I was born on September 8th 1979, and I was lucky to be a kid through both the 80’s and 90’s. Much like every kid from my generation, I loved toys, video games, horror films, Saturday Morning Cartoons, horror hosts, surgery breakfast cereal, pro wrestling and of course comic books. I grew up in a small town (Waynesville, Ohio) that was dubbed the antique capital, and from day one I was the strange kid who spent his time drawing demons, the rock band Kiss and Frankenstein’s Monster and never making the move on the girl of my dreams who just so happened to be good friends with my next door neighbor who at that time was basically my best friend. I know you’re all thinking wow what a wuss, but if you would have seen how beautiful this young lady was and how she could make your heart skip a beat you would understand why a oddball like me in my Ultimate Warrior or Alice Cooper shirt never made a move.
On Saturdays my mom would take my brother and I to the neighboring town to a store called Big Bear & Hearts and for grocery shopping/ The store was one half food (Big Bear) and the other half department store (Hearts). Cool things in this store included not only the Street Fighter II Arcade Machine but also the giant stuffed bear that was like your greeter. The toy department was magical in my eyes and was always packed with the newest G.I. Joe, Transformer, Battle Beast, WWF wrestler and every other new figures. If we were good we would get a toy and usually along with it a comic or a Mad or Cracked Magazine. I was always into The Incredible Hulk and Captain America and most of the time that’s what I would pick to go alongside my new Monster in My Pocket, G.I. Joe or whatever toy I was into that month. Then we would be off. After we checked out and would stop at the store’s snack bar for an Icee (Blue Berry or Coke) and sometimes a soft pretzel or nachos, we would get home in time to watch Commander USA’s Groovie Movies or sometimes Grandpa Munster host his Super Scary Saturday film on TBS.
Comic Books were a fun way to leave reality and to step into the boots of your favorite hero or villain, leaving behind all the annoying life drama just for the brief moments it took you to read the issue. DC had some great heroes like Superman, Batman, Swamp Thing, Wonder Woman and Flash. While they had some great issues and characters, I have always been a Marvel man due to amazing characters like Hulk, Captain America, Spider-Man, Man-Thing, Iron Man and Thor. Marvel also had great comics based on toylines like Transformers and G.I. Joe. Comic books have always been apart of my life thanks to my Mother who bought them for me, my older brother Bryan who read them to me when I was younger, my Uncle Thurman who gave me many of his older issues and my cousin Chris Jones who got me one of my first new Hulk issues off the newsstand when we has babysitting me.
Comics and other things from my youth made me more creative and lead to me to making my own comic books with such characters as Benny the Squirrel, Robo Raccoon, Fred The Mole, Mr. Emo and many more. Most of the comics I made were to amuse myself and sometimes my Mom and friends. But even without any real talent for drawing, my Mom and Dad would encourage me to keep up the good work. I was never really good at art so the hobby faded, but the creative bug stayed with me and lead me into the world of films and TV shows. To this day I am the proud owner of two small film companies, Independent B Movie and Bloodline Video, and have made such films as Werewolf of Ohio, The Sadness, Cocktober Blood, Bark at the Moon: Scars and am currently making the popular horror host show Terrifying Tales of the Macabre hosted by Baron Von Porkchop. So for all those people that were told comics will rot your brain, that’s in no way true…well maybe not completely true.
One off the wall brand that always peeked my interest even before I was in school was Star Comics, the kiddy branch of the mighty Marvel Comic juggernaut. They would make comics about popular cartoons or toy lines and were be a cheap way for parents to keep us youngsters happy till the next episode. One of the first times I discovered Star Comics was when I was really young and a cereal company gave away free issues with a mail-in. Oh the good old days of amazing and cheap prizes in your cereal! So this little blog is about re-living my youth, looking back at Star Comics, Topps Comics and other wonderful Marvel Comics that have always peeked my interest that are not normally what you would think of when someone says Marvel. And who knows, maybe I will review some other comics based on cartoons, toys, video games and TV shows from other companies. So let’s start this off with looking back at The Smurfs’ short run at Marvel.
I am going to grade these comics on a standard one to four star scale. For each issue I am going to be grading the story, the art, how true it was to the cartoon or toyline it was based on and its entertainment value. So with that said, let’s look at The Smurfs!
