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Comic Creator René Goscinny

René Goscinny

René Maldecq, René Macaire, Jacob, Liliane D'Orsay

(14 August 1926 - 5 November 1977, France)   France

René  Goscinny

Goscinny drawn by Uderzo
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. Together with Albert Uderzo he made his mark as co-creator of 'Astérix' (1959), the best-selling European comics series in the world, only behind Hergé's 'Tintin'. The adventures of the indomitable Gaul are popular with children and adults alike. In fact, 'Astérix' is one of the few comics admired by intellectuals because of its great satire, vivid depiction of the Gaulish-Roman era and many double layers in language and cultural-historical references. Goscinny's name is also attached to another international best-seller, 'Lucky Luke' by Morris, which he reshaped into a hilarious parody of the western genre. He furthermore wrote stories with the naïve school boy 'Le Petit Nicolas' (1955) with Jean-Jacques Sempé, and scripted the brawny Native American 'Oumpah-pah' (1958) with Uderzo, the dictatorial grand-vizir 'Iznogoud' (1962) with Jean Tabary and made the nonsensical educative parody 'Les Dingodossiers' (1964-1968) with Marcel Gotlib. His contributions to all these series are generally regarded as their golden period. And these are only a few of the dozens of comics he penned gags and narratives for. René Goscinny therefore remains a legend in comics history. He was one of the few comics writers of his time to become as famous as the illustrator. He even advocated equal appreciation for this often ignored profession.The man is widely admired for his hilarious and engaging storylines, full with unforgettable characters and equally classic scenes. He was a master in creating funny running gags, amusing puns, great slapstick violence and clever cultural-historical references. Goscinny is furthermore important as one of the co-founders of the French comics magazine Pilote (1959-1989), of which he also was chief editor between 1963 and 1974. He played a huge part in its commercial success and helped publishing house Dargaud to rival the Belgian comics companies Lombard and Dupuis. Goscinny also wrote the storyboards for animated feature adaptations of his creations, such as the classic films 'Astérix et Cléopâtre' ('Asterix and Cleopatra', 1968), 'Daisy Town' (1971), 'Les 12 Travaux d'Astérix' ('The 12 Tasks of Asterix', 1976) and 'La Ballade des Dalton' ('The Ballad of the Daltons', 1978), which are still regarded as the best and funniest 'Astérix' and 'Lucky Luke' films ever created. But his most lasting legacy may be that he managed to get children interested in more sophisticated comedy, while proving to adults that comics were capable to be enjoyed on a higher level as well. Most amazingly, it won him a colossal worldwide and loyal audience that made him one of the best-selling French-language authors on the planet. 

Cover for Quartier Latin, by René Goscinny 1944

Goscinny was born in 1926 as the son of a Parisian chemical engineer. At the age of two he moved with his parents to Argentina. 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. As a child Goscinny wanted to become a comics artist, inspired by Alain Saint-Ogan's 'Zig et Puce', Louis Forton's 'Les Pieds Nickelés' and Walt Disney's comics. 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.

Harvey Kurtzman, John Severin and René Goscinny in 1940
Harvey Kurtzman, John Severin and René Goscinny in 1948

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. The early issues of MAD had an enormous impact on Goscinny's own work, much like the cartoons of Tex Avery. Both proved to him that one could create hilarious comedy that was enjoyable by children and adults alike, but on different levels. He was also a huge fan of Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton, Peter Sellers, Louis de Funès and The Marx Brothers. Goscinny also met the Europeans Joseph Gillain, better known as Jijé, and Maurice de Bevere, who signed his work with Morris. Goscinny and Kurtzman cooperated on a variety of children's puzzle books for the publishing house Kunen. Goscinny also made a solo jigsaw puzzle book called 'Water Pistol Pete and Flying Arrow' (1949).

Water Pistol Pete and Flying Arrow
Water Pistol Pete and Flying Arrow

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 the editorial sections 'Qui a raison?' and 'Sa Majesté Mon Mari' (both 1951-1953) in the women's magazine Bonnes Soirées, which Goscinny signed with "Liliane D'Orsay". For this magazine, 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.

