Following a multi-volume and ongoing celebrated run of bringing Peyo’s original SMURFS comics to English-speaking reader, all ages comics publisher Papercutz is poised to release the first volume of another Peyo classic, BENNY BREAKIRON on May 7th, 2013. Papercutz, headed by former Marvel editor and all round comics ambassador Jim Salicrup, has been kind enough to furnish The Beat with an exclusive preview from the never before seen heart of the book and also with some deep thoughts about Peyo’s BENNY from Salicrup himself.
BENNY first appeared from Peyo’s studios in the 1960’s as Benoît Brisefer at a time when superhero comics were all the rage, but Peyo, never one for slavish imitation, formulated an unlikely hero with a heart, a little French boy with mighty super powers and one kryptonite-like weakness (getting colds). Peyo points out in remarkably practical detail the ways in which Superman-like powers would hinder everyday life for an honest and polite child and critiques the superhero genre with a heavy dose of humor. But it’s the combination of the concept with Peyo’s buoyant, upbeat art style that readers find most attractive. It’s stream-lined storytelling that’s bound to appeal, and BENNY is already an anticipated item for bookstores looking to provide something classic but fresh to readers.
BENNY’S unaltered 1960’s setting and clearly French context don’t seem to pose a cultural translation issue, in fact, are part and parcel of the aesthetic appeal of the comic. Papercutz have overcome the only real barrier to appreciating a celebrated Peyo work in the USA by simply translating the narrative into English, but have also made sure that readers receive a reading experience as close to the original as possible with careful attention to quality presentation of the artwork. One of the great woes of omnivorous comics fans has always been getting approachable copies of European comics in the USA, so it’s another win for a wide-ranging comics market when works like BENNY stock the shelves.
Check out the exclusive preview of BENNY BREAKIRON Volume 1 “The Red Taxis” below, and read on for Peyo fan Jim Salicrup’s own thoughts on the role of BENNY for modern readers.
HM-S: How did BENNY BREAKIRON first come to your attention at Papercutz? I know you’ve been working with Peyo comics to bring readers the original SMURFS series….
Jim Salicrup: While working on our SMURFS books, I just completely fell in love with every aspect of Peyo’s work—his style, his storytelling, panel compositions, just about everything he and his studio were doing! When assembling our SMURFS titles, I often refer to the original European SMURFS albums for reference, and I couldn’t help noticing the Benoît Brisefer (BENNY BREAKIRON) series that is featured along with Les Schtroumpfs (THE SMURFS) and Johan et Pirlouit (JOHAN AND PEEWIT) on all the back covers. Not being able to read French, I assumed the only way I’d be able to enjoy these wonderful books would be for Papercutz to publish them. I just hope everyone else will be as intrigued as I was — the lengths I’ll go to get my comics are unbelievable!
HM-S: What do you think the appeal of a character like Benny is to readers in the 21st century? He’s got that superhero quality but he’s also quite unassuming, really.
JS: In the age of “Dark and Gritty,” Benny Breakiron is “Charming and Cute!” He’s simply a young French boy who uses his power for good— he has a very strong sense of right and wrong, and really doesn’t like bullies.
Many of today’s superhero comicbooks are designed for teenagers and adults, whereas BENNY BREAKIRON strongly appeals to children. Obviously inspired by the very early Superman comics, it embraces many of the elements of the Superman stories that have been discarded over the years, presumably for being too childish. For example, Benny will save a little girl’s runaway balloon or rescue an old lady’s cat from a tree, while Superman is mostly concerned with global or even intergalactic threats these days. For Benny, no problem is too big or too small. He just has to make sure he doesn’t catch a cold—because then he’ll lose all his powers.
Y’know, about 25 years ago, back when I was editing THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN for Marvel Comics, to celebrate Superman’s 50th anniversary, Todd McFarlane and I decided to do an homage to the cover of ACTION COMICS #1. I believed at the time that we were the very first to do so and was just super-pleased with myself for being so clever. But upon seeing the first BENNY BREAKIRON cover, I realized Peyo beat us to it by about 36 years!
JS: There’s an innocence to all of his work that reflects the personality of an artist who was clearly aiming to please his young audience, perhaps starting with his own children (and secretly himself, too). So, while his drawing skills are top-notch, and obviously a great deal of care went into all of his work, he made sure that each and every panel was so clear that it’s impossible to not understand what’s going on. Like the classic Charles Schulz PEANUTS comic strips, each panel is like a little stage, with the horizon line barely above the bottom panel border, and with its cast performing upon it. Even the word balloons, almost always placed at the top of the panels, above the characters’ heads, without any confusion over which character may be speaking, are all carefully placed and considered. Also like Schulz, he creates an incredibly likable cast of characters, and knows how to draw funny yet understated pictures that are irresistibly smile-provoking.
It’s interesting to note that the backgrounds on BENNY BREAKIRON are drawn by “Will,” or the cartoonist Willy Maltaite—and they are beautiful! Unlike the Middle Ages setting of THE SMURFS, the first BENNY BREAKIRON graphic novel is clearly set in a small town in France in the early ’60s. If you ever wondered what the AMC series MAD MEN might look like if it was set in France and drawn by Peyo—this series will give you a clue!
I’m also thrilled that everyone working to produce the Papercutz editions of THE SMURFS will also be putting together the BENNY BREAKIRON graphic novels: translator Joe Johnson, designer Adam Grano, letterer Janice Chiang, Peyo consultant Matt Murray, and Associate Editor Michael Petranek. The critical response to THE SMURFS has been greatly rewarding, and THE SMURFS is usually the top-selling Papercutz title in comicbook shops. We really hope fans check out BENNY BREAKIRON.
HM-S: If Benny existed in the real world, what kind of mayhem do you think would break loose? Would he be Black Ops Benny, or maybe Benny the celeb with millions of Twitter followers?
JS: Poor Benny would be as lost as a World War II superhero waking up in the middle of today’s Times Square! If Benny was on Twitter or Facebook it would be a nightmare for him, as he would be aware of so much more that was happening in the world that he would go crazy trying to help everyone he could. At least back in the ’60s, all he knew about was what was going on in his little hometown.
HM-S: What are your plans for bringing readers more Benny? How much material is there, potentially, to unleash on English-speaking readers?
JS: There have been at least a dozen Benoît Brisefer graphic novels published in Europe, and since Peyo’s death in 1992, the series has been continued by his son Thierry Culliford and artist Pascal Garray. We hope we can publish them all! Papercutz is proud and deeply honored to publish Peyo’s work, and we hope he would’ve approved of how we’re presenting his comics to new generations of fans.
HMS: It would be easy for a comic like BENNY to appeal to readers simply for the nostalgia value of perusing a comic concept from the 60’s and reflecting on the kind of world it represents, but just like Peyo, Papercutz have presented more of a challenge to comics tradition by successfully rendering BENNY as a new comic with its own vitality rather than simply a period piece to collect.
Thanks for the preview, Papercutz, and a big thanks to Jim Salicrup for his vantage on bringing BENNY BREAKIRON into the 21st century!
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress.