Pipeline: Of Smurfs and Peyo

Tue, November 12th, 2013 at 2:58pm PST

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

CHASING SMURFS VIDEOS

I've come to think lately that there's nothing I can't draw that Peyo, Franquin, and Morris didn't already draw so I can copy them.

Trust me, this is a big help when your five year old asks you to draw something for her.

This inspired me this past week to find video of Peyo drawing a Smurf. That's the kind of thing YouTube is meant for, right? Sure, Peyo died 13 years before YouTube was founded, but I figured there'd have to be something somewhere. That search led me to a lost evening of French television. Perhaps you've heard of the series from the early 1970s called Tac Au Tac? There was a video that went around in the last year or two from an episode of the series that featured Joe Kubert, Moebius, and Neal Adams drawing together. It was either this one with the Pandora's Box theme, or this one in color with the heroes and monsters theme. Judging by the clothes, I'm guessing the two shows were shot back to back.

But those weren't the shows I was drooling over. It's another set of these thirteen minute videos that got me. They featured the killer lineup of Morris, Peyo, Franquin, and Jean Rebo. That's right, the creators of (in order) Lucky Luke, The Smurfs, Marsupilami, and Boule and Bill were all in the same room together drawing improv. I couldn't be more giddy at the discovery.

Their styles all work together seamlessly. Because I'm slow, it just dawned on me that this is a classic lineup of creators whose best-known work originated from the pages of Spirou. Following a few links around the internet, I finally found the term for this class of creators: The Marcinelle School. Their style became Spirou's house style, so there's that connection.

I'm not entirely sure yet how Uderzo works into this, though. The "Asterix" style fits right in, but I'm not sure if Uderzo, himself, is ever considered part of that school of artist, or just a next generation cartoonist of that style. (Forgive me, my European readers, for learning all of this much later in life than the rest of you.)

Yes, there's even an anvil in this one

Back to Tac Au Tac: In the first show I found (05 July 1971), Morris starts things off by drawing a horseshoe. Jean Rabo counters that by turning the horseshoe into the legs of a cowboy. Then things get crazy until characters are all over the page putting out fires, cutting off tree limbs, sitting in guillotines, jumping out of buildings, etc. etc. It's sort of like "Quick Draw" at a slightly slower yet just as hilarious pace.

Please note that no artist uses a pencil. They all draw directly on the page in thick magic markers. There are no guidelines here. There are no rough shapes. Everything is the final image. They don't blink for a second. These are four serious take-no-prisoners artists. At this point in their careers, they had all been drawing comics for more than a couple of decades, so I guess they had enough experience to pull it off.

As instructive and amazing as it is to watch these guys work, it's slightly disappointing that there's no Peyo drawing a Smurf in here.

So I turned to a second video (13 Dec 1971), which has Peyo going second and drawing Poussy, a cat he once drew long before the Smurfs. This video again features no Smurfs, but features slightly tighter work, as each artist takes a turn drawing a single character chasing down the previous character. This is an even better example of the style, with a bit more diversity than the first, including Native Americans, cowboys, dogs and cats, a nurse, and more. That nurse that Roba draws near the end is amazing. The attitude, the body language, the variety of line widths in what is basically a fancy 3 minute con sketch. Wow...

Again, no Smurfs.

I hit paydirt next, though. Sort of. In their third outing together (06 Sept 1971), each cartoonists draws three samples of their character. The other artists come in and draw that character getting in trouble, only for the original artist to come back and draw something to save the character. And, here, at last, we get Peyo drawing a Smurf. Part of one, at least. These shows are edited for a lot of good reasons, I imagine. We don't get to see Peyo draw the whole smurf. It's just a couple of eyes and a hat that, honestly, looks a little flat to me. Still, it's fun to see. I picked up a drawing tip on those eyes just in those five seconds. Plus, you have Morris drawing Lucky Luka, Roba drawing Bill, and Franquin drawing Gaston. Not a bad lineup.

Bonus: While putting this column together, I ran across a fourth outing. From 11 October 1971, here are the four artists doing "television antenna"-themed improvisational drawings, because the formal attire and cigarettes weren't enough to date the video... Sadly, this one is less than seven minutes, and the least successful of the bunch. I wonder if it isn't an exercise that was cut from the original shows because it didn't live up to expectations, kinda of like the way "Whose Lines Is It Anyway?" records for hours to get 30 minutes' worth of show.

I love seeing Peyo in the background drawing madly on scrap paper, though, likely trying to work out what he'd draw next. The table is littered with these pages, as well as bottles of alcoholic beverages and probably an ash tray or two.