Dick Dicks by René Goscinny
Dick Dicks, written and drawn by Goscinny

Between 1952 and 1957, Goscinny was also a regular contributor to 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). Of all these it was 'Jehan Pistolet', debuting on 26 June 1952, which proved to have the most longevity. The story is set in the 18th century and revolves around a young waiter who works in a tavern in Nantes. Dissatisfied with his job he decides to become a privateer and buys a ship, "La Brave". He assembles a crew consisting of various colourful characters, including his second captain Hugues, cooks Bertrand and Pierrot, cannoneer and navigator Gilles, tiny sailor P'tit René (a caricature of René Goscinny) and Jasmin the parrot. Jehan and his crew work for the French king and sail the seven seas looking for treasure, new colonies or to fight off villainous pirates. Several elements of 'Jehan Pistolet' already remind readers of Goscinny and Uderzo's later work. It's a humoristic series set during a historical period, with various puns, running gags and cultural-historical references. It satirizes a specific genre, in this case nautical and pirate stories, and much like 'Astérix' the protagonists already celebrate every happy end with a banquet. 'Jehan Pistolet' allowed Uderzo to show off his rich illustration work and talent for visualizing Goscinny's funny scripts. The series ran for four albums before it eventually reached its conclusion in 1956. 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.

Le Capitaine Bibobu, by René Goscinny
Le Capitaine Bibobu, written and drawn by René Goscinny

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. The adventures of the poor lonesome cowboy became a brilliant satire of every Western cliché. Every stock character is there: ultra-fast sharpshooters, careless gamblers who are frequently tarred and feathered, grouchy old-timers, lynch-happy mobs, morbid caretakers, monosyllabic Native Americans who make spelling mistakes while sending smoke signals, Chinese laundry owners, African-American laborers, siesta-holding Mexicans, overly feared outlaws and the cavalry riding in to save the day.

Lucky LukeLucky Luke

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, and his attempt to form a union for comics artists, caused Troisfontaines to fire Goscinny in 1956. Uderzo and Charlier were loyal to their friend and left as well. The three men, accompanied by World's Presse former publicity manager Jean Hébrard, launched their own Édipresse/Édifrance syndicate 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.

Le Petit Nicolas
From: Le petit Nicolas a des ennuis

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 several comical series. Notable were 'Signor Spaghetti' (1957-1965) with Dino Attanasio, about a little Italian who ends up in various slapstick situations, and the adventures of the cab driver 'Strapontin' (1958-1965) with Berck. Other work for Tintin included 'Monsieur Tric' (1957-1958) with Bob De Moor, 'Prudence Petitpas' (1957-1959) with Maréchal (1957-1959) and 'Alphonse' (1957-1958) with Tibet. He was furthermore alternating with Greg as gag writer for 'Modeste et Pompon' by André Franquin. Tintin also introduced Uderzo and Goscinny's giant Native American 'Oumpah-Pah' (1958-1962), which can be considered their first masterpiece. They had tried to launch this series for seven years, but it was rejected both by American as well as French publishers. When it was greenlighted and finally published in Tintin on 2 April 1958, it immediately found a huge, receptive audience. 'Oumpah-Pah' (1958-1962) is set in Canada (New France) during the 18th century, when French colonialists explored the country.

Oumpah-pah is a hefty, brave and strong Native American who befriends a scrawny dignified French military officer, Hubert de la Pâte Feuilletée. The series caught on and proved to be Goscinny and Uderzo's first masterpiece. Goscinny documented himself thoroughly to know more about the time period, but didn't hold himself back when it came to poking fun at every conceivable cliché about Native Americans. Just like in 'Lucky Luke' (for whom Goscinny also wrote scripts around the same period) their animalistic names and communication through smoke signals are running gags. Yet European settlers are mocked with the same wit and nobody can deny that the most heroic character is Oumpah-pah. Goscinny furthermore double-layered his scripts with historical allusions. Much like the Gauls in 'Astérix' frighten the Romans, the Native Americans scare off colonials with their physical strength and hide in bushes and trees. In the third 'Oumpah-pah' story the main characters even encounter some incompetent pirates.

