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Smurfs celebrate 50th birthday
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Nine Culliford, the widow of cartoonist Pierre "Peyo" Culliford who created the Smurfs, poses after a news conference in Brussels Jan. 14, 2008.

The Smurfs are preparing to mount a series of "invasion" of European cities as the little blue cartoon characters celebrate their 50th birthday this year, organizers said on Monday.

Here is the "war plan": Smurfs will be deployed overnight to each of the 20 targeted European cities. When people wake up, they will discover suddenly several thousands of Smurfs in their neighborhood.

They can be anywhere: queuing at the post office, waiting at the bus stop, playing around the fountain and at the schoolyard ...

They are all white statues in the well-known shape of the Smurfs, three apples high.

Do not be too surprised. You can take one and paint it as you imagine. If you are creative enough, you will be rewarded with a very Smurfy gift.

The invasion drama is only part of the year-long celebration to mark the 50th birthday of Smurfs, which was first introduced to the public by late Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford, or Peyo by his pen name, in October 1958.

After 50 years, the fictional group of small sky blue creatures, who live somewhere in the woods, have become world known figures and support a business valued at 4 billion U.S. dollars.

"I think that if he could see all that has been done with his characters since his death and the success and interest that the Smurfs still attract, he would be very, very, very, very happy and very proud," Thierry Culliford, Peyo's son, told reporters at a press conference in Brussels to kick off the year of celebration.

Children watch a cartoon of the Smurfs at the start of a news conference in Brussels Jan. 14, 2008. It is the Smurfs' 50th anniversary this year.

In order to draw a worldwide attention, a lot of events have been planned throughout all of Europe, ranging from exhibition telling the real story of the Smurfs to new comic book collections and a 3-D animation feature film expected to be released next year. A set of commemorative stamps will also be issued.

At the press conference, organizers revealed that a Celebrity Smurf, which is 10 times bigger than the usual one, has already been decorated by an unnamed celebrity person. It will be sold at an auction later this year, with the financial benefits going to the United Nations to help promote children's rights and education globally.

Born in this Belgian capital in 1928, Peyo was forced to earn a living as a movie projectionist at the age of 15. Later he decided to get into comics, but the beginning was hard.

The Smurfs first appeared as secondary characters in Peyo's 1958 comics series "Johan and Peewit" which proved to be a huge success, and the first independent Smurf stories appeared one year later, together with the first merchandising.

Nowadays, the success of the Smurfs has become planetary. There are few regions left where their faces are not recognized at first glance, but the name used to designate them changes every time, like Smurf in English, Schlumpf in German and Lan-Jing-Ling in Chinese.

Belgium's Thierry Culliford, the son of cartoonist Pierre "Peyo" Culliford who created the Smurfs, poses after a news conference in Brussels Jan. 14, 2008.

Their domain is not limited to the page and the screen. The Smurfs also inspired records sold by the million, a steadily increasing collection of very popular figurines, video games, various toys ... In all, a total of more than 3,000 derived products and company messages made use of their image.

Although Peyo passed away in 1992, his family and coworkers have continued his work, which becomes a shared childhood memory of one generation after another.

Hendrik Coysman, head of Smurf rights holder IMPS, said after 50 years the Smurf village, with 101 Smurfs under the care of Papa Smurf, will have some new members: more female Smurfs.

"There have been dramatic changes in socio-cultural values in the past 20 to 25 years," Coysman said. "One of these is girl empowerment."

"So, there will be a greater female presence in the Smurf village and this will, of course, be a basis for new stories and this will probably turn upside down certain traditional situations within the village."

Good news for Smurfette, or Lan Meimei in Chinese, who will not feel lonely any more.

(Xinhua News Agency January 16, 2008)

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