Obelix & Cie

Albert Uderzo is world famous as the co-creator of 'Astérix the Gaul' (1959), which he developed with scriptwriter René Goscinny. Despite its francophone references and sometimes near untranslatable puns, 'Astérix' is one of the most surprising international success stories in comics. 'Astérix' managed to appeal both to children as well as adults with its humoristic stories, verbal wordplay and many allusions to both Gaulish-Roman culture as well as other historical and cultural events. The tiny but invincible Gaulish warrior has become one of the best-selling European comics in the world, alongside Hergé's 'Tintin' and Morris and Goscinny's 'Lucky Luke'. Uderzo's talent for funny characterizations, expressive action and beautiful and atmospheric scenery gave the series its visual identity. It remains both his as well as Goscinny's signature work and masterpiece. However, Uderzo also created other long-running series which are better known in Continental Europe than elsewhere in the world, such as the humoristic pirate series 'Jehan Pistolet' (1952-1956) and the brawny Native American 'Oumpah-Pah' (1958-1962), both scripted by Goscinny. Uderzo was also the original artist of Jean-Michel Charlier's aviation duo 'Tanguy et Laverdure' (1959).

Belloy by Albert Uderzo
Early panel of Belloy, featuring a caricature of the artist

Albert Aleandro Uderzo was born in 1927 in Fismes, France, as the son of an Italian furniture salesman. In 1934 he was naturalized as a Frenchman. The boy suffered from two problematic issues by birth: he had six fingers on each hand and was colour blind. While the unnecessary fingers were operatically removed, Uderzo's inability to distinguish red from green remained a lifelong problem. Still, he usually let his unfinished drawings be colourized by his brother, Marcel, to avoid mistakes. From an early age, Uderzo loved comics, cartoons and drawing in general. Among his graphic influences were Walt Disney, Floyd Gottfredson, Carl Barks, Alex Raymond, E.C. Segar, Alain Saint-Ogan, Calvo, Milton Caniff and Al Capp. Later in life he also expressed admiration for Cabu, André Franquin and Zep. Yet he actually longed to become an airline mechanic. Despite passing his acceptance exam, the Second World War broke out and prevented him from continuing his studies. At the age of only 13 he was employed by the Société Parisienne d'Édition, where he edited photographs and learned text design. His first illustration work was a parody of Aesop's fables, 'Le Corbeau et le Renard' ('The Raven and the Fox'). It appeared in 1941 in Boum, the youth supplement of the magazine Junior. Around the same time he also met comics legends Alain Saint-Ogan and Calvo, who encouraged him to continue his graphic career. Unfortunately this had to wait until the end of the war. Between 1942 and 1945 Albert and his brother Bruno went into hiding from the Nazis and spent their days at a farm in Les Villages, Bretagne (Brittany).

Watoki by Albert Uderzo

After the war Uderzo aspired to become an animator, inspired by Disney. In a local studio by Renan de Vela and André Chavaud, he worked on a 11 minute black-and-white animated short named 'Carbur et Clic-Clac'. One of his colleagues there was Jacques Martin. Appalled by the end results, despite all his efforts, Uderzo left animation. De Vela convinced him to illustrate a humoristic swashbuckler story by Em-Ré-Vil (a pseudonym for Marcel Reville) named 'Flamberge, gentilhomme gascon' (1946). By participating in a contest Uderzo was offered a publishing contract with the Éditions du Chêne in Paris. For this company he drew a humor comic book named 'Les Aventures de Clopinard' (1946). He then became associated with Marcel Debain's Paris Graphic agency, which provided the French press with guaranteed locally produced material. Uderzo provided short humor strips like 'Les Aventures de Jacky', 'Clodo et son oie' and 'Zidor Chasseur' to the children's page of newspaper La Démocratie from Toulouse in 1946-1947. The character 'Zidor' returned in the comic story 'Zidore, l'Homme Macaque' in a magazine published by S.A.E.T.L.