SpaghettiOumpah-pah

Goscinny and Uderzo also made another comic series for Tintin: 'La Famille Moutonet' (1959). It starred a grandfather with a military background who is tormented by his overly busy grandchildren, Totoche and Mimi. It only lasted two stories, but was nevertheless in 1961 revived as 'La Famille Cokalane' in the French edition of Tintin. This reboot came about at the instigation of the petroleum company Hahn, whose products were sponsored below each comic strip. Since their products were only available in France and not in Belgium the series only appeared in the French edition of Tintin. 'La Famille Cokalane' had basically the same set-up and cast as the Moutonet family, but with different names. It lasted a bit longer than the original, but nevertheless was dropped again after 16 episodes. Goscinny and Uderzo worked on the first episode, but the next ones were drawn by a different artist, who remains anonymous.

While 'Oumpah-Pah' proved to be a hit with Tintin's readers and would be republished in many other European magazines over the decades, Hergé didn't like the series at all. Not only did its cartoony style not fit with the "serious" style he wanted to promote within his magazine: he didn't like its puns either. So, when Goscinny and Uderzo left Tintin he was more than happy to see them go. Unfortunately for Hergé the duo, accompanied by Jean-Michel Charlier and Jean Hébrard, founded their own comics magazine in cooperation with Radio Luxembourg and the Édifrance/Édipresse syndicate. The first issue of Pilote appeared on 29 October 1959. Within a couple of years it would seriously rival Tintin's popularity in the French-language world. Besides an editor, Goscinny was one of the most productive writers of humorous for the magazine, while Jean-Michel Charlier assumed the writing duties for most of the magazine's realistic comics. Earlier creations like 'Le Petit Nicolas' (1959-1965) and 'Jehan Soupolet' (1960-1961) returned in Pilote, while Goscinny also introduced two new humorous characters in the magazine's first issue: the sailor 'Jacquot le Mousse' (1959) with Christian Godard and of course his most famous creation, 'Astérix le Gaulois' with Uderzo.


First panels of 'Astérix le Gaulois' in the dummy issue of Pilote (1959)

Originally they picked out 'Le Roman de Renart', a classic medieval folk tale about a trickster fox of whom also exist Dutch and German versions. But it turned out Benjamin Rabier had already beat them to the idea and that Jean Trubert too prepared a comic book version of Renart. Goscinny decided to delve deeper, all the way back to the starting point of all French history books: Gaulish culture. At school everybody learned about the Gaulish chieftain Vercingetourix and his brave resistance against the Romans. Since the time period was such common knowledge among French readers, Goscinny and Uderzo could have all the fun they wanted with this setting, because everybody would get the references. 'Astérix' takes place around the time of Caesar's conquest of Gaul (ancient France). As the famous title page of every album explains: Caesar apparently hadn't conquered all of Gaul. One tiny village in the western-northern French region Brittany kept resisting the Roman oppressors. This is the place where Astérix and his fellow villagers live. The choice for this homebase was self-evident. Goscinny wanted it to be near the ocean, in case future storylines would require the characters to sail to other countries. Uderzo favored Bretagne because he lived there during World War II. And since the province was famous for its many archeological examples of Gaulish culture - such as the famous menhirs of Carnac - it was a done deal. At the time the creators weren't aware that there already had been two comics about ancient Gaul, namely Jean Nohain and Poléon's 'Totorix' and Fernand Cheneval's 'Aviorix'. Luckily we might add, because otherwise they might have dropped that idea too. 

