21 June, 2012

Pierre "Peyo" Culliford



Pierre Culliford, known as Peyo, was a Belgian comics artist, perhaps best known for the creation of The Smurfs comic strip.

Peyo was born in 1928 in Brussels as the son of an English father and a Belgian mother.

He took on the name "Peyo" early in his professional career, based on an English cousin's mispronunciation of Pierrot (a diminutive form of Pierre).

Peyo began work, fresh from his coursework at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, at the Compagnie Belge d'Animation (CBA), a small Belgian animation studio, where he met a few of his future colleagues and co-celebrities, like André Franquin, Morris and Eddy Paape. When the studio folded after the war, the other artists went to work for Dupuis, but Peyo, a few years younger than the others, was not accepted. He made his first comics for the newspaper La Dernière Heure (The Latest Hour), but also accepted many promotional drawing jobs for income. From 1949 to 1952, he drew Poussy, a stop comic about a cat, for Le Soir. For the same newspaper, he also created Johan.

In 1952, Franquin introduced Peyo to Le Journal de Spirou, a children's comics magazine published by Dupuis which first appeared in Belgium in 1938. Peyo wrote and drew a number of characters and storylines, including Pierrot, and Benoît Brisefer (translated into English as Steven Strong). But his favourite was Johan et Pirlouit (translated into English as Johan and Peewit), which was a continuation of the series Johan he had created earlier. He also continued Poussy in Spirou.

Set in the Middle Ages in Europe, Johan et Pirlouit stars a brave young page to the king, and his faithful, if boastful and cheating, midget sidekick. Johan rides off to defend the meek on his trusty horse, while Peewit gallops sporadically behind on his goat, named Biquette. The pair are driven by duty to their king and the courage to defend the underpowered. Peewit only appeared in the third adventure in 1954, but would stay for all later adventures.

The first smurf appeared in Johan and Peewit on 23 October 1958 in the album La Flûte à Six Schtroumpfs (The Six Smurfed Flute). As the smurfs became increasingly popular, Peyo started a studio in the early 1960s, where a number of talented comic artists started to work. Peyo himself supervised the work and worked primarily on Johan and Peewit, leaving the smurfs to the studio. The most notable artists to come out of this studio are Walthéry, Wasterlain, Gos, Derib, Degieter, and Desorgher.

In 1959, the Smurfs got their own series, and in 1960, two more began: Steven Strong and Jacky and Célestin. Many authors of the Marcinelle school collaborated on the writing, or as an artist, including Willy Maltaite (aka 'Will'), Yvan Delporte, and Roger Leloup. Peyo became more of a businessman and supervisor, and was less involved in the actual creation of the comics. He let his son, Thierry Culliford, lead the studio, while his daughter Véronique was responsible for the merchandising.

The merchandising of the Smurfs began in 1959, with the PVC figurines as the most important aspect until the late 1970s. Then, with the success of the Smurf records by Father Abraham, the Smurfs achieved more international success, with a new boom in toys and gadgets. Some of these reached the United States, where
Hanna-Barbera created a Saturday morning animated series in 1981 in which Peyo served as story
supervisor. Peyo's health began to fail.

He died at age 64, on Christmas Eve 1992, of a heart attack in Brussels. His studio still exists and new stories for various series are regularly produced under his name.

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