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You Think you Know a Genre…

Posted By Matthew J. Neagley On March 4, 2009 @ 2:23 pm In GMing Advice | 13 Comments

You think you know a little something about a genre, then you uncover a fact that turns everything on it’s ear. Here’s a little sample:

In 1968, John A. Russo and George A. Romero pioneered a new genre in film with Night of the Living Dead, generally accepted to be the progenitor of the Zombie Survival Horror genre. In addition, this was the first instance of the word zombie being used to describe the shambling risen corpses we understand zombies to be today. Prior to Night of the Living Dead, zombies were mindless victims of voodoo ritual tetrodotoxin poisoning. Due to an error in crediting, Russo and Romero’s movie was considered public domain and quickly imitated by other writers and directors.

So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that the entire concept had already been done five years earlier by, and this is the God’s Honest Truth my gnomish friends, The Smurfs. The first Smurfs comic book, published in French in 1963 contained the story Les Schtroumpfs Noirs, or The Black Smurfs. The comic, which was adapted to the hit cartoon series as The Purple Smurfs in 1982, hit on every element of Night of the Living Dead’s formula closely enough, that one might wonder if Romero or Russo were influenced by the comic prior to making Night of the Living Dead.

I’ll give that a moment to sink in. – The Zombie Survival Horror genre wasn’t created by Russo and Romero with Night of the Living Dead as it is commonly attributed, but by Peyo Culliford with The Black Smurfs.

 

Now, I’m tempted to just let all that stand on it’s own, a “Holy Shit! You have GOT to know this!” moment, but this is supposed to be a GMing article, so I have to throw in some way to relate this to your game or Martin will do his own Black Smurf imitation on my sorry blue tail.

1) First, I dare you to pitch a Zombie Survival Horror one-shot to your group as “Based on the original source material of the Zombie Survival Horror genre…” and then completely sucker-punch them by setting it in Smurf Village with pre-gened smurfs to play, maybe even some of the cannon characters.  Hell, why not? If you do, I beg of you, come back and tell the world how it went. Inquiring minds want to know.

2) If you’ve got the time, it never hurts to research your source material as deeply as you can. You’re under no obligation to use any part of what you uncover that you don’t like (This is your game after all) but what you uncover may well be burried treasure.

3) Going against type has the potential to be a powerful tool. Much like the Smurf Unicef commercial (Youtube it), the fact that The Smurfs are so happy and idealistic adds dramatically to the impact of a zombie apocalypse.

4) Bizarre is memorable. If you want to be the guy who ran a game that 45 years from now, people think back and say “Holy Crap, can you believe he ran the game where…” taking a lesson from the Smurf Zombie Survival Horror comic and foraging straight into unbelievable territory will do you more good than harm. Even if you completely flub the game, people are going to remember what you tried to do.

 

Since this is relatively unbelievable, here are some sources:
Zombie Apocalypse entry at TVtropes. Do a find in page for Smurf.
The Black Smurfs at Wikipedia.
You can see a sample of the original comic, at ToplessRobot. Scroll to the #1 spot on the “most disturbing smurfs” list.
An episode guide for the smurfs cartoon at Bluebuddies. The Purple Smurfs is episode #23.

About  Matthew J. Neagley

First introduced to RPGs through the DnD Red Box Set in 1990, Matt fights on ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems. Luckily, his wife is also a GM, providing him with time on both sides of the screen.




13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "You Think you Know a Genre…"

#1 Comment By John Arcadian On March 4, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

. . . . .

Wow. Everything I ever knew about zombies . . . was wrong.

Y’know, my players are going to be really surprised when the zombies in my next zombie game go “gnap, gnap, gnap.” and it’s all your fault.

#2 Comment By farfromunique On March 4, 2009 @ 4:00 pm

More posts sould be tagged “Holy Shit”. In addition, this is fantastic. I think the next bunch of undead are going to start singing “Da da da-da da da, dah da-da da dah! Dah da da-da da dah DAH da-da da dah!” about round 2. Or maybe BE singing it during a surprise round.

I’m also pondering Papa Zombie, Zombette, et al, and these being intelligent undead: “Zombie those advunturerers!” “Zombie, Foiled again!” “Zomb the Zombing Zombies!”

