
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