© J.-J. Procureur
Born in Brussels on 25 June 1928, Pierre Culliford, known as Peyo, started at the CBA studio shortly after the Liberation as a painter in gouache. Here, he sketched his first imps for an animation project entitled "Un Cadeau à la fée". Alas, the company collapsed in no time, leaving the film in the early stages and throwing its artists, Franquin, Morris, Paape and Peyo, out onto the street.
Although the first three found work at Dupuis in no time, Peyo did a little bit of everything for five years to earn a living: he drew flowers on lampshades, illustrated advertising brochures and besieged advertising agencies to get odd jobs which would help him to learn the rules of graphic composition.
At the same time, he created a lot of work and had some of it published here and there in 1946; a few small stories with the Indian "Pied-Tendre" and the scout "Puce" in 1946 in Riquet, the supplement of the daily newspaper L'Occident; "Une aventure de l'inspecteur Pik" in Le Petit Monde, the promotional weekly magazine of Bon Marché, in addition to the first brief appearances of the little page boy "Johan" in the weekly youth section of the newspaper La Dernière Heure.
Between 1949 and 1952, Le Soir accepted twenty-five short strips involving the kitten "Poussy" and two short "Johan" adventures for its weekly page for young people. With the exception of a single cartoon, accepted for a cover of Moustique in 1949, all his attempts with Dupuis proved fruitless, until he entered by the main door thanks to the recommendation of his friend Franquin. Providence had crossed their paths in a café in Namur.
Recommended by his guardian angel, Peyo was to see the physique and hair colour of his lucky page boy again. He reworked his original cartoon strips several times, becoming as much of a perfectionist as his senior, and later passed on his experience to his juniors.
Since he first appeared in Spirou on 11 September 1952, Johan had a favourable reception, and the appearance of Pirlouit in 1954 gave rise to real enthusiasm. There was a genuine frenzy when the Smurfs and their special language joined this little medieval universe in 1958.
Intended to be secondary characters who were only to appear in the single episode of "La Flûte à six trous", the little blue imps ? direct descendants of the sketches for "Cadeau à la fée" ? were a big hit. Yvan Delporte crowned them the stars of mini-stories, with the little strips and boxes being perfectly designed for their size. The public were soon demanding that they have their own independent adventures, in bigger comic strips, like real heroes, with their own series of traditional books. And the Smurf language spread faster than Esperanto or Volapuk.
Overwhelmed by demand, Peyo surrounded himself with assistants and opened a studio with his friends, where Gos, Walthéry, Derib, Francis, De Gieter, Wasterlain, Blesteau, Benn and many others would come and go as the years went by. A remarkably effective storyteller, with his imagination always on the alert, Peyo would indeed make many series.
Le Soir published a Poussy strip each week, material which would later be taken up again in Spirou and continued by De Gieter and Desorgher. Le Soir Illustré asked for a weekly cartoons page.
In 1960, Éditions Dupuis accepted "Benoît Brisefer", his new character of a little boy who is very very strong except when he has a cold, and Peyo and his team launched the characters "Jacky et Célestin" at the same time so as not to disappoint the expectations of the Soir Illustré.
Between 1960 and 1968, "Jacky et Célestin" would have ten episodes without interruption, for which Peyo, Will, Jo-El Azara, Vicq, Walthéry, Gos, Francis, Mittéï and Roger Leloup would take turns on the drawings and the scripts. Benoît Brisefer would also live under a regime of discreet relay: Peyo, Will, Walthéry, Delporte, Gos, Wasterlain, Blesteau.
With an ever-increasing presence, the Smurfs were team work, scripted and closely supervised by the Master himself, who kept his mascot, Johan, who unfortunately was becoming more and more rare.
Over the course of the years, the artist became a remarkable businessman, who insisted on keeping a close eye on the countless products derived from his characters: animated films, figurines, games, advertising and promotional uses. The Smurfs were invading the planet and, with the help of the Master's children, what the artist called his PME (Peyo Moyenne Entreprise [Peyo Medium-sized Business]) split into a design studio (Cartoon Création, directed by his son Thierry) and a company controlling all the merchandising operations (IMPS, developed by his daughter Véronique) in the late 1980s. The licences for the use of the characters had run into tens of thousands and, in 1989, Cartoon Création was transformed into a publishing house for the publication of Peyo's last works, before going back to simply producing new Johan, Smurfs and Benoît Brisefer books in 1992, edited and distributed by Lombard.
The death of Peyo, on 24 December 1992, did not interrupt the development of his series. He had ensured that someone would take over. Thierry Culliford, Delporte and Dugomier have since scripted new adventures for the three house stars nice and regularly for the studio illustrators (Desorgher, P. Garray, Alain Maury, etc.).