He drew several other humoristic fantasy comics for the magazine O.K. by the Société d'Éditions Enfantines, such as 'Arys Buck' (1946-1947), 'Prince Rollin' (1947) and 'Belloy l'Invulnérable' (1948-1949), all set in the Middle Ages. Of these three, 'Belloy' proved to have the most staying power, and continued to reappear in comics magazines throughout the 1950s. For the Collection Bison, published by Lucien Dejoie, he furthermore made a comic book called 'Watoki le valeureux' (1949), which presented a predecessor of 'Oumpah-pah'.

Captain Marvel Jr. (dutch version) by Albert Uderzo in Bravo 1950
Captain Marvel Jr. (Dutch version, Bravo 1950)

Back in civilian life after his military service, Uderzo became a reporter and illustrator for France Dimanche from 1949 to 1951. Besides providing drawings about news events, he was one of several artists who worked on the vertical comic strip 'Le Crime Ne Paie Pas' (1950-1951) by journalist Paul Gordeaux. This series presented its readers with real-life historical anecdotes of situations which proved that "crime didn't pay". Uderzo also worked on the spin-off series, 'Les Amour Célèbres' (1950), which dealt with real-life romantic tales from history, and illustrated a comic strip adaptation of Mildred Davis' "gothic" novel 'La Chambre du Haut' (1951). Further newspaper work include advertising strips for Colgate and Palmolive (1950-1951), Christmas stories for Sud-Ouest (1955) and illustrations for the movie section 'Le Film du Jour' in L'Aurore (1956).

Advertising strip for Palmolive by Albert Uderzo
Advertising strip for Palmolive

Still working through Paris Graphic as well, Uderzo made a brief venture into superhero comics, with 'Super Atomic Z' (1950) published in the magazine 34 Aventures of Éditions Vaillant and 'Capitaine Marvel, Jr' (1950), a commission of the Belgian press group Le Soir for their comics magazine Bravo! The latter was based on C.C. Beck and Bill Parker's famous superhero, but Uderzo had never read the original. It just gave him an excuse to draw stories about super strong men, much like he did before with Belloy and would later do again with characters like Oumpah-pah and Obélix. For the same reason Uderzo also loved E.C. Segar's 'Popeye' and Al Capp's 'Li'l' Abner'. In fact, he signed many of his early comics with the nickname "Al Uderzo", as a tribute to Capp.


Belloy - La princesse captive (1956)

In the late 1940s and early 1950s Belgium had already become the capital of the continental European comics scene, thanks to the success of magazines like Tintin and Spirou. Uderzo therefore decided to stay in Brussels for a while, working for the International Press agency of Yves Chéron. It shared an office with the World's Presse agency, which was headed by Chéron's brother-in-law Georges Troisfontaines. Uderzo got in touch with Belgian comics legends like Victor Hubinon, Eddy Paape, MiTacq and Jean-Michel Charlier. With the latter he relaunched 'Belloy' in the magazine La Wallonie. The all-powerful strongman Belloy enjoyed new adventures, which were all made available in book form. The series later appeared in magazines like Pistolin (1957-1958), Pilote (1959-1963) and La Libre Junior. However, the most significant person in his career was René Goscinny, with whom he would create his most popular and best known works. Their fruitful collaboration took off in November 1951, when he illustrated 'Qui a raison?' and 'Sa Majesté Mon Mari', two columns by Goscinny about everyday life and proper manners for the women's magazine Bonnes Soirées, published by Dupuis. Uderzo provided the illustrations until 1953, after which he was succeeded by Charlie Delhauteur.

from Bonnes Soirées, by Albert Uderzo (1953)
Qui a Raison?

For Bonnes Soirées, Uderzo also provided illustrations for a section about history, 'L'Histoire Vivante', most notably installments about French resistance veteran Valérie André (1954) and Marie-Antoinette (1955). He also illustrated the similar comic story 'Le Fils du Tonnelier' (1954, script by Charlier) in the series 'Les Belles Histoires de l'Oncle Paul' for Dupuis' comics magazine Spirou. With writer Octave Joly he worked on the first two adventures of 'Tom et Nelly' (1955-1956), an adventure comic about two kids who escape from a terrible orphanage in London. It appeared in Risque-Tout, a short-lived comics paper published by Dupuis. When the series moved over to Spirou in 1957, José Bielsa had taken over the art duties.

