Peyo, pseudonym of Pierre Culliford, is known all over the world as the creator of the 'Smurfs', or 'Les Schtroumpfs' as they are called in French. The origins of these funny blue dwarves lie in Peyo's medieval 'Johan et Pirlouit' series, that appeared in Spirou magazine during its glory days in the 1950s. The huge popularity of the Smurfs resulted in an animated feature film (1975), a 3D feature film (2011), an extensive merchandise line, a Hanna-Barbera TV series, and a Smurf theme park in Metz, France (called Big Bang Schtroumpf from 1989-91, and Walibi Schtroumpf from 1991-2002, bought by Six Flags in 1998).
Pierre Culliford was born in into a family of British origins in Brussels' Schaerbeek district. He developed an interest in comics through the work of Hergé and the American comics that appeared in magazines like Mickey, Robinson and Hurrah!. He had his first job as an assistant projectionist in a Brussels cinema during World War II. He found employment with the C.B.A. animation studios after the Liberation, in the Summer of 1945.
C.B.A. folded shortly afterwards, but it did leave Peyo the acquaintance of André Franquin, Morris and Eddy Paape, who also worked in the studio. While his colleagues started working for the magazines published by Éditions Dupuis, Peyo, who was the youngest of the team, enrolled in the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts. He left after only three months, and did his first artistic assignments through ad agencies like Colin, Publicontrole and Vertil.
Poussy (Le Soir, 9 March 1949)
He adopted the pseudonym of Peyo and saw his first comic strip published in Riquet, the supplement of the the daily L'Occident, in April 1946. This comic about an indian called 'Pied-Tendre' was soon followed by the scout 'Puce', a character that reappeared in Mowgli in 1948. Peyo's first continuing story, 'Une Enquête de l'Inspecteur Pik', was published in the children's paper of the Brussels department store Le Bon Marché. But his career as a comic artist really took off when he began an association with the newspaper La Dernière Heure.
Johan (Le Soir, 1952)
It was in this paper that Peyo introduced the knight's page 'Johan', first in a couple of silent gags in 1946, and then in a longer story in 1947. In the following year, he launched a first series of 'Poussy' gags in Le Soir. 'Poussy' returned in 1955, when Le Soir launched its weekly supplement Le Soir Illustré. 'Johan' also appeared in Le Soir from 1950, but moved over to Spirou magazine two years later with the long story 'Le Châtiment de Basenhau'.
It was in this magazine that the character got its definite look. Johan's blond hair changed to black, the series appeared in color (done by Peyo's wife Nine) and the somewhat dull main character was accompanied by the hilarious side-kick Pirlouit from the third story, 'Le Lutin aux Bois aux Roches'. 'Johan et Pirlouit' became one of the most popular series of the magazine and Dupuis, the magazine's publisher, collected the series in 13 books between 1954 and 1970.
Johan - Le Maître de Roucybeuf (1953)
In the 1958 episode 'La Flûte à Six Trous', the two heroes discover the strange blue dwarves called Schtroumpfs. There is a legendary and by now well-known anecdote about the origin of the name of these dwarves. Peyo and Franquin were having dinner in a restaurant, when one them asked the other for the salt. Instead of asking 'Passez-moi le sel', he asked 'Passez-moi le schtroumpf', and the name was born!
Johan et Pirlouit - Le Serment des Vikings (1955)
Spirou's editor-in-chief Yvan Delporte saw the possibilities of the 'Smurfs' and persuaded Peyo to create a spin-off. The first solo appearances of 'Les Schtroumpfs' were in a couple of Spirou's fold-in mini-booklets, known as "mini-récits", between 1959 and 1962. By 1963, The Smurfs found their way to Spirou's regular pages and the original mini-stories were redrawn for book publications. Although mainly a children's series in later years, Peyo and Yvan Delporte's early stories were great social parodies, such as 1964's 'Le Schtroumpfissime', 1966's 'La Schtroumpfette' and 1972's 'Schtroumpf vert et vert Schtroumpf'.
