Asterix and a couple of Roman soldiers. Artist: Albert Uderzo.


Original medium: Comic books
Published in: Pilote
First Appeared: 1959
Creators: René Goscinny (writer) and Albert Uderzo (artist)
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Asterix the Gaul was a French resistance fighter, like his contemporary, Mademoiselle Marie. No, not just like Marie, who resisted against the German occupiers of World War II, nor were they contemporaries in the sense of being set in the same time period. No, Asterix resisted the …

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… ancient Roman conquerors, and the way they were contemporary is that their published adventures began in in the same year.

That year was 1959. On October 29 of that year, a consortium of French comics creators launched Pilote, a weekly comic book that introduced Lt. Blueberry (set in the 19th-century American West), Valérian & Laureline (science fiction adventure), and — starting in the very first issue, Astérix le Gaulois — or as we know him, Asterix the Gaul. (Actually, that wasn't quite the first of Pilote, or of Asterix. On June 1, they'd put out a "Number 0", previewing the contents of the upcoming release, in hopes of creating a little advance interest. But both Asterix and Pilote commenced regular publication, with real stories instead of just promotional material, in October.)

Writer René Goscinny (Lucky Luke) and artist Albert Uderzo (Oumpah-Pah) were among those in on the founding of Pilote, and it was they who collaborated in the creation of Asterix. The basic premise was that Julius Caesar had, indeed, as history tells us, divided Gaul into three parts and established Roman rule over them — except for one village of doughty warriors who still hadn't been forced to submit. The reason they couldn't be defeated was, they had a druid named Getafix, who brewed a magic potion to make them invincible in battle. Everybody in the village took it (except Asterix's pal, Obelix, who, having been immersed in the potion as a baby, didn't need it), so they simply shrugged off the Romans. The greatest of the village's defenders was the diminutive but very shrewd Asterix.

Drug usage was a common way for comic book characters to get invincible, back before drugs became the shibboleth they are today. Superheroes like Hourman, The Black Terror and even Captain America himself got their powers from substances they ingested. Atomic Mouse's U-235 pills combined drugs with radiation, making him doubly forbidden by current standards.

Shortly after that first adventure was complete, it was brought out in book form. Another followed, and it, too, was collected into a graphic novel. Eventually, Asterix's albums were published in over 100 languages. Pilote's publisher failed in 1960, but the magazine was bought by Les Éditions Dargaud, which was already publishing the French version of the Belgian Tintin magazine. By the late 1960s, Asterix had reached America. It's been here ever since, with over 30 titles in print, measuring a uniform 48 pages. In the late '70s, Pilote folded, leaving only the books.

The first animated Asterix movie came out in 1967, but Goscinny and Uderzo had no input on it, and were reportedly dissatisfied with it. But subsequent movie versions did have their input. There have been eight animated movies so far, plus, starting in 1999, three live-action ones. This doesn't count the 1967 live-action Two Romans in Gaul, in which Asterix and Obelix made a cameo appearance.

The movies are far from the only spin-offs and other cultural impact Asterix has had. Of course, they've starred in more than their share of video games over the years, but they've also starred in a theme park, Parc Astérix, which opened near Paris in 1989. The first French artificial satellite was named after Asterix. There's even an asteroid, discovered in 1996, named 29401 Asterix. That was also the year Superman went back in time and encountered a village of indomitable gauls very reminiscent of Asterix's. He's also turned up obliquely in episodes of The Simpsons and South Park.

Goscinny died in 1977. He'd been on record as opposing series continuation after his death, but later changed his mind. New Asterix stories continued with Uderzo providing scripts. The first post-Goscinny album was Asterix & The Black Gold, which came out in 1981. After some legal difficulties, including a couple of changes of publisher, the books continue to come out at an approximate rate of one every year or two.


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Text ©2009-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Albert Uderzo.