Tom et Nelly, by Albert Uderzo (Risque-Tout #8, 1956)
Tom et Nelly (Risque-Tout #13, 1956)

Through International Presse, Uderzo and Goscinny were productive contributors to La Libre Junior, the junior supplement of the Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique. On 26 June 1952 the duo created their first significant series for this publication: 'Jehan Pistolet' (in some publications retitled as 'Jehan Soupolet'). 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.

Jehan Pistolet, by Albert Uderzo
Jehan Pistolet

Uderzo and Goscinny also created La Libre Junior's mascot. 'Luc Junior' (1954-1957) was a young reporter in the tradition of 'Tintin', who starred in exciting and humorous adventure stories. With his friend Laplaque and his faithful companion, the dog Alphonse, he investigated seven cases before his authors handed him over to Sirius and Greg. Chéron released one album in 1956: 'Junior en Amérique' (1956). A complete volume with all seven stories created by Uderzo and Goscinny was published in 2014. Their third creation for La Libre Junior was 'Bill Blanchart' (1954-1955), their only realistic series about a big-game hunter. He also teamed up with Octave Joly again for a comics biography of Marco Polo (1953). Albert Uderzo additionally illustrated educational stories and vertical strips for the mother magazine La Libre Belgique between 1953 and 1958.

By 1956, René Goscinny had tried to establish a union for comics workers, which caused his discharge from World's Presse. Uderzo and Charlier remained loyal to their friend and left as well. Together with World's Presse former publicity manager Jean Hébrard, the three men founded a syndicate consisting of two different agencies, ÉdiFrance and ÉdiPresse. This allowed them to remain independent owners of all their comics. Goscinny and Uderzo succeeded Jean Trubert on the comic strip 'Benjamin et Benjamine' (originally created by Christian Godard, 1957-1959) in Benjamin, while Uderzo and Charlier worked together on 'Clairette' in the naughty magazine Paris Flirt (1957) and 'La Diligence de Santa-Fe' (1957). Yet Goscinny and Uderzo proved to be the best team-up. They shared a similar sense of humour and complemented each others' talents perfectly. Their production rate rose to the point that Uderzo sometimes drew nine pages a week, even inking everything instantly, rather than sketch it out. For Paris Flirt they created the gag series 'Monsieur et Madame Plume' (1958). Between 1955 and 1958, the team also sold older material to new publications. 'Belloy' returned in Pistolin, while 'Bill Blanchart' made its appearance in Jeannot, an advertising magazine published by EdiFrance. For Pistolin, Uderzo also illustrated the vertical strip 'Les Enfants Héroïques', about heroic children, and installments of the historical feature 'Grands noms de l'Histoire de France'. The group also produced comic strips for commercial clients like Milliat Frères and the cornflakes brand Floker's (a booklet starring the western hero 'Jim Flokers'). Try-outs and prototypes of later heroes appeared in the legendary Supplément Illustré, a 1956 dummy issue of a newspaper supplement.


Poussin et Poussif

In 1957 Uderzo and Goscinny also made their debut in Tintin magazine. Their first creation for Le Lombard's comics magazine was 'Poussin et Poussif' (1957-1958), a gag series about a baby, Poussin, who crawls away while his panicky guardian dog Poussif tries to get the child safely back home. Although only three episodes were published, readers loved it. As such Goscinny and Uderzo were allowed to create longer adventure stories for Tintin. They took this opportunity to present a series they had been carrying along for seven years, but which had been rejected by both American as well as French publishers. Now it finally got greenlighted: 'Oumpah-Pah' debuted on 2 April 1958. 'Oumpah-Pah' (1958-1962) is set in Canada (New France) during the 18th century, when French colonialists explored the country.