Pilote coverAsterix

The first album, 'Astérix le Gaulois' ('Asterix the Gaul', 1959), already established most of the recurring cast. Goscinny gave all the Gauls in the series punny names which ended with the suffix "-ix", in reference to famous Gaulish chieftains like Vercingetorix, Dumnorix, Ambiorix, Orgetorix and gods like Albiorix and Caturix. Astérix' name is a pun on the word "asterisk", for instance. Goscinny deliberately gave him a name starting with the first letter of the alphabet so Astérix could end up in the first chapter in future comic book encyclopaedia. He also came up with the idea of making him a tiny pathetic dwarf, rather than a strong hero as was customary at the time. While Astérix is small he is nevertheless very smart. Together with the druid Panoramix (Getafix in the English translation) they are easily the most intelligent people in the village. Panoramix provides everybody with a magic potion which makes the Gauls strong enough to beat up the Romans time and time again. The only person not allowed to drink the potion is Astérix' best friend and local stonecutter Obélix, who fell in the cauldron when he was just a small boy and is therefore already strong enough. A brawny man, he enjoys beating up Romans, eating and hunting for wild boars. Unfortunately he is not very bright and in constant denial over his obesity. Yet he is such a charming doofus that he is easily everyone's favorite character, particularly with children. Abraracourcix (Vitalstatistix) is the self-important chieftain who is carried around on a shield, as was common among Celtic tribes. Unfortunately he constantly falls off due to his carriers' clumsiness and stupidity. Assurancetourix (Cacofonix) is the local bard, but sings so awful that everyone always tries to shut him up, particularly the blacksmith Cetautomatix (Fulliautomatix) who often keeps a hammer near. The final recurring character introduced in Astérix' debut album is Julius Caesar. He acts as the town's nemesis and is frustrated that he can't conquer the Gaulish village. Yet he is not portrayed as diabolical either. When defeated or humiliated he usually shows some grace or a sense of fair play towards the Gauls. He even helps them punish some of his subordinate centurions or far more villainous Romans.

Other recurring villains in the series are the pirates, though they are less of a threat. They made their debut in 'Astérix Gladiateur' ('Asterix the Gladiator', 1962) where they make the fatal mistake of attacking Astérix and Obélix. Originally they were just intended as a shout-out to the pirate comic 'Barbe Rouge' by Jean-Michel Charlier and Victor Hubinon, which also ran in Pilote. The three main pirates are even directly modelled after Barbe Rouge, the one-legged Triple-Patte and Baba the crows' nest look-out. But they quickly became a running gag in every album. No matter where the buccaneers travel they always happen to come across "the crazy Gauls" somewhere, much to their own misfortune. Since 'Barbe Rouge' was unknown outside Continental Europe the reference to Charlier and Hubinon's comic was lost on most foreign readers. Today, now that 'Barbe Rouge' has more or less fallen into obscurity, they have become a prime example of a parody which outlived the original spoof material.

René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo at Asterix anniversary in 1967
René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo at the Asterix anniversary in 1967

Another major character, Obelix' dog Idéfix (Dogmatix), actually started out as a running gag but quickly became a fully fledged cast member. In 'Le Tour de Gaule d'Astérix' ('Asterix and the Banquet', 1963) Astérix and Obélix are followed by a tiny, white moustached dog all throughout the story until he is noticed and adopted by Obélix in the final strips. Pilote organized a contest to find a name for the canine. Four young readers, Hervé, Dominique, Anne and Rémy came up with 'Idéfix', a pun on the French word "idée fixe" for an obsessive idea. Other regulars in the franchise are the village elder Agecanonix (1962) and his far younger wife (1970). Chieftain Abraracourcix also received a feisty partner in 1964: Bellefleur. Finally in 1969 fish monger Ordralfabetix was introduced. His merchandise is never fresh and therefore sparks off numerous village fights. But despite their squabbles Astérix' village is still united against their common enemy: the Romans. Every story therefore ends with them celebrating at a large, round table in the middle of the forest, while drinking beer and eating roasted wild boars. Even Assurancetourix is allowed to be there, but out of precautions bound and gagged against a tree.

