The World of Smurfs Matt. Murray Interview!

A few days ago I posted my review for the upcoming book, The World of Smurfs: A Celebration of Tiny Blue Proportions. Well, today I am honored to post this interview with its author and the world’s only Smurfologist, Matt. Murray!


Photo of Matt. Murray and Veronique Culliford (Peyo’s Daughter)

First of all I would like to thank you very much for not only taking the time to answer some questions but for crafting such a wonderful book in the first place,

Thank you for reading it. I approached the project from the perspective of writing something that I would want to read myself – so, I’m glad to see my tastes aren’t too far off the mark.

It’s not everyday I’m afforded the honor of interviewing the world’s first Smurfologist!

I’m probably not the “first” Smurfologist… I’m just the first one that I know of who was willing to call themselves that in a museum full of people. Five years later, I’m still shocked that people listen. Happy, but shocked.

I was wondering, would you mind telling our readership some of the other cartoons you featured in your “Saturday Morning” exhibit and their relevance?

The exhibit featured art and artifacts from nearly 100 different programs from the 1950s straight through to the 00s. (The exhibit was mounted in 2006 and closed in 2007.) A majority of the work came from the Golden Age of Saturday Morning, which lasted from 1966-90. Some of my favorite pieces included a cel of Wilma Flintstone smoking a cigarette from the Winston ads, an original drawing from “Conjunction Junction,” and a cel from the Ralph Bakshi reboot of “Mighty Mouse.” The big attraction at the exhibit, however, was the 3 foot by 3 foot Smurf Village that was loaned to us by Schleich – the company that has created the Smurfs figurines since the 1960s. While I can discuss why any one of those pieces is significant either socially or politically, their true significance and relevance – indeed the true significance of art, if I can be snooty and erudite for a minute – comes from the joy that art brings to the viewer. And I gotta tell ya, it was fantastic to see so many people – from 8 months to 80 years old – walk through the gallery saying “Oh my God! I remember that” and spend time examining their favorite pieces.

While reading The World of Smurfs as I stated in the review, I was very happy with the reproductions and the other ephemera provided in the book. I was also very impressed by the “comic book” pages of Peyo’s work you provided, especially those of Johan and Pirlouit. For the many of us that still hold the Smurfs close to our hearts, which of Peyo’s stories would you recommend we seek out first?

Okay, in the spirit of full disclosure I should let you and your readers know that I’m listed as the “Smurf Consultant” in the series of Smurfs reprints currently being offered by Papercutz Graphic Novels. These are fabulous English language translations of the original Peyo comics that have been available in Europe starting in the late 1950s, and they mark the first time that some of those stories have seen publication in the US. They should be available in bookstores and comic shops everywhere – now for you naysayers and cynics at home – this isn’t really a schill but an honest recommendation, as I’m not paid by Papercutz for my role, and the current printings of the French language albums are hard to come by in the States and will run you $35 and up depending on who you buy them from. The Papercutz books will set you back $6 each. $11 if you choose the hardcover.

If you’re into Johan and Pirlouit (aka Peewit) Papercutz has reprinted “La flute a six trous” as “The Smurfs and the Magic Flute.” Although it features the Smurfs’ first appearance, they are secondary characters, a fact that seems to disappoint some fans. My personal favorite is “Le Schtroumpfissme” or “The Smurf King” which was kinda Peyo and Yvan Delporte’s take on Europe during the Nazi regime.

As a huge fan of Jokey from the NBC series from 1981 to 1989, I was shocked to find out in your book that legendary animation voice actress June Foray was the voice of my favorite character.

I loved the fact that she was Chatty Kathy AND her Twilight Zone doppelganger Talky Tina! June Foray is such a talent. Huge fan.

Who by chance is your favorite character from the Smurf animated series?

When I was growing up, Jokey was my favorite as well. Now in my thirties, I find myself a Papa Smurf guy.

Another interesting by-product of “growing-up” is that when I was a kid I HATED Johan and Peewit. In fact when Hanna-Barbera started doing “Johan and Peewit” showcase episodes in season 2, I would get angry and turn the channel. Now, I really dig Johan and Peewit and actually enjoy their comics and episodes more than SOME of the Smurfs stories.

Back in my youth, I had a few of the wonderful Smurf PVC figure in my toy collection but like most children of the 80s I didn’t have as many as I wanted.

C’mon, who really had as many as they wanted? Talk about “Gotta Catch’em All.” They were the 80’s’ Pokemon.

My favorite of the Smurf toys had to be Astrosmurf, which thanks to your book I now know where the character came from. Which of the many Smurf products that we were lucky enough to have in the 80s was your favorite?