#3 Comment By Frostbeard On March 4, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

I remember that episode of the Smurfs. It scarred my poor little mind back then. I actually saw it in French and English, though I don’t think I ever saw the book.
GNAP!
GNAP!
GNAP!
I never really thought of it as being related to zombie fiction, but damn! That really fits!

#4 Comment By Karizma On March 4, 2009 @ 4:17 pm

Holy shit indeed!

Someone needs to make a Left 4 Dead mod. I want to run that smurf game. I want to run it now.

#5 Comment By darrell On March 4, 2009 @ 5:04 pm

It appears that someone out there may read the same web-comics as me. :)

#6 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On March 4, 2009 @ 6:42 pm

Glad everyone liked it!

@Darrell, is this the webcomic in question?
http://www.menagea3.net/d/20081213.html That’s where I first read about it. I had seen the cartoon as a child but forgotten all about it till I read that comic.

#7 Pingback By Mr. Topp and the Big Bad Blog » The morning coffee: Zombies, Smurfs and Camel Smugglers On March 5, 2009 @ 2:44 am

[…] I have learned two things that are unrelated to camel smuggling. The first is that the zombie genre was invented by the Smurfs. The second is that Mountain Dew contains ingredients that cause hallucinations, depression and […]

#8 Comment By darrell On March 5, 2009 @ 4:29 am

**Whistles innocently**

#9 Comment By deadlytoque On March 5, 2009 @ 10:12 am

For the record, Romero and Russo didn’t call their zombies “zombies” in Night of the Living Dead. They called them “ghouls”. Romero didn’t use the term “zombie” until Dawn of the Dead, 10 years later.

Also, there was a novel published in 1697 called Le Zombi du grand Pérou that refers to the walking dead as “zombies”, and the idea of zombies as reanimated corpses has been a part of the myth as long as there has been a myth. It’s true that in actual fact, “real” zombies had never really died, but the term has -always- been meant “to describe… shambling risen corpses”.

Further, the Black Smurfs weren’t the undead. They were more like the zombies of 28 Days Later, in that they were “infected” by a highly communicable plague.

Nitpicking aside…

Apparently, in the original comic, it was Grouchy who was the first one bitten by the fly, the first Black Smurf. Even though he was eventually cured, it permanently affected his personality. That might be an interesting twist for any game to feature a spreadable — but curable — zombie condition. If one of the NPCs (or even a PC!) is infected, the players race to find a cure… only to discover that their beloved sister/close friend/police contact has become withdrawn, temperamental, and prone to bursts of violence. Is the cure any better than the disease?

#10 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On March 6, 2009 @ 9:53 am

I knew it was only a matter of time before someone came along and blew my geek cred out of the water with theirs. That’s alright though, I’m happy for the schoolin’.

I’ll throw out this additional tidbit I learned from the All Flesh Must be Eaten rulebook. Mindless walking corpses have been around since time immemorial in myth and legend. Prior to being called Zombies, they were largely called …Wampyrs. It was only when Vampire was co-opted to mean the intellegent blood-suckers, that Zombie was pulled in to replace the term.

As odd as it is, I’ll bet some etymologist out there has done their graduate thesis on the history of the word Zombie or Vampire.

#11 Comment By deadlytoque On March 7, 2009 @ 1:57 pm

@Matthew J. Neagley – In fact, I seem to recall reading somewhere that “wampyr” used to just be a generic term for monster, and included werewolves as well.

So that’s actually a horror seed in and of itself: maybe the Things that Go Bump shared a common origin in more than just language…

#12 Comment By Bob On March 8, 2009 @ 2:18 pm

I had completely forgotten about this. It gave me nightmares as a child!

I wonder if I can *yoink* any of it to provide some humour for the setting I’m writing.

#13 Comment By Smon On March 6, 2011 @ 11:37 am

‘I Am Legend’ (novella 1957) had hordes of near-mindless undead ‘vampires’ (and more intelligent not-dead vampires) in an end-of-the-world setting.

Zombies have always been considered undead, although of course real zombies are still alive.


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