At the time nobody believed in Astérix' commercial potential. If Goscinny hadn't had his own magazine with Pilote it might never have been published. But it was a runaway success from the start. Sales rose with each album and made Pilote so succesful that Astérix soon became the magazine's mascot. Goscinny played a huge part in its popularity. His clever and hilarious stories were funny for both children as well as adults, but on entirely different levels. Particularly in Europe 'Astérix' is incredibly beloved. The fact that many parts of Europe were once part of the Roman Empire play an obvious part in this. Many ruins and monuments are still part of the landscape. Ancient Roman history and Roman numerals are taught in every school, much like Latin and Ancient Greek are a subject in various European high schools and universities. Nearly every European country starts its own history in the Celtic time period. As a result European readers are more likely to understand the numerous allusions and references to Gallo-Roman culture. Some historians have criticized 'Astérix' for "not being historically accurate", but this was never the creators' intention. They merely satirized the general public's knowledge about the Roman and Gaulish era. Therefore the Gauls all wear winged helmets and moustaches, live in round huts and fear the sky will fall on their head. In some cases they merely took some artistic license. While the Gauls love eating wild boars there is no indication that they actually preferred them over other food. And while a few Celtic chieftains had names which ended in "-ix", Goscinny merely gave all Gauls names like Préfix, Prémierprix and Quatredeusix because it allowed him to think up funny puns. The same went for the anachronistic references to our modern age. The creators always defended themselves that they had no intent to let their characters or setting be remodelled for the sake of historical accuracy.

Interestingly enough, though, Goscinny and Uderzo did go through great lengths to document themselves to the tiniest details about the Antiquity. Two Dutch authors, René van Royen and Sunnya van der Vegt, investigated Astérix' universe in three books: 'Asterix en de Waarheid' ('Asterix and the Truth', 1997), 'Asterix en de Wijde Wereld' ('Asterix and the Wide World', 2002) and 'Asterix en Athene. Op Naar Olympisch Goud!' ('Asterix and Athens. Onward to Olympic Gold!', 2004). They actually came to the conclusion that various objects, customs, architecture and geographical details are depicted far more historically accurate and realistic than one would expect from a humoristic comic strip. Tutors shouldn't underestimate the impact 'Astérix' had on modern audiences' general knowledge either. Many schools offer albums translated in Latin or Ancient Greek to help their students master these ancient languages. Nowadays generations of comics readers are familiar with terms like "druids", "menhirs", the Gaulish god Toutatis and Roman names for certain cities and countries (like Lutetia for Paris), all thanks to reading 'Astérix'.

Astérix' frequent travels to other countries are another reason why the series is so popular in its home continent. His voyages to Britannia, Germania, Hellas (Greece), Hispania (Spain), Helvetia (Switzerland) and Belgica often give the creators the opportunity to make all kinds of stereotypical jokes about the local people and all the things they're internationally famous for. The Britons are phlegmatic and have horrible cuisine, the Spaniards proud and hot-tempered, Belgians petulant and gastronomic, Helvetians hygiene-obsessed and punctual, Corsicans lazy and itchy, Goths serious and militaristic, Greeks civilized and related to all their nephews... Not only do Europeans recognize these stereotypes easily, they also feel honored whenever Astérix visits their country. In some cases, though, the stereotypes were a bit too strong. 'Astérix et les Goths' (1963), for instance, depicts the Germans as pure villains. The album was made only twenty years after World War II, when anti-German sentiments were still strong and Uderzo later expressed regret for this one-sided view. In later stories the Germans are still represented stereotypically, but as more sympathetic characters. Goscinny and Uderzo once claimed that foreign readers often sent them letters with questions regarding the way they were portrayed in their stories. According to them the only ones who never complained were the English. Naturally the two heroes also visited Rome and various French cities as well.

