Guest appearance of Goscinny in a Jehan Sepoulet story, drawn by Uderzo
René Goscinny is probably the best-known writer of humorous comics in Europe. He made his mark not only as the co-creator of the world-famous Gauls Asterix and Obelix, but also with the stories he wrote starring Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and Iznogoud. Besides that, he was co-founder of the groundbreaking comics magazine Pilote, and an advocate of equal appreciation for comic scriptwriters in Europe.
Born in Paris in 1926, young René Goscinny moved with his parents to Argentina at the age of two. He attended the French school in Buenos Aires, where his father worked as a teacher of mathematics, and where he published his first illustrations and writings in the school bulletins Notre Voix and Quartier Latin. He graduated as a Fine Arts student in 1942, only a month before his father died. René found a job at a tyre factory, and when he was laid off, he became a junior illustrator at an advertising agency.
By 1945, his uncle invited him and his mother to the Unites States, where Goscinny found a job as translator. He fulfilled his military service in France, but returned to the States after he was discharged. He settled in Brooklyn and started pursuing an artistic career. He became an assistant in a small studio in 1948, where he met the young American artists Harvey Kurtzman, Willy Elder, John Severin and Jack Davis, who would become the driving forces behind MAD Magazine in 1952. He also met the Europeans Joseph Gillain, better known as Jijé, and Maurice de Bevere, who signed his work with Morris.
Jijé and Morris introduced Goscinny to Georges Troisfontaines, head of World's Presse, an agency that packaged comics for the Belgian magazine Spirou of Éditions Dupuis. Troisfontaines made Goscinny head of the Paris offfices of his firm, where he first encountered his long-term partner in crime Albert Uderzo. Their first published collaborations were editorial sections in the women's magazine Bonnes Soirées, for which Goscinny also produced the early installments of the comic strip 'Sylvie' by Martial in 1952. In that year, Goscinny also returned to the US, in a short-lived attempt to launch an overseas Dupuis magazine called TV Family.
Between 1952 and 1957, Goscinny was also a regular in La Libre Junior, the children's supplement of the Catholic newspaper La Libre Belgique. With Uderzo, he created the humorous series about wannabe pirate 'Jehan Pistolet' (1952-1956), the paper's mascot 'Luc Junior' (1954-1957) and 'Bill Blanchart', the duo's only realistic comic (1954-1955). Other work for La Libre Junior were the features 'Fanfan et Polo' (1952-1953) with Dino Attanasio, which he took over from Jean-Michel Charlier, and 'Alain et Christine' (1953) with Martial, which he later handed over to Charlier.
By the mid 1950s, Goscinny was still dividing his time between writing scripts and cartooning. He made illustrations and cartoons for the weekly radio magazine Le Moustique in 1953-1954, using pseudonyms like René Maldecq, René Macaire and Jacob, and he had his comic strip 'Dick Dicks' published in the newspaper La Wallonie through International Press in 1955. For the Dupuis magazine Risque-Tout, he wrote and drew the feature 'Le Capitaine Bibobu' in 1955-1956.
For Spirou, he wrote three installments of the educational series 'Les Belles Histoires de l'Oncle Paul' in 1954, as well as 'L'or du vieux Lender', a 1956 episode of Jijé's western comic 'Jerry Spring'. But Goscinny's Spirou era shall be most remembered for his scripts for 'Lucky Luke'. Morris had started the adventures of the cowboy who shoots faster than his shadow on his own, but the series took a flight when Goscinny took over the writing in 1955. He would write the scripts until his death in 1977, and introduce countless new and memorable characters, most notably the outlaws Joe, Jack, William and Averell Dalton (the nephews of the "original" Daltons, who Morris had killed off in an earlier episode), the dimwit prison dog Rantanplan, and comic renditions of real-time Wild West legends like Billy the Kid and Calamity Jane.