Oumpah-Pah, by Albert Uderzo
Oumpah-Pah

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.


Oumpah-pah et les Pirates

The duo 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, whose name remains unknown.

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 ElviFrance team founded their own comics magazine in cooperation with Radio Luxembourg in 1959: Pilote. Within a couple of years it would seriously rival Tintin's popularity in the French-language world. Much had to do with two succesful comics series which debuted in Pilote's first issue of 29 October 1959, both drawn by Uderzo.

Tanguy et Laverdure, by Albert Uderzo 1967
Tanguy et Laverdure (Pilote #294)

The first was 'Tanguy et Laverdure', a realistically drawn series about two aviators, the serious and noble Michel Tanguy and his comical and ill-mannered sidekick Ernest Laverdure. Together they go on many exciting secret missions all around the world. The series was commissioned by Pilote as a direct rival with another aviation series, 'Buck Danny', which ran in Spirou. 'Tanguy et Laverdure' even had the same scriptwriter: Jean-Michel Charlier! One story, 'Les Pirates du Ciel', was drawn by Uderzo in collaboration with his brother Marcel Uderzo and Jean Giraud. In 1966 Uderzo retired from drawing the series and passed the pencil to Jijé. This didn't slow down the comic's popularity. New adventures kept coming in the decades that followed. By the end of the 1960s Jijé hired an assistant: Daniel Chauvin, and in the early 1970s Patrice Serres came aboard, who'd eventually become Tanguy's main artist. In 1989 Charlier passed away, just when the series had a new artist: Al Coutelis, who finished the seemingly swan song of the franchise. In the early 2000s, however, Tanguy et Laverdure's plane took off again with Jean-Claude Laidin as their new scriptwriter, while Yvan Fernandez, Renaud Garreta, Frédéric Toublanc, Julien Lepelletier and Sébastien Philippe became the new illustrators. In 2016 Patrice Buendia, Fréderic Zumbiehl and Sébastien Philippe created a special album, 'La Recontre' (2016), in which 'Buck Danny' and 'Tanguy et Laverdure' finally have an official cross-over. 'Tanguy et Laverdure' were adapted as a live-action TV series, 'Les Chevaliers du Ciel' (1967-1970), with the spin-off 'Les Nouveaux Chevaliers du Ciel' (1988-1991) and a film, 'Les Chevaliers du Ciel' (2005), directed by Gérard Pirès which was only loosely based on the original comic. 'Tanguy et Laverdure' was translated in Dutch, German, English, Danish, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian and Serbian and Croatian.


Tanguy et Laverdure

The second and most popular feature in Pilote was of course 'Astérix'. Goscinny and Uderzo toyed with the idea of creating a comics series set in ancient French history. Originally they picked out 'Le Roman de Renart', a classical 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. Uderzo once even made a miniature Gaulish village in grade school, but it was smashed to smithereens by another pupil before he could present it in class. To him the Gallo-Roman era had special resonance, because of his Italian roots. 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 Bretagne 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 created 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.


Cover illustrations for Pilote #14 and #267

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.

Asterix by Albert Uderzo
First appearance of Asterix

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 largely fallen into obscurity, they have become a prime example of a parody which outlived the original spoof material.


Astérix, Légionnaire. The pirates on the raft are a parody of Théodore Géricault's classic painting 'Le Radeau de la Méduse' ('The Raft of the Medusa', 1819).

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.

La Grande Traverse by Uderzo
Astérix - La Grande Traverse

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. And that is no surprise. As if Uderzo's dynamic and utterly comical artwork was not enough, Goscinny was at the top of his game as well. His clever and hilarious stories are funny both to children and adults, while his puns, verbal comedy and subtle references give the series an extra dimension for mature readers. 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.


The famous cheese fondue scene from Astérix chez les Helvetes

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. Astérix and Obélix also travelled to countries outside Europe, such as Egypt, Israël, India, Scotland and the United States. Naturally they also visited Rome and various French cities as well.


Latin edition of Astérix et Cleopatre

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.


