(The following started out as a Pipeline from November 2013. It has been highly edited and corrected to account for new video locations.)
Chasing Smurfs Videos
I’ve come to think lately that there’s nothing I’ll ever need to know how to 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 started, but I figured there’d have to be something somewhere.
The Hunt for Peyo on Video
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 they shot the two shows 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. It featured the killer lineup of Morris, Peyo, Franquin, and Jean Roba. 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.
Here are four members of The Marcinelle School drawing together on video. Pinch me, I must be dreaming. Their styles all work together seamlessly. They’re all great. And even though it was the early 70s, there’s still video with them.
A Quick Copyright Lesson
Three of the four videos linked to in this article were originally available on YouTube. The user who put them up has had their account taken down by YouTube for copyright infringement, and all the videos along with it.
The good news is, I found the videos. Ina.fr is hosting them, and has some available for sale. The ones I’ve linked to below are all free.
The First Video
Back to Tac Au Tac: In the first show I found (05 July 1971), Morris starts things off by drawing a horseshoe. Jean Roba 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.
None of the artists 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 Peyo doesn’t draw a Smurf in the video.
The search continued…
The Second Video
I turned to a second video (13 December 1971), which has Peyo going second and drawing Poussy, a cat character he 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, though, no Smurfs.
Third Time’s the Charm?
I hit pay dirt next, though. Sort of. In their third outing together (sometime in 1971), each cartoonist 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 drawing just those Smurf eyes in those five seconds, so it was well worth it.
Plus, you have Morris drawing Lucky Luke, Roba drawing Bill, and Franquin drawing Gaston La Gaffe. Not a bad lineup.
Here, you can watch the whole thing:
Bonus Fourth Video
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 (starting at 6:30), because the formal attire and cigarettes weren’t enough to date the video…
I love seeing Peyo in the background drawing madly on scrap paper, though, likely trying to work out what he’d draw next. They littered the table with these pages, as well as bottles of alcoholic beverages and probably an ash tray or two.
Bonus Fifth Video
Ina.fr has one last video from that series, and it’s one I’ve never seen before.
It’s behind their paywall, though. You can see the first minute or so of it.
Looks like a Lucky Luke/Daltons drawing challenge…
I’m Greedy and I Want More Peyo Videos
I’m still on the hunt for video of Peyo drawing a full Smurf. Why? Because modern technology has completely thrown off our rhythms. We expect everything to be documented, recorded, and put in the public space; we’re not used to a day and age when video wasn’t so simple to produce and share.
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? (Frustratingly, he drew during this interview, but they showed none of it.)
Please let me know in the comments below.
The Attempted Comeback/Homage
Hilariously, the video uses the same format and musical stylings as the original show. It just needs the narrator and a couple more cigarettes.
This is as far as the project ever went, sadly.