Smurf vs. Smurf!

What: The Smurf King and The Smurfette

Who: Yvan Delporte and Peyo

When: The Smurf King was originally published in Spirou magazine in 1964 and The Smurfette in 1966, new English translation from Papercutz in 2010 and 2011 respectively.

Where: I found them at Barnes and Noble, I think. In the kids section. Psht, whatever.

Why: I’m a big fan of the Smurfs, as you may know. Both of these stories are expertly done, hilarious, and gorgeous to look at. But why I kind of wanted to write this is cos of the message of each story. The Smurf King tells a story of the Smurfs left alone without Papa Smurf for a few days, and their attempt to bring a leadership structure in. The have an election, one Smurf rises to power and quickly becomes a despot. He raises an army, a secret rebellion grows and we basically get Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here.” Basically this comic is a fun warning about how if we aren’t careful, we could easily find ourselves under the rule of a tyrant we handed power to. Awesome. Good comic, good message.

The Smurfette, on the other hand, is the same as far as the art and style go, but the message isn’t nearly as encouraging. Here we have the evil sorcerer Gargamel trying to disrupt the Smurf way of life by introducing the most nefarious thing he could think of. A woman. The Smurfette quickly drives the Smurfs nuts. She’s bossy, vapid and a general pain in the ass. She makes the Smurfs have picnics when they have work to do, she’s a failure and everyone hates her. So what do the Smurfs do? They convince her she’s fat and ugly in an attempt to get rid of her. Papa Smurf feels terrible, so what does he do? He modifies Smurfette to make her beautiful, blonde and charming. Problem solved right? Wrong. Now all the Smurfs are in love with her and things are worse than ever. Fist fights break out and it’s absolute anarchy. Especially when she tempts Poet Smurf into opening the dam’s floodgate, nearly wiping out the village. The Smurfs put her on trial for working for Gargamel, find her innocent and then she disappears so that the Smurfs can live in harmony. So the message? Women ruin everything and won’t stop until they’ve made everything terrible. Whether they’re annoying and in the way, or they’re beautiful and keep men from being all they can be. Nice work guys.

I’m not so tied up in messages that I can’t see these comics as products of their time. I’m not advocating these comics be burned for their less than great portrayal of women. I can even laugh at how silly the notions are whether it’s Jokey Smurf as political prisoner, or Poet Smurf so completely blinded by a woman he nearly wipes out his people. These are comics. They’re silly at their core. But while I would encourage my kid to read The Smurf King and delight in the ideas it might produce, I’d have to question doing the same with The Smurfette without some serious post reading discussion on feminism.

I love these comics, and let’s all hope the Katy Perry voiced Smurfette in the Smurfs film doesn’t make us all grown and worry about our kids getting the wrong idea about women.