Asterix le Gaulois is 50 years old!

Nous sommes en 50 avant Jèsus-Christ.  Toute la Gaule est occupèe par les Romains…Toute?  Non!  Un village peuple d’irrèductibles Gaulois rèsiste encore et toujours à l’envahisseur.  Et la vie n’est pas facile pour les garnisons de lègionnaires romains des camps retranchès de Babaorum, Aquarium, Laudanum et Petitbonum…

50 B.C.  All Gaul is occupied by the Romans.  All?  No!…One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders.  And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium…

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Asterix, a Gaulish warrior and his pal, Obelix are the two main characters in this little village.  Written by the late Rene Goscinny and drawn by Albert Uderzo, Asterix and Obelix’ adventures take them all over the Classical world—and even into the New one.  I discovered these French comic books in the 70’s when Asterix was already 15 years old.  In a used bookstore I found a catalogue from an exhibit of comic strip art shown in the Louvre.  In it were a few of Uderzo’s drawings—and I knew I had to see more.  With lots of help from my high school French teacher, I wrote a letter to Asterix’ publisher, Dargaud, asking how I could get my hands on those comic books.  Before long, I owned the first in the series ($2.95, not bad) and would accumulate more.

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Looking at Albert Uderzo’s style it’s immediately obvious what an influence his drawings had on me—let’s face it, they still do.  As a kid wanting to be a comic artist I consciously mimicked his style. Uderzo is a master of perspective and camera angles and sight gags.

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The stories are ostensibly for kids, but full of puns and current event gags and spoofs of Latin.  French celebrities made cameo appearances (not that I’d know who they were).  But here’s what’s important: Goscinny and Uderzo paid their audience the compliment of assuming we had enough knowledge of Classical history to get the jokes.

Asterix captured a sense of French national pride and cultural identity.  But not only for the French; as Asterix and Obelix traveled the Classiical world, the authors poked gentle fun at the peoples who would one day be Brits, Germans, Spaniards, Danes, &c., &c.  Apparently everybody likes getting the Gosciny/Uderzo treatment—Asterix is the most translated of French literature.

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Alas, the world has changed in 50 years.  Europe is become the European Union, and national pride—French or otherwise—is not to be encouraged.  A couple of years back according to Charles Bremner of the Times, Albert Uderzo was asked by Dominique Versini, the EU Children’s Defender to let Asterix and Obelix be the official ambassadors to the United Nations convention on the Rights of Children.  Not so fast, said the higher-ups at Defence for Children International:

‘… Astérix conveys an “archaic…hierarchical” world at odds with the revolutionary” values of the 1989 convention…said Jean-Pierre Rosenczveig, a senior juvenile judge who heads the French DCI.

Astérix also projects “a Gaulish vision which ignores the intercultural reality of French society,” they say. His constant resistance against the Romans and other foreign invaders sends altogether the wrong message in the peace-loving European Union.’

Vercingetorix may be laying down his arms at Caesar’s feet once again.  Asterix is “a eulogy to tribal, hierarchical, society with frequent references to a chief.”  And that’s no good, mes enfants.

Alors.  Once upon a time, with the help of their druid’s magic potion, a tiny village of plucky Gauls could snap their fingers at the mighty Roman Empire.  And the Romans never were able to discover the potion’s recipe.

Asterix’ website http://gb.asterix.com/indexmus.html

4 responses to “Asterix le Gaulois is 50 years old!

  1. forwarded this to a friend in china–and it was BLOCKED! so cut/n/pasted it into an email.
    ya think they read it as Nous sommes en 2009 apres Jèsus-Christ. Toute la Asie est occupèe par les Chine…Toute? Non! Un village peuple d’irrèductibles Tibetois rèsiste encore et toujours à l’envahisseur.

  2. Pingback: Inside the Asylum :: Asterix the Gaul turns 50 :: October :: 2009

  3. Pingback: 2010 in review | John Manders' Blog

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