Les Lauriers de Cesar

'Astérix' also generated greater international fame through films. The first one, 'Astérix le Gaulois' (1967), was made by the Belgian animation studio Belvision without Goscinny and Uderzo's participation. This resulted in a too literal and slow-paced adaptation. The duo took legal action and were able to become creative advisors for Belvision's next project: 'Astérix et Cléopâtre' (1968), which was a considerable improvement. Goscinny knew the difference between comics and animation and therefore crafted some new scenes and gags for the animated film, which helped making the picture a beloved cult classic. In 1974 Goscinny and Uderzo created Studio Idéfix to further control Astérix' animated films. It's logo featured Idéfix in a parody of the M.G.M. lion. Nevertheless the studio only made one 'Astérix' film, 'Les 12 Travaux d'Astérix' (1976). The picture is unique since it was not based on an actual 'Astérix' book, but an entirely new script. The plot centers around Astérix and Obélix performing 12 Herculean tasks. The animation was notably better and more dynamic compared with the previous two features. A hilarious picture in every way it had a more absurd tone, which frequently breaks the fourth wall much in the tradition of Tex Avery. While it polarized audiences at the time it still managed to become a cult classic. It remains one of the most popular and best known 'Astérix' movies. One of the people who animated on the film was Harold Whitaker. It took nearly a decade before the next 'Astérix' picture came out: 'Astérix et la surprise de César' ('Astérix versus Caesar', Gaumont, 1985) was directed by Gaëtan and Paul Brizzi and combined the plots of 'Astérix and the 1st Legion' and 'Astérix the Gladiator' into a well-made, entertaining adventure movie. The follow-up, 'Astérix et le Coup du Menhir' ('Astérix and the Big Fight', 1989) by the same directors, merged 'Astérix and the Big Fight' and 'Astérix and the Soothsayer' together, but was far less critically received. One of the main problems of combining the two plots was that the big fight that actually occurs in 'Astérix and the Big Fight' was now written out of the movie, thus making the title come across as false marketing. One of the animators who worked on the film was Jeff Baud. 'Astérix et les Indiens' ('Astérix Conquers America', 1994) was directed by Gerhard Hahn and the first French-German 'Astérix' film. The plot is a very loose adaptation of 'La Grande Traversée' (1975) and therefore flopped. The same Astérix album also formed part of the plot of the next animated feature, 'Astérix et les Vikings' (2006), which was a Danish-French co-production, directed by Stefan Fjeldmark and Jesper Møller. The other half of the story was based on 'Astérix et les Normands' (1966). It received mixed reviews. Alexandre Astier and Louis Clichy made the Franco-Belgian feature 'Astérix: Le Domaine des Dieux' (2014), based on the eponymous comic book. It was the first Astérix film to be made in 3-D and received excellent reviews. Even Uderzo claimed it was the best adaptation he saw in his entire life. Since 1999 'Astérix' has also been adapted into a succesful but often critically mixed received series of live-action films: 'Astérix et Obélix contre César' (1999), 'Astérix et Obélix: Mission Cléopâtre' (2002), 'Astérix aux Jeux Olympiques' (2008) and 'Astérix et Obélix: Au service de Sa Majesté' (2012). The best thing that can be said about these pictures is that Gérard Depardieu plays an excellent Obélix.

The commercial and critical success of 'Astérix' made Goscinny and Uderzo rich. It also took up so much of their time that they both gradually dropped most other projects in favor of the indomitable Gauls. Their final joint comics were 'Le Cow-boy et la Haridell' (1962) for Record magazine and 'Obelisc'h' in Pilote (1963). 'Astérix en Corse' (1973) was the final 'Astérix' story serialized in Pilote. The subsequent stories of the Uderzo-Goscinny tandem were first printed in newspapers like Le Monde, Sud Ouest, or in the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, before appearing in the album format. After 24 best-selling albums, Goscinny unexpectedly passed away in 1977, while Uderzo was halfway illustrating 'Astérix Chez Les Belges' ('Astérix in Belgium', 1979). The shock was huge and can be pinpointed in the story itself. At a certain point in the story it starts raining and the sky never really clears up. In the final image a small rabbit can be seen, sadly walking away. This was a reference to Goscinny, whose wife often called him "little rabbit". Uderzo left Dargaud and took the decision to continue 'Astérix' on his own. He established his own comics company, les Éditions Albert-René, and published all next Astérix stories exclusively there. New 'Astérix' stories were published on irregular intervals during the next decades.