Initially Goscinny wrote his 'Lucky Luke' scripts anonymously, since scriptwriters for comics didn't receive equal credit or compensation at the time. Disputes over this matter eventually motivated Goscinny to break with World's Presse and found his own syndicate. With Jean-Michel Charlier, Albert Uderzo and World's Presse former publicity manager Jean Hébrard, he launched Édipresse/Édifrance in 1956. The firm specialized in productions for the press and communication purposes. The syndicate launched publications like Clairon for the factory union and Pistolin for the Pupier chocolate company. Several of Goscinny and Uderzo's earlier creations reappeared in the new Édipresse projects; 'Jehan Pistolet' appeared in Pistolin under the title 'Jehan Soupolet', while 'Bill Blanchart' returned in the Edifrance magazine Jeannot in 1957. The duo also took over the title comic of the magazine Benjamin et Benjamine from Christian Godard from 1957 to 1959. Goscinny was furthermore responsible for Pistolin's title comic, which was drawn by Victor Hubinon under the pen name Victor Hugues.
An extremely rare trial issue of a magazine called Le Supplement Illustré (1956) consisted of new creations by Goscinny and other Franco-Belgian legends like Morris ('Fred le Savant'), Jijé ('Max Garac'), Uderzo ('Antoine l'Invincible') and André Franquin ('Mimile, garçon de bureau'), all of which have been lost in obscurity.
Another highlight from this period was 'Le Petit Nicolas'. It featured the charming everyday life adventures of a little boy, told from his perspective. Goscinny wrote the stories under the pen name Agostini, while Jean-Jacques Sempé provided the drawings. It initially ran as a comic strip in Le Moustique from 1956 until 1958, until Sempé preferred to just provide pictures to Goscinny's text. In this format it returned to Sud-Ouest magazine in 1959. Book collections were published by Denoël from 1960, and these have been reprinted for new generations since. Work by Sempé also appeared in the cartoon anthologies 'Cartoons the French Way' and 'French and Frisky', that Goscinny edited for Lion Books in New York in 1955-1956. Other included cartoonists were Ami, Morez, Siné and Fred.
A highly productive writer, Goscinny was also present in Le Lombard's magazine Tintin from 1956 to 1965. Besides some short stories for Jo Angenot and Albert Weinberg, he was responsible for comical series like 'Signor Spaghetti' with Dino Attanasio (1957-1965), 'Monsieur Tric' with Bob De Moor (1957-1958), 'Prudence Petitpas' with Maréchal (1957-1959), 'Alphonse' with Tibet (1957-1958) and 'Strapontin' with Berck (1958-1965). He was furthermore alternating with Greg as gag writer for 'Modeste et Pompon' by André Franquin. Tintin also introduced Uderzo and Goscinny's giant indian 'Oumpah-Pah' (1958-1962), which can be considered their first masterpiece.
In addition, Goscinny appeared in the magazines Paris-Flirt ('Lili Manequin' with Will in 1957), Vaillant ('Boniface et Anatole' with Jordom in 1958-59 and 'Pipsi' with Christian Godard in 1959) and Jours de France ('Gaudéamus', 'La Fée Aveline' and 'Yvette' with Coq between 1960 and 1967). He also returned to the pages of Spirou in 1966 with the adventures of the cat 'Pantouffle', drawn by Raymond Macherot.
On 29 October 1959, the Édifrance/Édipresse syndicate launched the weekly magazine Pilote in cooperation with Radio Luxembourg. Besides an editor, Goscinny was one of the most productive writers for the magazine. Already in the first issue, he launched his most famous creation, 'Astérix le Gaulois', with Uderzo. The inhabitants of the small Gaul town, always in resistance against the Roman army by the grace of their magic potion, became world-famous within a few years time. Goscinny would write 24 books of the series before his untimely death in 1977.
But lets not forget Goscinny's work for Record, a magazine launched by Dargaud and the Catholic publisher La Bonne Presse in 1962. Besides the title comic ('Record et Véronique') that he made with Will in 1962 and 1963, he introduced yet another famous creation in this magazine's pages in 1962. With artist Jean Tabary, he created the adventures of the good but silly potentate 'Haroun el-Poussah', who would loose his title role to side character 'Iznogoud'. As the name already suggests, this power-hungry Grand Vizir was up to no good, as his only goal was to "become caliph instead of the caliph". The slogan became a cathphrase in French pop-culture, and Iznogoud's ill-fated attempts to seize power were continued in Pilote from 1968. Another creation by Goscinny and Tabary was the poetic 'Valentin le Vagabond', that first appeared in Pilote in 1962.