Wow. Every single one was THE favorite in the instant that I got it… I distinctly remember my magnetic Jokey belt buckle and my Jokey pencil sharpener (that I cut my tongue on, always will remember that one)… I still have my banner from “The Smurfs Alive” from the Ice Capades (it’s actually in the book)… as far as the figurines go I loved Alchemist and Pirate… and the cottage I got for my birthday one year.

There were some pieces that I desperately wanted but never got when I was a kid. Of course, I’ve bought some of them – like the Windmill play set – since… and I’m happy I picked that up recently because it never would have survived all this time.

To paraphrase the movie Stepbrothers: “Can you imagine if you had these when you were 3? Even better. I got them when I was 30.”

I feel our readership would very much like to know how you feel about the new Smurfs film that is about to hit the silver screen on July 29th? I find that I fall into the camp that is…cautiously optimistic. Have you been able to see an early screening of the film by chance?

Nope. Haven’t seen the movie. However, having seen the production art and spoken to the animators and technicians responsible for the Smurfs and the Smurfs Village I’m really excited to see those parts of the film and feel those are worth the price I’ll pay for admission. The Village they’ve created looks absolutely gorgeous, just from an artist’s perspective, and I’m really interested to see how that holds up on screen.

In your book, Stephen Parkes who is in the Guinness Book of World Records for his collection of 1,200 Smurfs states that in regards to the online community of Smurf fans helping him to achieve said record, “They are true to the nature of the Smurfs and are always really friendly and willing to help. Just like the Smurfs!”. When I read that I honestly thought he hit upon the very answer to your question of why the Smurfs are so popular across the world. Now that you have done such exhaustive research on Peyo and his magical cast of characters, have you found your own answer?

(Maniacal Laughter!) MWAHAHAHA! – “THE ANSWER” is actually hidden in the book somewhere… if and when you find it, I’m sure you’ll agree with what I’ve deduced.

A big thank you again to Matt. Murray for taking the time to answer these questions and if you want to learn even more about the Smurfs, make sure to:

1) Pick up the World of Smurfs on August 1st.
2) Follow this link to Smurfology which just happens to be Murray’s own site!

The World Of Smurfs: A Celebration of Tiny Blue Proportions By Matt. Murray

Thanks to our friends over at ABRAMS books for sending a review copy of their upcoming new book The World of Smurfs: A Celebration of Tiny Blue Proportions! Which so happens to be excellently written by Matt. Murray, the world’s only known Smurfologist!

Murray was President and First Executive director of New York’s Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, working on an exhibit entitled “Saturday Morning”, which examined not only the art but political, and social aspects of the shows in the exhibit. While setting up the show he came to the realization what some of us writers and readers of the Retroist already know…once a Smurf fan…always a Smurf fan. But Murray took it on himself to try and figure out what made the Smurfs so popular across the world.

Murray warmly relates his own personal experiences with the Smurfs in the Introduction, such as his maternal Grandmother watching the show so that not only would the two of them have something to discuss during their talks over the telephone but that she might be able to understand what words he was ‘Smurfing’.

Murray goes into detail of famed Smurf creator Pierre Culliford or as he was more commonly known throughout the word, Peyo. Murray takes time to educate the reader on Peyo’s childhood and early adult life, when the artist was desperately seeking to sell his cartoon strips to magazines. At this time in his life some other famous creations of Peyo like Johan and Pirlouit (Johan and Peewit as we know them in the United States) came into existence.

Which would lead to the creation of the Les Schtroumpfs or as they would later be known in America, the Smurfs!

The World of Smurfs book of course chronicles the global popularity of not only Peyo but his family as well as obviously that of his blue elflike wonders…that were only 3 apples high. One of the features in the book that I cannot heap enough praise on is the reproductions of animation cells, movie posters, the Smurf Village poster and original Les Schtroumpfs ephemera. For the most part you can take these items out of the book…including a sheet of Smurf stickers…that I’m having to resist applying to my laptop as I type this!

Murray also dives into the Red scare that I vaguely recall in my youth, yep, some people complained that the Smurfs were secretly sowing the seeds of Socialist behavior in the animated series. How Smurfing sad.

Of course Murray goes in depth with the upcoming Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation big budget Smurfs film starring Neil Patrick Harris, Jayma Mays, and Hank Azaria. There is some really neat looking production art for the Smurf village that will be seen in the movie, I particularly loved the Smurf blacksmith shop design.

In closing, do I think you should pick up this book when it hits store shelves in August? Absolutely! If you still smile at the thought of playing with a handful of those wonderful blue PVC Smurf figures you will not only find all the history of the Smurfs fascinating but I bet you’ll want to share the book with your family and friends.

The World of Smurfs: A Celebration of Tiny Blue Proportions is U.S.$24.95/Can. $27.95