Le Ciel Lui Tombe Sur La Tête. The Superman lookalike is a caricature of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Many critics feel that they never reached the same heights of Goscinny's scripts, with the tone gradually becoming more child-oriented and melo-dramatic. The plausible reality of the original series was sometimes pushed too far into unbelievable fantasies, like a flying carpet in 'Astérix chez Rahàzade' ('Astérix and the Flying Carpet', 1987) and Atlantis with flying animals in 'La Galère d'Obélix' ('Astérix and Obélix All At Sea', 1996). Uderzo's final album, 'Le Ciel Lui Tombe Sur La Tête' ('Asterix and the Falling Sky', 2005), felt like a frustrated attack aimed at his critics. It brought extraterrestrial aliens into the Astérix universe, combined with mean-spirited and pointless attacks at the manga industry who hurt his own sales. The book was so horrible that it is widely perceived as the moment when the series finally jumped the shark. Some comic shops even strongly advised their customers not to buy it.


Chanteclairix, le coq Gaulois (short story from Astérix et la Rentree Gauloise, 2002)

Since Uderzo's solo 'Astérix' books have such a lesser reputation he has not received the same kind of critical praise and esteem as Goscinny. Many regard him as the mere illustrator of his friend's genius scripts. Uderzo has added to this by always remaining humble about his own contributions and constantly homaging Goscinny in interviews. Nevertheless, Uderzo still played a major part in the franchise's lasting popularity. He designed the characters' looks, their village and the entire universe in which they live. Without him the series would have lacked Obélix and Idéfix, since Goscinny originally didn't see much in them. Above all Uderzo is a marvellous illustrator. He combined the instant readability of the Belgian "ligne claire" ("clear line") with stunningly detailed artwork and Disneyesque character appeal. His humans look like believable individuals and are amusingly portrayed. Uderzo was particularly fond of drawing bulbous-nosed characters with huge potbellies. Whenever he depicted stereotypical presentations of various people he added little touches which were instantly amusing in their recognizability. Naturally Uderzo was also a master caricaturist. He frequently gave celebrities cameos in the series, several mostly known in the francophone world: Guy Lux ('Le Domaine des Dieux'), Lino Ventura ('La Zizanie), Annie Cordy ('Astérix chez les Belges'), Bernard Blier and Jean Gabin ('L'Odyssée d' Astérix'). Others have more international fame, like Jacques Chirac, Laurel & Hardy ('Obelix & Co'), Sean Connery ('L'Odyssée d' Astérix), The Beatles ('Astérix chez les Bretons') and Kirk Douglas ('La Galère d' Obélix'). Colleagues and friends of Uderzo also received regular cameos, such as Jean Graton ('La Serpe d'Or'), Pierre Tchernia ('Astérix en Corse') and Gérard Calvi ('Astérix en Hispanie'). Another passion of his were cute animals, from the panicky wild boars who try to hide from Obélix to the village rooster crying at dawn.

