Oxford Royale Academy’s students, especially those from France, may have read with concern about the retirement of Asterix creator Albert Uderzo. In an interview with The Times newspaper he reveals that his formidable Gaul will continue his adventures.
After seven decades of drawing, Asterix’s 84-year-old creator is finally putting down his pens and passing on the role that has made him a living legend in France. Sitting in an office packed with Asterix toys, Uderzo says, “I’ve found two young men who are going to continue the adventure.” But these two are hardly young, both Jean-Yves Ferri, who will take over the scripts for Asterix, and Frederic Mebarki, who will do the drawings are both well past forty.
Why so much experience for a simple comic strip? Asterix is so much more than a mere comic strip. It is a national French treasure – one that has conquered the rest of the world to boot. Indeed, in global sales it is second only to Harry Potter.
But don’t expect too much to change. Uderzo insists that Asterix will never stop his adventures, just as he will never stop outwitting the Romans, arguing with Obelix, or despairing of Cacofonix. “These characters are 52 years old and the readers have got used to their way of thinking, their way of living, their way of speaking. They wouldn’t forgive us if we changed anything.”
In 1959, Uderzo teamed up with Rene Goscinny, a scriptwriter, to produce a comic strip for Pilote, a French comic, whose founder asked the pair – Uderzo doing the drawings, Goscinny the words – to come up with a scenario based upon French history to counter the influence of American comics on the nation’s youth. “The first history lesson French schoolchildren learn is about our ancestors, the Gauls,” Uderzo says, “And we thought: That’s a good story’.”
He wasn’t wrong. By 1965, only six years after his conception, Asterix had become such a cult figure that France’s first satellite was named after him. Academics came to the conclusion that the comics were popular because they flattered French pride. But then Asterix took off outside France: in Germany, although the Germans are portrayed as militaristic fanatics; in the UK, where the British are portrayed as absurd; and in Switzerland, where the Swiss are portrayed as money-mad.
Whole exhibitions have been dedicated to trying to understand the popularity of this cartoon figure. Is he a symbol of France’s mission to civilise our planet? A timeless embodiment of universal values? Or just a good joke? These are the kind of questions that can see a French intellectual demolish a bottle of wine trying to find the answer.
Uderzo provides his own interpretation, arguing that his warriors enshrine a desire shared by all of us to fight back against the powers that be – against the state apparatus, the corporation, the modern equivalent of Julius Caesar.
“We are all confronted by a superior force that we’d like to do something about but cannot. We’d all like to take the tax inspector and shake him. But only Asterix can actually do it. He allows us to take revenge on reality.”