The Sorrows of Young Werewolf (eyeteeth) wrote,
The Sorrows of Young Werewolf

Two legendary cartoonists in one post!

As always when I draw a comic like this, one making an injunction or touching in any way on politics, I thought it sounded like a great idea and then drew it and put it together and then started worrying that maybe it's overly preachy? Or didactic, or something? But I shouldn't keep seeing the conflation of these three concepts. Yes, the candidate you don't like can be stupid and crazy and evil, or any two of those, or one, or none, but the three concepts aren't equivalent. And I see this in books I edit a lot. I have a mental illness; many of the people I love have or have had mental illnesses; but the guy in your book who murders women, say (and I choose that as an example because you guys can't stop writing books where people murder women specifically, generally attractive young women with some shared characteristic because the-killer-has-a-type), isn't "mad" or "crazy" or "insane" because he murders women, QED. He might just be bad, have you considered that? Vlad the Impaler, now, he was very, very bad. But he wasn't crazy, and he certainly wasn't stupid. He was quite clever, in fact, and the Turks whom he hated and who hated him inadvertently assisted him with that when they held him hostage as a child and as a consequence he got what was probably the best education available in the world in the fifteenth century. There was this one time when he was the ruler of Wallachia that he got into a Turkish fortification by putting on a turban and talking to the gate guards in fluent Turkish because as you see I am merely a Turk like yourselves and not any kind of filthy Christian and then WHAM! Twist ending, motherfuckers, you just opened the door for Dracula! But I digress. My point is, you might be cool with hanging out in a forest of impaled people (that's what he called them, forests, putting the sylva in Transylvania in a way those who named it did not intend) because you're too crazy to understand where you are, because you're too stupid to understand where you are, or because you get it but you're so evil you're cool with that. With Vlad it was the third thing.

Speaking of bad people, now, and forests, for that matter, I have been reading Smurfs comics, for reasons. I grew up on Tintin and Asterix (in translation) but somehow missed the Smurfs, nor did I watch the cartoon, though I'm the right age to have done so. The adventures of saccharine blue people didn't appeal to me, I think, and they still don't appeal to me much. So why have I been reading the comics? Obviously to see if it's true what I've heard, that Gargamel is really obviously a caricature of an evil Jew. My conclusion: Gargamel is really obviously a caricature of an evil Jew. I've been searching online for images confirming what I've read on Wikipedia, that the original comics show a mezuzah on the door of his cottage, and so far I haven't found any, but really they aren't necessary. Let's leave aside the creepy origin of Smurfette, whom Gargamel creates to sow chaos in the all-male Smurf village (and let's leave that notion aside as well), and who in order to become "a real Smurf" must go from having black hair like Gargamel's to having blond hair -- a story that explicitly aligns the Smurfs with a Nordic notion of whiteness that obviously excludes him -- let's leave that weird bag of problematic notions at the door and ask ourselves: is it possible that the hunched, scheming, dark-haired, big-nosed medieval European who wants to melt the Smurfs into an alchemical mixture to make gold and who has a cat named after a figure from Jewish mythology isn't influenced by historical representations of Jews? I think that's unlikely. Which is not to say that artist/writer Peyo explicitly set out with anti-Semitic intentions (unless, of course, it turns out to be true about the mezuzah); I think it's more likely that he just didn't examine the notions that sprang to his mind when he set out to create a sinister character.

(Gargamel also sometimes wants to eat the Smurfs, or even eat them and use them to make gold. Both of these are remarkably similar to motives that have been ascribed to Jews for as long as there have been Jews in Europe. I think the standard cannibalistic accusation in the Middle Ages was that Jews murder gentiles for their blood, which they bake into matzo. Peyo seems to have consolidated "Jews love gold" and "Jews use gentile body parts in their weird rituals" into "Gargamel wants to use his weird rituals to make Smurf bodies into gold," with a side of "P.S. He also wants to eat them.")

The thing is, the sinister character is by far the best thing about the Smurfs, at least in the comics, as far as I can see. And I'm not just saying that because I wanna like the guy with Jewish identifiers, or even just because I'm a perverse weirdo who wants to like the bad guy. The Smurfs are suffocatingly nice, and there's all that weird shit about Smurfette, who is somehow treated as a sex object by the whole rest of the village even though the Smurfs appear not to have sex? (Seriously, the comic about her origin, The Smurfette, is creepy as hell in a bunch of ways.) Smurfs occasionally experience frustration or anger, but never much or for long; as long as everyone does what Papa says, everyone is fine. Gargamel is the only character with a range of emotions to speak of. Sure, he hates the Smurfs, but he loves his cat:

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Even that is not simplistic because he often verbally abuses Azrael (who understands human speech), and Azrael's facial expressions often show that he's disgusted, disgruntled, or hurt by Gargamel's words or actions. But look at the panic on Gargamel's face, in Gargamel's whole body, in the third panel. And he speaks of Azrael just as I would of a loved one I thought was in danger of being eaten by someone who could maybe be talked out of it: first "That's my cat," and then, to identify him as a being in his own right and not merely a possession: "That's Azrael!"

Gargamel is also, of course, capable of glee, like his spiritual brother Wile E. Coyote, when he thinks he has struck on a successful scheme. And like Wile E. he is capable of despondency. A whole comic, The Smurfs and the Sorcerer's Love, is dedicated to the Smurfs' attempt to make him less loathsome so he'll be able to get a girlfriend and not need to melt them to have meaning in his life. They get the idea when they overhear him telling Azrael that he's lonely and longs for female companionship: according to the Canadian friend who provided me with a translation, he says, "I don't want to go back and eat lentils in my damp old cottage, all alone."

(When Azrael objects to the "all alone," Gargamel snaps that a flea-bitten old tomcat doesn't count as company. Even though the flea-bitten old tomcat was able to object only because it understands human speech. Love is complicated.)

So they strike a deal: there will be a general ceasefire while the Smurfs try to make Gargamel into a person a woman could countenance as a dinner companion. And look at the emotions he runs through just on this one page -- happiness, confusion, anger, pleading, suspicion, satisfaction:

Sch_5 (1).jpg

I also love how much we learn about his relationship with Azrael in just a few panels. They sleep in the same bed, like any normal master and pet who like each other, and when Gargamel wakes up he forgets that Azrael is there and inadvertently pushes him onto the floor -- like any normal master and pet who are so used to each other they don't always see each other anymore. But before Gargamel leaves the room to begin his formation with the Smurfs, he has to sell the idea to his cat, because his cat is also his life partner, an awkward situation I can relate to. No hunting the Smurfs today! he tells Azrael, slamming the door. But then he becomes more imploring than commanding: I'm working with them as a team! I know it's annoying, but I'm doing it for Roxana! You, you'll stay locked in here. Finally he combines a command with an appeal: And stop moaning, it's very important to me!

He says that to his cat. Because he knows his cat cares about the things that are important to him. Also he scowls at a fruit salad. And can we talk about how the evil sorcerer has a sky-blue, floral-patterned ewer in his bedroom? Seriously, how can anyone not root for this cruel, crafty, obsessive bastard who is also a tired, lonely old man?

I still want to see if I can find that mezuzah, but I guess my point is that Peyo was a good-enough artist that he could start with a stereotype and develop a nuanced character. Which makes me think the Jews should own Gargamel, because what if he is Jewish? I'm down with it! I'd melt those patriarchal, racially homogeneous, misogynist blue creeps down into gold in a heartbeat! Wouldn't you?
Tags: cannibalism, cartoons, gruesome historical information, judaism, stix
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