Asterix & Obelix, by Albert Uderzo
Astérix chez les Goths

It must be said that Goscinny's hilarious scripts rarely looked better when executed by Uderzo's pencil. From funny facial expressions to the over-the-top fight sequences where Obélix knocks away entire legions of Romans as if they were pins in a bowling game. Nobody but him could depict banquets so deliciously that one can almost taste the food. Several of Goscinny's referential gags demanded a decent visual execution, such as Uderzo's parodies of famous paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Theodore Géricault, Rembrandt van Rijn or scenes from famous movies like 'Cleopatra' (1963) and Federico Fellini's 'Satyricon' (1969). Goscinny and Uderzo often went through various books and museums to study the Gallo-Roman time period. While Goscinny did most of the research it was Uderzo who had to visualize everything. He depicted authentic clothing, weapons, sculptures, architecture, customs and objects with such attention to detail that many historians have praised him for their accuracy. Sometimes Uderzo didn't even have proper documentation, but his knowledge of the era was so exquisite that he could easily imagine how certain things might have looked. In 'Le Tour de Gaule d'Astérix' ('The Banquet', 1963) Uderzo once drew the harbour of Gesobicratie (nowadays Le Coquet) from the top of his head, only to be amazed when a historian complimented him for its accuracy! Uderzo and Goscinny also travelled a lot, bringing back all necessary photographs of various archeological sites and landscapes. Some of Uderzo's drawings of ancient cites and nature scenery are so pittoresque that they can compete with pictures in a tourist guide! Uderzo also hid numerous sight gags in the backgrounds. They were done so subtly that they don't distract from the actions on the foreground and are therefore sometimes only discovered through numerous re-readings. His graphic reputation was such that in 1980 he was asked to provide illustrations to the Molière film adaptation 'L'Avare' (1980) by Jean Girault, starring Louis de Funès.

Throughout his career, Uderzo has often received assistance, most notably from his brother Marcel. From 1964, Marcel Uderzo inked three 'Tanguy et Laverdure' albums and then participated in the artwork of 16 'Astérix' stories between 1965 and 1979. For the album publication of the first 'Astérix' story, page 35 was drawn by Marcel as well, since the original source material was lost. Marcel also often colorized the comics, because of Albert's colourblindness. He was furthermore responsible for a lot of promotional and other commercial artwork related to 'Astérix' for Éditions Dargaud. This includes the rare album 'Les 12 Travaux d'Astérix' (1976), based on the eponymous film, which never appeared in the regular series. Daniel Sebban was responsible for the lettering of 'L'Oddysée d'Astérix' (1981), while Michel Janvier provided the lettering of Uderzo's final three albums. Starting with 'La Galère d'Obélix' (1996), Frédéric Mébarki assisted Uderzo on the inking, while Thierry Mébarki provided the coloring.


Asterix stamp from 1999

Regardless of the quality of the new 'Astérix' titles, each new album was still a major international comics event. Uderzo even managed to obtain the profits and rights from his former publisher Dargaud in a 1998 trial. For a long time he planned to let the franchise die with him, much like Hergé had done with 'Tintin'. Yet in 2008 he changed his mind. The rights to the franchise were sold to Hachette, distributor of Les Éditions Albert-René. In 2013 Jean-Yves Ferri (script) and Didier Conrad (drawings) became Uderzo's successors. All these events caused friction between Uderzo and his daughter Sylvie, who disagreed with these decisions, fearing it would lead to a decline in quality. Uderzo nevertheless retired, confident that the future of his co-creations was in safe hands. In 2015 he suddenly gave a sign of life again when the head office of the French satirical magazine Charlie-Hebdo became victim of a terrorist attack. One of the casualties was his personal friend Cabu. Enraged by the events Uderzo picked up his pen again and drew two cartoons in tribute of the murdered cartoonists. The first drawing shows Astérix beating up a terrorist flying out of his sandals and shouting "Me too, I'm am a Charlie", referencing the "Je Suis Charlie" solidarity movement that spontaneously rose to defend the freedom of speech. A more solemn drawing followed soon after, with a mourning Asterix and Obelix putting a rose on the ground. Uderzo even proposed selling one of the original pages of 'Les Lauriers de César' ('The Laurel Wreath of Caesar') with the money going to the families of the victims.

