The adventures of Asterix

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Published:  January 29, 2010
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The adventures of Asterix

When most people think of comic-book heroes they think of muscle-bound avengers or brooding mutants in disguise. But Asterix and Obelix have proved time and again that not all superheroes need capes and square-set jaws to get the job done. For just over half a century now, the pint-sized Gaul and his overweight side-kick have been feasting, drinking and fighting their way through ancient Europe – and they’ve never failed once to save the day. I had a chat to Asterix and Obelix co-creator and Franco-Belgian comic ledged Albert Uderzo about the inspiration behind his much-loved characters and how he’s managed to keep the Gaulish gags coming all these years.

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

My first, typically journalistic question about Uderzo’s ‘life so far’ is met with a laugh. “Very audacious of you to ask such a question to an 82-year-old man,” he chuckles. “Now you will have to give me the exclusivity of your magazine since I have so much to tell.”

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

Uderzo wasn’t joking about having a lot to tell, after all, the man kicked off his artistic career in the early 1940s. “During the war, I went to settle in Britany under the responsibility of my older brother,” he explains. “I was 14, and like him I was passionate about mechanics and wanted to make it a career. He convinced me to start drawing professionally as he believed I had a gift in that area. I am grateful for all the confidence he had in me, I owe him my career.”

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

In 1951 Uderzo met the author, editor and humorist Rene Goscinny, and then his career really started to kick into gear. “We got on well really quickly!” Uderzo says animatedly. “I was 25 and he was 25. We instantly found common traits in every aspect of our lives, even more so with humour. That’s why we decided to work together very quickly. We complemented each other. He drew, but was not passionate about it, while I preferred drawings to scenarii. So it was like an obvious mathematical equation.”

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

Before long Uderzo and Goscinny were working together successfully on the Oumpah-pah series for Tintin magazine and by 1959 had decided to branch out and help publish a new comic periodical called Pilote. Asterix the Gaul turned out to be the magazines’ biggest hit. So how did Uderzo and Goscinny come up with the idea? “A handful of lunatics came to see Rene and I and talk about the creation of a new magazine for 10 year old kids. It was post war time when the American culture was obviously very strong,” he explains. “They asked us to think about a new character that would be representative of the French culture. It was not a nationalist thing but rather a counter-cultural one. We thought about a mythical character from our literature Le Roman De Renar, however one-month prior to the release of the first magazine, Pilote, for which we were really working hard, we heard that the character was already taken, so we had to start thinking again from scratch!”

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

“It was actually on my balcony during a very hot summer day that we had the idea about the Gauls, and Asterix,” he continues. “In order to create the adventures of our characters, the only document we had as a base was La Guerre Des Gaulles written by Caesar himself. That was the only book that fuelled our inspiration. However, we never had the ambition to create a history school series of comics. We preferred to laugh, and that was the real inspiration. That was our daily life, our customs, our era. It is inexhaustible, even when you think you already said it all!”

Certainly, while Asterix and Obelix may be set in Roman times most of the biggest laughs come from pop cultural gags, political jibes and national culture clashes. Long before The Simpsons’ brand of post-modern pastiche flickered onto the screens, Uderzo and Goscinny were referencing everything from The Beatles and Don Quixote to tax bureaucracy and Jacques Chirac. According to Uderzo, if there’s a reason kids keep reading his work as adults or decide to pass the comic on down through the generations, it’s because he’s tried to stay true to this formula. “I think our secret is due to the desire that we always wanted to make people laugh and not taking ourselves too seriously,” he says. “I think we always want to laugh at any age.”

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

Still, when Goscinny unexpectedly passed away in 1977 during a routine medical exam, the winning formula was unquestionably thrown into doubt. Goscinny had already written the script for Asterix in Belgium a few months before his death, but Uderzo was too shattered to draw it. Nevertheless, Uderzo kept his head and eventually decided to take over sole writing duties for the series. “It was more than intimidating for me,” he remembers. “When my friend disappeared the pain literally devastated me, to lose your dear friend in such violent circumstances was really hard. The media did not really help as well and treated me badly. It took me two years to get over it as I fell into depression. Fortunately my wife Ada and my family were a great support. Also the friendship of the readers helped a lot in putting me back on the horse to draw again. I did not have the right to give up on Asterix according to them. I owe the readers, who were all waiting patiently for another adventure in Gaul. After all, I was the author as well. I could not think for a second having to work with someone else.

“Then I experienced all this like bravado,” he continues. “People said I was not up to the task: Asterix had died with his creator. By Toutatis, I wanted [them to see] what I was capable of! So I decided to take the bull by the horns, and my pencils as well. I worked exactly the same way we used to. I first scrupulously wrote the script until the last word, and started drawing afterwards. Of course, I will confess that my best friend never left my thoughts one single second, I thought about what he would have said with all the jokes and puns I came up with. Then success came and Le Grand Fosse won the readers trust. That was in 1980.”

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

Copyright: Albert Uderzo

At 82 years of age, and 19 years on from this momentous decision to keep the comic alive, Uderzo is still drawing Asterix, Obelix, Getafix, Dogmatix and the whole host of Gaulish characters, advising he will not stop creating comics as long as it is physically possible for him to draw. “Today, still, I have not changed the way I work and I think as often as before about my friend and about his opinion on what I do. But as long as my hand is able to handle a pencil, I will draw, trust me! Nothing makes me happier than drawing my big noses.”

Before he goes I ask Uderzo if he has any advice for aspiring cartoonists and animators. “It has been 60 years since I started in the business with so much passion. I have fought just for the pleasure of drawing! I don’t have the pretension to give any advice to anyone, but I will say do your job with passion, pleasure and respect without forgetting to have fun along the way!”

www.asterix.com
www.madman.com.au

4 Responses

  1. Ostin Milbarge

    Ahhh, the love for Asterix hasn’t died after all these years. Brilliant!

  2. I grew up with Asterix and must have read every one cover to cover! Great story, makes you wonder how different the process would be to get something off the ground like this in today’s world!

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