I'm still on the hunt for video of Peyo drawing a Smurf. Does anyone know of such a thing on-line? Was there a Smurfs documentary that might include some footage of that? Is there a video on another service, or maybe under an odd keyword I need to look up? Please let me know. My email and Twitter address are at the bottom of this column.

YouTube being the kind of site it is, of course, one can't help but skip around to related videos and somewhat related videos. It's a giant time sink. Here's some of the oddities I found:

MORE RECOMMENDED AUDIO AND VIDEO

  • First, here's Sandi Metz's keynote talk at the recent Wicked Good Ruby Conference. It is not at all a comics-specific thing; Metz gives an abbreviated history of the mass dissemination of written materials, from early scrolls to the monks hand writing Bibles to linotype. As comics fans who have watched the technologies of the day influence the medium (newspapers, four color printing press, Photoshop, the web, etc.), it's fascinating to see how the leaps in technology affect both the variety of materials that got published as well as their reach. Along the way, Metz drops in some secret word origins that might surprise you. The origin of "upper case" and "lower case" alone blew my mind.

  • Wait, you want something even more technical, but that's directly related to the comics industry? Here's a talk by Marvel Entertainment's VP of Web and Application Development on how Marvel uses graph theory and a NoSQL database to keep track of the Marvel Universe. It sounds like a very handy thing to have for the digital comics site, but I'm not sure how much of it will be useful from an editorial perspective. Things are just too chaotic, and creative types can find ways to overrule any graph you throw at them, thus making a new graph more complicated and futile. It's an interesting exercise from a programming perspective, though. I love how he uses slides to explain the reading order of comics events. The six separate "Captain America" #1s thing is just as frustrating for readers as it is for programmers.

  • Adam Hughes teaches you a little bit about drawing big, round, bright -- eyes. All jokes aside, the point he makes about the color white is important. Web designers swear by not using solid black, too, by the way. It's too strong. It wears on the eyes. They tend to use a slightly off-black color for their blacks and the results are good. I'm writing this column in Sublime Text using a white font on a black background that's really a dark gray shade. That slight difference in contrast is easier on the eyes.

  • Scott Robertson gives tips on using a brush pen. It's a tool I plan to play with in the near future, so this video was eye opening in some ways. Hopefully, I'll have more to say about this topic in the future. But here's the take away: Varying your line weights is the distinguishing characteristic of a good artist. Leave everything flat and everything you draw will look two dimensional.

  • I'm ridiculously late to the game, but I just discovered the Sidebar podcast this week, for reasons you'll read about below. I love finding a good podcast with a big history that I haven't heard yet. It means I have a lot of past podcasts to listen to. The one I'd immediately recommend is their interview with Laura Martin, which is a model for how interviews with creative folks ought to be done, particularly colorists. It's not a simple by-the-numbers interview to fluff the latest project. It's a career-spanning piece that talks a lot in the jargon of the community of comics coloring, while offering quick explanations for newbies. I felt smarter coming out of it, which is a good thing. If you're a student of early Image Comics history like I am, you'll be interested in learning more about WildStorm's historic coloring department.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I'm almost mad at mid-20s me."
-Skottie Young

That was on the latest episode of the Sidebar podcast, which features an hour and a half long conversation with Young that's well worth a listen. I fast forwarded through a chunk of the musical discussion parts in the middle, but the rest of it is pure gold.

This quote resonated with me on many levels, some of them the same for the reasons Young mentions. Here, he's talking about the potential artistic influences he ignored when he was younger in the name of staying "focused." Why look at Charles Schulz when you're trying to draw like Jim Lee, right? Later in life, you realize that a variety of inspirations are important for various reasons, each adding something new to your understanding of the art. It's part of the human condition that we'll never appreciate that kind of thing until we've missed it and gotten mad at ourselves. We will always wish we had thought of this stuff sooner, but we usually have to go through a process first to realize we've missed it.

Getting over this is a three step process: First, realize you have the problem. Second, correct it by seeking out those other influences. Third, don't feel guilty or blame yourself for this. Everyone does it. It's called being human. Move on.

Part of me wonders how many of these realizations we have "later" in life because of growing maturity, and how much of it comes from having kids. That latter will certainly teach you a lot. Young has a son not too much younger than my own daughter, so I recognize these realizations, even if they come from different angles sometimes.

While you're contemplating the mistakes you made in your youth, go back up to that Sandi Metz talk linked earlier and listen to the last ten minutes about your future. It'll wrap up this week's Pipeline in a neat little bow.

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