Asterix et Obelix by Albert Uderzo
Cover illustration for the 'Astérix' album 'La Grande Traversée'

Today 'Astérix' is one of the most recognizable French symbols on the planet, along with baguettes, wine and the Eiffel Tower. When Time Magazine devoted an article to "The New France" in 1991 it was visualized by Asterix on the cover. The tiny Gaul has become the French equivalent of Mickey Mouse, particularly since he too has his own theme park near Paris since 1989. The series garnered some notable celebrity fans over the years. According to French politician François Misoffe president Charles De Gaulle read 'Astérix' and once named members of his cabinet after characters from their comic. De Gaulle's successor Georges Pompidou once suggested to send Astérix to Switzerland, which eventually led to the album 'Astérix chez les Helvètes' (1970). When France launched its first satellite in 1965 it was officially named A-1, but later renamed the 'Astérix'. Other things floating around in space named after the franchise are four asteroids which were named after Astérix, Obélix, Idéfix and Panoramix in 1996. Uderzo too received his own asteroid in 2017. Other honors awarded to the comics artist have been the title of Chevalier (1985) and Officier (2013) de la Légion d'Honneur (1985) as well as Knight in the Order of the Dutch Lion (2006). He furthermore received a Max und Moritz Preis (2004), an Eisner Award (2005) and an honorary doctorate from the university of Paris in 2009.

As world famous as Astérix is, parody is of course inevitable. Various Dutch, Belgian, German and French comics series have often spoofed the franchise. It even inspired whole albums, like the predictable pornographic parodies. More inspired were the anti-nuclear energy pamphlet 'Asterix en de Kerncentrale' (1979) by an unknown Dutch artist, the 'Dallas' spoof 'Gallas' (1983) by an unknown German artist who portrayed the Astérix characters as the Ewing family, 'Asterix & Obelix gegen Rechts' by G. Raub and U. Druck in which the Gauls were pitted against conservative German politician Franz Jozef Strauss, 'La Vie Sexuelle d'Astérix' (1985) by Jan Bucquoy and 'Les Invraisemblables Aventures d'Istérix' (1991) by Coyote, Denis Merezette and Michel Rodrigue.

Albert Uderzo, particularly 'Astérix', was a huge influence on artists like Edward Gorey, Frédéric Toublanc, Désert, Matt Groening, Hanco Kolk, Peter de WitLazo Sredanovic and Juanjo Guarnido. His work has been praised by René Pétillon, Moebius and Gotlib. In 1996 the comic book 'Uderzo Croqué Par Ses Amis' (1996) featured homages to Uderzo by 26 authors, namely Achdé, Éric Adam, Arleston, Serge Carrère, Giorgio Cavazzano, André Chéret, Hélène Cornen, François Corteggiani, Al Coutelis, Crisse, Xavier Fauche, Franz, Gil Formosa, Paul Claudel, Michel Janvier, Erik Juszezak, Jean-Charles Kraehn, Jack Manini, Félix Meynet, Jean-Louis Mourier, François Plisson, Rodolphe, Michel Rouge, Éric Stalner, Pierre Tranchand and Roger Widenlocher. Another all-star homage, called 'Astérix et ses Amis - Hommage à Albert Uderzo' was released in 2007. It contained contributions by international authors like Achdé, Scotch Arleston, Baru, Batem, Fred Beltran, François Boucq, Brösel, Serge Carrère, Raoul Cauvin, Steve Cuzor, Dany, Derib, Emebé, Forges, Laurent Gerra, Jean & Philippe Graton, Juanjo Guarnido, Kathryn & Stuart Immonen, Jidéhem, Henk Kuijpers, Laudec, David Lloyd, Loustal, Milo Manara, Midam, Jean-Louis Mourier, Grzegorz Rosinski, Didier Tarquin, Tibet, Turf, Jean Van Hamme, William Vance, Vicar, François Walthéry and Zep. Since 2003 Albert Uderzo's name also lives on in the comics award Prix Albert-Uderzo. For those interested in Uderzo's life, the biographies 'Uderzo: de Flamberge à Astérix' (1985), 'Uderzo-Storix' (1991) by Bernard de Choisy and 'Uderzo' (2002) by Alain Duchêne are all very much recommended.


Traditional festivities at the end of 'Astérix et le Chaudron'

Asterix.com

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