Hey, That's My Cape! - BRAAAINS! A Brief History of Zombies

On Sunday night, Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s comic The Walking Dead will shamble its way into your living room via cable network AMC as a brand new television series.

The Walking Dead. Zombies. AMC. I can’t be sure but I think THIS may just be the sign of the impending zombie apocalypse.

In pop culture we’ve experienced fast zombies, smart zombies and funny zombies who divert from the normal dawdling dummy, but the concept behind them all originally came from African and Haitian voodoo practices. It was said that a bokor (sorcerer) could reanimate a dead person to do their bidding. Doctors later attempted to dismiss these claims as being caused by mixtures of intense drugs. Anyone who went to college might agree you can have fun with someone who’s on drugs but this isn’t nearly as interesting as what came later.

It was inevitable creators would latch onto these wild stories and dramatize them. The Magic Island by W.B. Seabrook, published in 1929, told of a man who encounters voodoo cults and their zombies in Haiti. In 1932 a play called Zombie flopped on stage but inspired the now cult classic, White Zombie which also focused on voodoo zombie themes and starred Bela Lugosi. Things to Come, from a 1936 screenplay by H.G. Wells, was the first to introduce a plague called “the wandering sickness” and its victims, “the hill people.” In 1954, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend spoke of vampires but their infestation was more akin to zombies and it’s this that famously inspired George A. Romero to make Night of the Living Dead.

Film to television might not seem like that great of a jump but did you ever really think you’d see the day zombies had their own TV show? Ok so the zombies aren’t technically the stars but, they kinda are. Even though this is really the story of Rick, Shane, Andrea, Dale and other survivors of a massive zombie outbreak, we’re all tuning in for the brain suckers. As shocked as I still am that we’re going to get a weekly dose of zombies, I’m equally not shocked The Walking Dead was chosen for adaptation.

Why? Because it’s awesome.

The Walking Dead is just one white blood cell in the pool of zombie comic blood out there today but it’s certainly at the top of its game. The first zombie to appear in comics was Bombie the Zombie in 1949. It was a strip included in Disney’s Donald Duck Four Color #238 where, you guessed it, Bombie was reanimated by an African voodoo sorcerer and sent to take revenge on Scrooge McDuck. Since then the titles have just piled on. Marvel Zombies, The Blackcherry Bombshells, Blackgas and The Last Resort just to name a few. And don’t forget about all the illustrated Zombie Survival Guides out there either.

What is it about zombies that are so appealing? If recent events are any indication, they’re certainly sneaking their way up the creature ladder of popularity to steal the number one spot from vampires. Zombies aren’t sexy (although Vertigo Comics is trying to prove differently with their series iZombie) like most vampires are portrayed these days, so a huge selling point like sex appeal doesn’t apply to them. No, what zombies have is pure, unadulterated fear and shameless gore.

Real people have real zombie escape plans. That is why zombies will continue to be written about, people are scared shitless this will actually happen one day and want to hear every possible scenario so they can prepare. Or, they just like seeing people getting their brains eaten and blown off by shotguns.

It’s what everyone is looking forward to this Sunday on AMC. Which, may I just say, while it couldn’t be a better fit for the show (barring perhaps HBO) I never would have thought American Movie Classics would be hosting a zombie series. Similar to how MTV has changed its focus but not its name over the last few years, AMC used to be my go-to channel for when I wanted to watch Singin’ In The Rain and the like. Now I’ll be watching “Shootin’ in the Rain,” “Runnin’ in the Rain,” “Bleedin’ in the Rain...”

What's your favorite zombie incarnation?

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