Charles Dupuis, 84, Publisher Who Introduced the Smurfs, Dies

Charles Dupuis, a pioneering Belgian publisher of French-language comics best known in the United States for introducing the blue-hued, hedonistic animated characters called Smurfs, died on Nov. 14 in Brussels. He was 84.

An influential editor, he published other popular characters, including Lucky Luke, in his comics magazine, Spirou, named for the cartoon about a mischievous bellboy. The company he founded sells more than 10 million comics a year, a third of the French-language comics market.

The magical, gnomelike Smurfs were created for Spirou in 1958 by the Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford, who signed his work Peyo. A Smurf fad swept the United States after they were turned into a Saturday-morning cartoon program by Hanna-Barbera in 1981.

At the peak of the Smurfs’ popularity, there was a break-dance-style step called the Smurf, as well as the catchphrase “feeling Smurfy,” Smurf mugs, figurines, baby rattles, cigarette lighters and a Smurf computer game by Atari. In the 1980’s a trio of diminutive wide receivers for the Washington Redskins were known as the Smurfs.

Dressed identically in white trousers and caps reminiscent of mob caps from the French Revolution, the Smurfs are only “three apples high.” They live in mushroom houses and are led by a bearded, 542-year-old patriarch, Papa Smurf. Their nemesis is the evil wizard Gargamel, who macabrely wants to make Smurf stew.

They are known as Schtroumpfs (a nonsense word coined by their creator to mean thingamabob) in Belgium, as de Smurfen in Dutch and as Die Schl?ºmpfe in German. The program ran on NBC for more than 250 episodes over nine seasons, and is currently seen in 30 countries.

Mr. Dupuis published the first issue of the children’s magazine Spirou in 1938 at the age of 20, for the printing company founded in 1898 by his father, Jean Dupuis. The elder Dupuis felt that Belgium needed its own comics magazine to compete with the cultural imperialism of a certain American rodent in Le Journal de Mickey, published by Disney.

Charles Dupuis selected the Flemish team of Robert Velter, who signed his work Rob-Vel, and his wife, Davine, who created the character of a red-suited bellhop named Spirou. In his homeland, Spirou is as much a multigenerational hero as his countryman and rival, the tousled teenage adventurer Tintin, created by Georges Remi, known by the pen name Hergé, in 1929.

Mr. Dupuis had a nose for discovering cartoon talent. Lucky Luke, a taciturn American cowboy who could draw a six-gun faster than his own shadow, was created by Maurice de Bevere, known as Morris, for Spirou in 1946. Lucky Luke’s sidekicks include his horse, Jolly Jumper, who can talk, cook and play poker, and a dumb dog named Rin Tin Can.

Lucky Luke has been translated into 30 languages and has sold more than 30 million copies worldwide.

Under the guidance of Mr. Dupuis, the family owned company expanded into animated films and television. Mr. Dupuis retired in 1985, when the family sold the business to Groupe Bruxelles Lambert.

Spirou, which has been in continuous publication except for a 13-month interregnum during World War II, celebrated its 3,000th issue in 1995 and sells more than 85,000 copies a week.


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