by Steve Martindale
Albert Uderzo, one of the creators of the beloved comic book character Asterix, has died in Paris aged 92. “Albert Uderzo died in his sleep at home in Neuilly of a heart attack, with no links to the coronavirus,” the French press quoted his son-in-law, Bernard de Choisy, as saying. “He had been very tired for several weeks.”
Uderzo created the famous stories about the adventures of Gaulish warriors fighting the Roman Empire in 1959 with his friend René Goscinny. As well as illustrating the series, Urderzo took over the writing following Goscinny’s death in 1977 until himself retiring from the role in 2009 and passing on the rights to the franchise. The books have sold 370 million copies worldwide, in dozens of languages, and several stories have been turned into cartoons and feature films. The series continues to this day under new ownership, with the most recent book, Asterix and the Chieftain’s Daughter, released in October last year.
Uderzo, whose father was an Italian immigrant, was born in 1927 in France’s Marne region and grew up outside Paris. As a child, he was captivated by the characters of Walt Disney and was quoted as saying that Mickey Mouse was one of the inspirations for his own artistic talents.
At the age of 24 he met René Goscinny and an instant friendship developed. “We decided to remake the world with all the thoughtlessness and the boldness of our youth,” Uderzo would say in his memoirs. After collaborating on a number of projects over the years, Astérix le Gaulois was born in 1961.
The inspiration for the diminutive Gaul came “at the best time of the day – aperitif time!” as the pair sat on a balcony trying to create a character for a new children’s book. “The brief was very precise – a character taken from French culture,” Uderzo recalled in an interview with Connexion in 2008. “At the time it was important to try to set yourself apart from the American superheroes, or certain reporters one could mention [Tintin]. So I looked back through history with René and reviewed all the different periods. We needed something original which no-one else had worked on… when we got to the Gauls – eureka!”
The series follows the adventures of a village of Gauls as they resist Roman occupation in 50 BC. They do so in large part due to a magic potion, brewed by their druid Getafix (Panoramix in the French version), which temporarily gives the drinker superhuman strength. Uderzo’s first preliminary sketches portrayed Asterix as a huge and strong, traditional Gaulish warrior. Goscinny, however, saw his hero as a shrewd, compact warrior who possessed more intelligence and wit than raw strength. The pair did agree that the diminutive hero would need a strong but dim companion and before long, Obelix was born.
In many of the stories, the pair travel to foreign countries, with much of the humour deriving from the tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of contemporary European nations.