Furthermore, earlier creations like 'Le Petit Nicolas' and 'Jehan Soupolet' returned in Pilote. Goscinny also began new humorous series, like 'Jacquot le Mousse' and 'Tromblon et Bottaclou' with Godard, while Jean-Michel Charlier assumed the writing duties for most of the magazine's realistic comics. The magazine was bought by publisher Georges Dargaud in 1960, and Goscinny and Charlier were appointed editors-in-chief. During this period, he created new series like 'Les Divagations de Monsieur Sait-Tout' (with Martial), 'La Potachologie Illustrée' (with Cabu), 'Les Dingodossiers' (with Gotlib) and 'La Forêt de Chênebeau' (with Mic Delinx), while 'Lucky Luke' was tranferred from Spirou in 1967. Goscinny also brought in new talents like Philippe Druillet, Claire Brétécher, Fred, Jean Solé, Pierre Christin, Jean-Claude Mézières, Nikita Mandryka and Jean-Marc Reiser. However, some of the newer generation - fueled by the rise of American underground comix - clashed with the more conventional Goscinny. In 1973 he stepped down as editor, and was succeeded by Guy Vidal, while the magazine became a monthly.
Besides comics, Goscinny has also written for television and cinema productions. He served as gag man for 'Le Tracassin ou Les Plaisirs de la ville', a satirical comedy film by Alex Joffé, released in 1961, and he participated in the Europe 1 broadcast 'Le Feu de camp du dimanche matin' with Gébé, Fred and Gotlib in 1969. He also worked with producer Pierre Tchernia on the scripts of the feature films ' Le Viager' (1971) and 'Les Gaspards' (1974). He wrote ironic articles about television for Pariscope and L'Os à Moelle, that were collected in the book 'Interludes' by Denoël in 1966, while he showed his passion for boats and transatlantic cruisers in his autobiographical textbook 'Tous les visiteurs à terre' (Denoël, 1969).
Despite Goscinny's impressive productivity his legacy is mostly shaped by 'Asterix' and 'Lucky Luke', which rank among the most widely read European comics in the world, only behind Hergé's 'Tintin'. Both series owe a lot of their popularity to his talent for clever and hilarious stories that appeal both to children as well as adults. 'Asterix' is a rich work, full of ingenious puns, amusing national stereotypes and countless historical and cultural references. Despite some artistic liberties and cartoony exaggerations the time period is well-documented, with an eye for detail and extra jokes for those who know something about Gaulish and Roman culture. Goscinny pushed 'Lucky Luke' in a similar direction, minus the puns because Morris didn't like that type of comedy. The adventures of the poor lonesome cowboy became a brilliant satire of every Western cliché, from inhumanly fast sharpshooters to the cavalry riding in to save the day.
Goscinny also wrote and directed the earliest animated adaptations of 'Asterix' and 'Lucky Luke'. The first 'Asterix' movie, 'Astérix le Gaulois' ('Asterix the Gaul', 1967), happened without his or Uderzo's permission. The next one, 'Asterix et Cléopâtre' ('Asterix and Cleopatra', 1968), had them join in as writers and creative consultants and, as a result, was far superior to its predecessor. It remains one of the most popular 'Asterix' films, with numerous funny sequences and catchy music. Eight years later the next animated feature, 'Les 12 Travaux d'Astérix' ('The Twelve Tasks of Asterix', 1976), hit theaters. It was unique for being a completely original script in which Asterix and Obelix fulfill twelve Herculean tasks. Despite being far more surreal than the comics and therefore more polarizing, it's easily the funniest 'Asterix' film and a cult classic to this day. The two 'Lucky Luke' animated films 'Daisy Town' (1971) and 'La Ballade des Dalton' ('The Ballad of the Daltons') (1978), featured much of the same cartoony hilarity.
Sadly enough Goscinny unexpectedly died in 1977 from cardiac arrest, ironically during a cardiac stress test. His premature death and the void he left behind are still felt in the comics series that continued after his passing. But the books and albums he enriched with his storytelling expertise are enjoyed by generations of readers to this very day.