Released in 1982 Cover Price .60 Marvel Comics #1 of 3
The premiere issue is filled with three major stories and a few small fillers. Major story number one is called “ The Smurf Plane” and shows a Smurf building an airplane to impress the other Smurfs and later using his plane to save Smurfette from the evil Gargamel. “Nearer. My Smurf, To Thee!” is the second and has a Smurf who is trying so hard to hit the bullseye on the target with his bow and arrow. The third major story “The Smurf of Youth” has Smurfette fearing she is getting old and ugly and conning two other Smurfs into following her and a strange map she found to the fountain of youth, that really is just another sinister trap from Gargamel. Once more they don’t fall for it and escape unharmed.
The first thing you notice upon opening up this issue is the so-so art work that almost seems more of an amateur’s drawings for a youngster in their family. While it’s not that bad, it’s still puzzling to me how the Smurfs in this issue just don’t seem to look right. The sub par artwork aside, for a premiere issue it seemed very dull and rushed with the third major story “The Smurf of Youth” being the best in the book and keeping a silly fun shallow vibe throughout. I am puzzled as to why no one besides Papa Smurf questioned Smurfette as she vainly insulted herself by saying that because she’s older she is ugly, so one can only imagine just how foul Papa must be in her eyes. Smurfette does not come off as a good person in this issue and like I perviously stated seems self-absorbed. The first story is fun yet really anti-climatic. And the second story while “cute” still is just a filler entry. The best moment in this part being a Smurf using bees as darts. Most of the smaller stories also seemed like page filler and while fun and silly, they really just left you wishing the writers would have just made one solid story. Oh and a really odd thing is that Gargamel keeps calling Smurfette “The Smurfette” making for some odd reading. I mean is there some fake Smurfette running around as well? This comic doesn’t capture the good natured heart and soul of the cartoon and almost seems like a strange fan made comic. This issue # 1 didn’t impress me, and really gives a person nothing to talk about besides Smurfette’s shallowness sticking out like a sore thumb. I am sure even in my youth I would have found this issue to be a bland way to bring the Smurfs to comics. The cover on this one, while okay, should not have been used for an issue one. This looks like it should have been the cover for an issue after # 6! And man look at the Smurf in the plane he just looks super pissed off to see Gargamel!
Released in 1982 Cover Price .60 Marvel Comics #2 of 3
This second issue is much like the first and has three major stories and a handful of small fillers. The first major story is “The Smurfs and the Evil Bird,” in which Gargamel turns himself into a bird to sneak into the Smurf village to kill them all while they sleep. But his plan is discovered by Papa Smurf who runs him out of the village but not before he takes a hostage! With the help of Mr. Crane, they get the Smurf back and Gargamel gets his. Second is “Smurf the Birdie” where Farmer Smurf wants to protect his corn seeds from the birds and must find the perfect scarecrow. After a failed one, he gets a statue of Smurfette that keeps the birds away because of all the Smurfs are just staring at the statue! This leads also into a few pages of Smurfs trying to win Smurfette’s affections. The final story is “Sticky Smurf” in which Gargamel uses a sticky sundae to capture a Smurf but the treat turns out to be so sticky that he also gets stuck in the desert! And of course it’s up to Papa Smurf to come up with a position to free his trapped friend.
This is not an improvement over the disappointing issue one and still has the same bland art inside. This time around also rocks one hell of a lame cover, I mean take a good look at the cover. While the bird and the background look okay, the Smurfs on the ground look terrible. In this second issue the best of the main stories would have to be the opener “The Smurfs and the Evil Bird.” This seems like it could have easily been on the cartoon and also makes for a shocking moment as Gargamel tries to smother the Smurfs with smoke as he clogs the chimney of Papa Smurf hoping to kill him. Also I should state that in this issue it’s shown that the Smurfs drink Brandy! Wow, these Marvel Comic Smurfs are badass party animals! That’s one thing I have noticed so far, Marvel has changed some of this happy go lucky kids cartoon’s concepts into a little more sinister and sly ways to work in some adult style shockers from drinking to narcissism to even murder, making the issues a little more enjoyable to see just how much they will push the limit. The best moment in this one comes when a Smurf wins a kiss from Smurfette after he brings her was she thinks is a fur scarf, that turns out to be really a pet caterpillar! Smurfette being the classy woman she is throws the insect out and is mad for not getting a real fur like she thought. Wow, what a Smurfy Bitch! Issue two is only slightly better than issue one and still does not bring the charm of the cartoon to cheap comic paper. Maybe issue three, the final in the Marvel Smurf series, will be just the right amount of fun this series needs.