Asterix Légionnaire by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo

Still, despite being the most "European" comic of all time, 'Astérix' also managed to become a global success. It has been translated to more than 115 (!) languages and dialects, including Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Persian, Russian, Thai and Turkish. All across the world it shares the stage with Hergé's 'Tintin' as perhaps the most recognizable European comic strip ever, even though some people still don't know whether it's Belgian or French? Asterix' international fame is somewhat amazing, considering its unapologetic references to francophone culture and many verbal jokes and puns, some practically untranslatable. In 'Le Tour de Gaule d'Astérix' (1963), for instance, Astérix and Obélix travel throughout Gaul where they meet people from Paris, Lyon and Nice who are all depicted according to stereotypes attached to these regions. In the same story the Gauls meet four men in a bar in Marseille, who are all caricatures of the main cast of the 1932 film 'Marius' by Marcel Pagnol. Goscinny also delighted in giving characters punny names. The Gauls have names like Comix, Appendix and Linguistix while the Romans carry names like Hotelterminus, Diplodocus and Habeascorpus. Similarly some of the Roman settings are given names like Aquarium, Linoleum and Postscriptum. While these are straightforward puns the dialogues also hide other forms of wordplay. The Swiss and the Belgians in 'Astérix', for instance, speak in the dialect spoken in the French-language regions of those countries. The Britons in 'Asterix in Britain' speak French but follow the English grammar rather than the French one, creating lines like "le magique potion" instead of the correct "le potion magique". In 'Astérix et Cléopâtre' (1963) an Egyptian from Alexandria introduces himself with a 12-syllabic sentence, while Panoramix says to the others: "C'est un alexandrin" ("This is an Alexandrin", making a pun on both a citizen from Alexandria as well the verse type "alexandrin"). When Astérix duels a big-nosed Roman in 'Le Cadeau de César' ('Caesar's Gift', 1977) he quotes direct verses from the theatrical play 'Cyrano de Bergerac' by Edmond Rostand.

The puns and verbal comedy in 'Astérix' are so multi-layered that translators are frequently challenged. Some puns can be easily replaced by variants in the target language, but others are just downright removed. In some cases, however, translators simply miss out on them. This was especially true in the early years. Luckily for English- and Spanish-language readers Goscinny spoke both very well and could thus control these translations. With all other languages he simply had the dialogues translated back to French so he could personally check whether they were somewhat comparable to his original intent? It's through this method that he also discovered that the first West-German translation of 'Astérix chez les Goths' contained political propaganda against East-Germany, which Goscinny promptly demanded to be removed. Still, most translators have found their own solutions to the more untranslatable jokes in the series, even adding extra comedy of their own. For instance, the Britons in the English translation speak in an archaic dignified English no longer in use today, while the Belgians speak Flemish dialect in the Dutch translation. The Roman banner S.P.Q.R. ("Senatus Populusque Romanus": "The Senate and the People of Rome") was humorously changed by Italian translators to "Sono Pazzi Questi Romani" ("These Romans Are Crazy", which is Obélix' catchphrase). Last but not least: in the Italian translation the Romans all speak modern-day Roman dialect...


Charlier and Goscinny starring in the photocomic 'Les Ecumeurs du Montana' by Giraud and Mézières (Pilote #552, 1970)

Pilote 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' (1961-1965, with Martial), 'Tromblon et Bottaclou' (1962-1963, with Godard), 'La Potachologie Illustrée' (1962, with Cabu), 'Les Dingodossiers' (1965-1967, with Gotlib) and 'La Forêt de Chênebeau' (1966-1968, 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.

In addition to his main body of work in Tintin and Pilote, 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. 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'), which 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 catchphrase 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', which first appeared in Pilote in 1962.

IznogoudIznogoud

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' (1961), a satirical comedy film by Alex Joffé, 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). Goscinny also wrote a comedy script named 'Le Maître du Monde' which he proposed to actor Peter Sellers. While Sellers never replied, the film 'The Pink Panther Strikes Again' (1976) did have notable similarities to Goscinny's script. He intended to sue, but Goscinny's early death prevented a trial. The author furthermore 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).

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.

Goscinny received several honors during his life. In 1964 'Le Petit Nicolas' won the Prix Alphonse-Allais for 'Best Humoristic Writing'. Goscinny was also named Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (1967) and won the Adamson Award (1974) for his entire oeuvre. 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. In 1996 both Asterix and Obelix had asteroids named after them. In 2005 Goscinny was posthumously inducted in the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame. In the French villages Saint-André-sur-Orne, Ceaucé, Sainte-Luce-sur-Loire, Cannes, Valdoie, Vaires-sur-Marne and Divion, Auzeville-Tolosane, Drap as well as the Polish capital Warsaw, several schools and maternals have been named after him. Paris harbors a street named after him, while the city of Angoulême erected an obelisk in 2017 which is decorated with speech balloons full of catchphrases from his most well known series. Since 1988 his name also lives on in a comics award, the Prix René Goscinny. 

Goscinny en Uderzo

Official Asterix site

Series en boeken door René Goscinny op voorraad in de Lambiek Webshop:

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