By Peyo and Will Maltaite
American audiences have certainly embraced Belgian cartoonist Pierre “Peyo” Cuilliford’s most famous creation over the decades, with a successful cartoon series a cornerstone of 9 Saturday morning memories, 2011 live-action/CGI movie popular enough to generate a sequel and a series of translated reprints of the original comics numbering fifteen volumes and counting.
But will they be as accepting of his other, Smurf-less comics?
We’re about to find out, as the Smurfs’ American publisher Papercutz has just released their first volume of their new Benny Breakiron series, starring super-strong little French boy who went by “Benoît Brisefer” in his original 1960s appearances in his home continent comics.
Benny, we’re told on the first two pages, is much like any other young boy: Nice, polite, studious and hard-working. Where he differs is that he’s strong, incredibly strong, like Superman-strong or, perhaps more apropos, Asterix-strong. His strength allows him to jump super-high and run super-fast, and the only thing that can strip Benny of this strength is the common cold. When he catches one, he’s just a normal little boy again.
After a short introduction to the character, his powers and the day-to-day problems they can cause if he’s not careful (the simple act of opening a door, for example, can tear it from its hinges), the title conflict kicks in.
There’s a shady new taxi company in town, the Red Taxi Company, whose shady drivers seem more like criminals than cabbies. They’re trying to strong arm Benny’s pal Monsieur Dussiflard out of business, and as the pair pull at a string of suspicion, they unravel a big, hugely ambitious criminal enterprise to rob the entire town.
Along the way, there’s a couple of kidnappings, a couple of elaborate chase scenes, a stranding at sea, an inconveniently timed cold, and, at the climax, a super-strong boy in a beret, scarf and shorts battling a fleet of taxi-driving bad guys, mostly by tossing their cars into trees or flipping them on their roofs like big, red turtles.
The format is identical to that of the Smurfs graphic novellas, right down to the Peyo’s page layouts. Where it differs most sharply is in the content. Instead of the medieval, pastoral world of the Smurfs, in which the only human being to commonly appear is the evil sorcerer Gargamel, here we see a modern (well, 1960s modern), urban world, where every character is human.
The change of scenery and subject matter is a treat for Peyo fans, and a fine demonstration of the cartoonist’s range (He gets an assist on the background art, however, from artist Will Maltaite, who is credited simply as “Will” on the title page).
Whether Benny’s comics will ultimately be as well received as those of the Smurfs’ remains to be seen, of course, but based on the contents of this first volume, I see no reason why they wouldn’t be.