Released in 1982 Cover Price .60 Marvel Comics #3 of 3
This is the third and final issue and once more it semi-follows the formula of the past two issues with this time only two main stories and a few filler ones. Story one “ Monster Smurf” shows how all the other Smurfs get sick of Jokey Smurf’s pranks and decide to pull an ultimate prank on him in return. Then up is “Smurf Ball” were Hefty Smurf is two strong to play smurfball with the others so Handy rigs up a ball on a rubber band that Hefty can play with on his own and it leads to him on accidentally leading Gargamel to the village. It’s up to his quick thinking to save the day.
This third go around is still a major let down. While this issue is closer to the cartoon, it still lacked something to make it rise above and pull it out from being a two and a half star issue. This issue’s best offer is “Monster Smurf” just due to the fact it showed Jokey Smurf being the prankster we all knew and loved from the cartoon. This one also took out the third story and focused more on short stories that mostly dealt with Harmony Smurf and his lack of ability to carry a note. It was also nice to see an issue that focused on other Smurfs beside Smurfette who seemed to be a huge part of the past two issues. Like I said earlier, this one is the closest out of the comics run to capture the lighthearted fun tone of the cartoon and is the best issue in the series for doing so. The cover is also an improvement and is more eye catching and better drawn than the issues that came before it. So it seems just as the series seemed to be changing for the good, it was cancelled never to fully redeem itself.
My connections to the world of the Smurfs in my youth was very loose. While I watched the cartoon and enjoyed it, I only had a few of the small figures and they acted as the wussy background characters the good guys had to protect when I would have my all out toy wars. I also remember my Grandmother had a few on a shelf that when we would visit she would let us play. She also had glasses we drank from. My aunt also had a few, but again the toy line was never my thing. The cartoon and toys were always thought of more as a girl items with all their positive messages, cheesy romantic figures and no beat ’em up action or moveable parts so I am not sure why Marvel, who mostly made comics for young males, decided to make this short comic series. It also makes me wonder why only three issues – were the sales that bad they pulled the plug on it fast? Or were the people who owned the rights to the Smurfs that hard to work with? I tend to think that it probably started out as a trial run with only three issues being made with the option of more, but sales were most likely mediocre at best and the deal was just not in the cards. I happened to get these issues at Maverick Cards and Comics run by Jack Maverick in Kettering, Ohio in 2008 in a brand new sealed three pack that someone before me bought at K-Mart for a dollar when it was released. I paid three for the set! Not a bad pick up at all and they sure did come in handy for this blog. But now I am off topic. Over all Marvel’s Smurf run was a mediocre outing with some odd behavior coming from the pint size blue little bastards. The issues did not wow me now and I would be so bold to say that even in my youth I would have not been impressed.
On a fun side note in 1982, a Smurf game called “Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle” was released for both Coleco Vison and Atari 2600 and marked the first time the characters would be in a video game. The little blue mushroom house living icons would also have games on many of the top systems such as Playstation, Nintendo DS, Wii, NES, PC and many more home systems!
One thing I have noticed about Smurfs as well is that almost every one of my girlfriends (past and present) have loved them! I am not sure what the appeal is to women but they seem to really have a bound to the Smurfs. In fact here is a pic of my current girlfriend’s Smurf Collection and this is a drop in the hat compared to how many she really has.
Another thing I would like to briefly talk about is “The Smurfs Enchanted Voyage,” a boat ride at Kings Island Amusement Park here in Ohio. The ride would have you sit in a boat and travel down a path that had scenes all around you and voices and the theme song would play throughout. I first heard about this ride via my mother who went to the theme park for a Christmas celebration with her friend and was able to ride it. Many years later my brother and I went to the park with some family members and were able to ride it and I must say, being young the ride was pretty sweet! I remember being amazed by the Smurfs from around the world. Sadly the ride is no longer running and has been changed to many different things that included “The Phantom Theater”. Below are some pics of the ride. Sadly I did not take these myself – I was able to find them online, so thanks to whom ever shared these pics with the world.
In 2011 the Smurfs came to the silver screen for the first time and guess what? It was not an animated feature film but a CGI live action one! I have not seen the film nor do I have any desires to, but it did do well at the box office showing that these little blue forest dwellers still pack a punch in the eyes of the youth.
So my next update I think we will look at Marvel’s A-Team run that also only ran for three issues, and I will share some of my fond memories of Mr. T and the A-Team.
Oh yeah, and this blog is a work in progress and I am still working out the bugs of how I want things set up, but I hope you enjoyed this entry and I hope reading also helped trigger some past fun memories for you.