Although many will think of them purely as being a Hanna-Barbera animated series, the famous little blue people of the forest known as the Smurfs originated with the Belgian cartoonist Peyo (pen name of Pierre Culliford).
Culliford came up with the name when he couldn't remember the name for salt in a restaurant and asked his companion to pass the 'schtroumpf'. They replied, "Here's the schtroumpf — when you are done schtroumpfing, schtroumpf it back...".
So long before the Dutch translation converted the word to 'Smurf' the long-standing joke of using it in place of as many words as possible was born.
The Smurfs as we know them had their first outing in an episode of Johan et Pirlouit which Peyo was working on. That cartoon was a swords and sorcery piece pairing a King's page with a loyal sidekick of diminished stature.
Peyo decided that a quest to find a magic flute would move along better with the introduction of some tiny blue people and the rest is history.
Now French auction house Artcurial is offering 33 examples of Peyo's work including a number of original Smurf pages, which are expected to bring five figure sums. Two examples include: the front cover of the Baby Smurf issue from 1984 and a page from a 1963 story of the curing of 'black Smurfs'.
The front cover was part of a response to a feature length film for the cinema of the Hanna-Barbera episode called The Baby Smurf. Due to the sheer success of the animations, Peyo was concerned, hoping that his characters would not be forgotten in their original comic format.
He decided to begin publication of an album charting their history, which would be released in parallel with the feature length production.
This cover is quite exceptional in more than one regard as it is the only album cover to include so many key characters: Papa Smurf, Smurfette, Brainy Smurf, Grouchy Smurf, Jokey Smurf and Baby Smurf.
The page is expected to achieve €40,000-60,000 ($83,400). This is an exceptional extract from this story where, after many attempts, Papa Smurf manages to find an antidote from pollen of the tuberose, allowing the Black Smurfs to regain their original colour and character.
This strip, also listed at €40,000-60,000 ($83,400) marked by stronger drama than you might expect leads to a happy ending with a welcome dose of humour. The Smurf holding a poppy in the final panel would serve as inspiration to Pierre Culliford for design of the album cover.
Many questions were asked about why black was used by Peyo for the colour of the Smurfs' skin in the album of the same name. Hanna-Barbera Studios would instead change this to purple, in 'The Purple Smurfs', for obvious reasons.
Peyo had no such easy solution available however as he never illustrated in colour and so Smurfs drawn a different colour to mark the contrast between the Smurfs who were stung by the 'Bzz' fly and the others had to be drawn in black, whatever they were called.
Original children's cartoons can often be valuable especially if there is an ongoing contemporary interest. (It won't have hurt the auction's prospects one bit that the film 'The Smurfs in 3D' by Raja Gosnell, was released on 3 August 2011 worldwide.)
Whether it's Asterix or Tintin (more so in Europe, though the new Tintin movie will spread the word) or Charlie Brown and Peanuts (especially in America), the nostalgic interest is strong. We recently discussed the popularity of cartoon pirate Captain Pugwash on our blog.
Artcurial's auction takes place in Paris on October 29.