An early March 2020 gathering of about 3,500 cosplayers attempting to break a world record of the most people dressed as Smurfs in Landerneau, France drew the criticism of many over the callousness of participants over the large gathering amidst the covid19 respiratory illness affecting the world. Social media-based critics commented on the stupidity of large numbers of people meeting in one place and possibly encouraging the spreading of the virus in the local population. The irony of such a gathering centered around the Smurfs comic character did not elude this writer.
The Smurfs are small anthropomorphic creatures created by Belgian cartoonist Pierre Culliford, better known as Peyo in 1958. First appearing in Johan and Peewit (1947), the Smurfs quickly gained their own comic strip in the Spirou magazine in 1959 in an adventure known as the Purple Smurfs. The Purple Smurfs could be considered an early zombie apocalypse tale where one infected Smurf bitten by one fly bites back other Smurfs turning each into a maniacal gnome attempting to infect other Smurfs. Papa Smurf, the leader of the small blue creatures fights back with a cure that can turn back Smurfs from purple to blue.
This story predates George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), which was based on Richard Matheson's novel I Am Legend (1954). The story accurately depicts the risks of contamination in communities but unlike most zombie films since Night of the Living Dead, a cure can turn the Purple Smurfs back into regular Smurfs, while another bite from an infected individual can contaminate them anew.
This Smurf story had long been unavailable in the Unite States until publisher Paper Cutz released the Smurfs original adventure in 2010. Due to its original French title “Les Schtroumpfs noirs” which when translated correctly comes off as The Black Smurfs, previous publishers feared accusations of racism by portraying the bad Smurfs as black. The purple styling was a solution reached by Hanna-Barbera Studios in the 1980s when they first adapted the Purple Smurf as a cartoon for kids.
Asian patients affected by coronavirus covid19 have faced social stigma because of their condition. Asians in North America and other parts of the world have also faced racism and attacks where others see them as the cause of the viral outbreak that began in China and as being responsible for the world epidemic.
The Purple Smurfs story teaches us that the infection can be stalled when hygienic measures are taken to kill the infecting pathogen. As the epidemic continues, we too can wash out hands well and avoid touching our faces so that we can later get the book and read it with our loved ones. I highly recommend the Smurfs’ first adventure. It’s classic Charleroi comic art and very entertaining for a story meant for kids.