Le Schtroumpfissime (1964)
Although Peyo was successful with 'Johan et Pirlouit' and even more with 'Les Schtroumpfs', he also created 'Benoît Brisefer' in 1960. This comic, about a small boy with superhuman strength which he looses when he gets a cold, has become another Peyo classic. By 1961 Peyo had stopped making new gags with 'Poussy' for Le Soir, but in return he came up with a new adventure series called 'Jacky et Célestin', that appeared in Le Soir Illustré from 1961. However, 'Poussy' also found its way to Spirou in 1965, at first with reprints, but also with new gags from 1969.
Johan et Pirlouit - La Source des dieux (1956)
The short story 'Pierrot et la Lampe' was published in the advertising comic book Bonux-Boy in 1965, and two further short stories were published in Spirou in the following year. Peyo additionally made the illustrations for the annual calendars of the Belgian Scouting Federation between 1960 and 1965.
Benoît Brisefer - Madame Adolphine (1962)
The expansion of activities and the increasing popularity of the 'Smurfs' meant that Peyo had to call in help to keep up with the workload. He asked Will to draw 'Jacky et Célestin' and to do the backgrounds on the first 'Benoît Brisefer' stories. Throughout the years, several young artists came to work at to what was to become known as Studio Peyo. François Walthéry and Gos were Peyo's longtime assistants during the 1960s, but also Derib, Lucien De Gieter, André Benn, Roger Leloup, Francis, Marc Wasterlain, Albert Blesteau and especially Daniel Desorgher have worked in Peyo's atelier at the Avenue de Boetelaer in Brussels.
Because of the ever increasing demand for Smurfs merchandise and other related products, episodes of Peyo's other series became more and more scarce. 'Johan et Pirlouit' only made their appearance in two short stories in the 1970s and the distance between new stories starring 'Benoît Brisefer' and even 'The Smurfs' became longer. Peyo, the master storyteller, had become so involved in the business side of the exploitation of his blue dwarfs, that he couldn't find the time or the concentration to focus on new comic epics. The Smurfs stories that did appear were shorter than before, and lacked the social parody that had characterized the early episodes.
La Faim des Schtroumpfs (album version)
By the 1980s, the well-known Hanna-Barbera animation series starring the 'Smurfs' was broadcasted all over the world. Peyo, accompanied by Yvan Delporte, spent most of his time overseeing the scripts that were made by the overseas studio. The 'Smurf' stories that did appear in Spirou during this period, where often derived from the cartoons series and starred new characters like the Baby Smurf and the Little Smurfs. Always a perfectionist but also a slow worker himself, Peyo remained involved in the creation of the stories, but left most part of the production of the new stories to Daniel Desorgher. Former studio-workers like Walthéry and Wasterlain also filled in to reach in the deadlines.
Gargamel's famous Smurfette recipe (La Schtroumpfette, 1966)
The international success of the 'Smurfs' in the 1980s and the fact that the publishing house Dupuis was sold to a Brussels banking group, led to a reorganization of Peyo's activities. Peyo's children Thierry and Veronique were now handling the business aspects of the Smurfs, including the merchandising, the launch of Schtroumpfs magazine and overseeing the creation of the Smurfs theme park in Maizières-lès-Metz, France. A new studio was set up elsewhere in Brussels and new artists were hired, including Alain Maury and Bernard Swysen. Peyo remained involved in the creation of new short stories for Schtroumpf magazine and the training of the new artists.
By 1990, Peyo's creations were transfered to Le Lombard. The deal with the publishing house included not only new albums starring 'Les Schtroumpfs', but also new 'Johan et Pirlouit' and 'Benoît Brisefer' stories. Since the business aspects were now out of hands and in spite of a steadily declining health, Peyo started working on a new long Smurf epic with the help of his son and the artists Alain Maury and Luc Parthoens. This resulted in 'Le Schtroumpf Financier' and marked a return to the social parody of earlier episodes. Peyo lived to see the publication of the book, but died from a heart attack on Christmas eve 1992, at the age of 64.