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The Return of the Comic Book Alphabet of Cool – A!

Yep, it’s been a little over a year since I last did this bit, so now we take another tour through the alphabet, with a different cool comic book item each day, from A to Z!

We begin this go-around with a short little fellow…

Asterix the Gaul is the star of a whopping THIRTY-THREE graphic novels (or albums, as they’re called in Europe), spanning over thirty-six years.

Originally written by René Goscinny and drawn by Albert Uderzo, they are now written and drawn by Uderzo following Goscinny’s death in 1977. The original idea was that once Uderzo died, the series would end with him, but apparently that has changed, much to some people’s chagrin.

The basic concept behind the series is that the Gauls are attempting to keep their land from being conquered by the Romans. Their main weapon in this is a potion that gives the villagers superstrength. Asterix, and his friend, Obelix, get into lots of misadventures.

The story of Asterix is a deceptively simple one, as Goscinny and Uderzo have created in the world of Asterix a nice little model for modern satire, all to the backdrop of often wacky pratfalls, as well.

Uderzo has an extremely rich and detailed cartoonish sense of design and storytelling – he really moves the story along beautifully – each album is a pretty quick, if engrossing, read.

The last Asterix album came out in 2005, and it was an absolute sensation upon its release, selling millions right away.

However, the story was a bit less than beloved, as Uderzo debuted a new, less detailed art style, and, like a lot of more recent volumes, there tends to be a bit more of a science fiction vibe to the stories that probably does not work as well with the standard Asterix style of story.

Uderzo stays current, though, as The Falling Sky pokes fun at a lot of modern topics, particularly America and its War on Terror.

Asterix is really one of the comic book world’s great treasures, and I look forward to seeing what Uderzo does next with the character!

24 Comments

I was always a fan of Asterix, gorgeous books and funny to read for all ages with all sorts of jokes and puns which went over my head as a kid, but reading them now make me laugh quite a bit.

Tom Fitzpatrick

May 7, 2009 at 3:12 am

Used to read this series when I was a kid, as well as the Tintin series.

Both were quite enjoyable.

It’s worth giving credit to the English translators, Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge. Much of the original French is untranslateable – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_translations_of_Asterix for some examples – and they’ve done a great job of inventing their own jokes while keeping the spirit of the original.

The basic concept behind the series is that the Gauls are attempting to keep their land from being conquered by the Romans. Their main weapon in this is a potion that gives the villagers superstrength.

I would make one modification: the whole of Gaul HAS been conquered by the Romans, apart from one tiny village which is still holding out…which is more or less how every volume begins.

A load of great background characters in this series: the witch-doctor type, Getafix, the village chieftan, bard, all the various villagers…not to mention the Romans, Julius Caesar, Cleopatra et al.

Big fan here…as a Belgian, I grew with Asterix, Tintin, etc…

But storytelling took a very noticable drop in quality after Goscinny died, unfortunately. Same with Lucky Luke.

The original idea was that once Uderzo died, the series would end with him, but apparently that has changed, much to some people’s chagrin.

His daughter even sued him for it.

Yeah I adore Asterix. Looking at the pictures in Asterix books played a large part in teaching me to read and the stories are still as vibrant to me today as they were way back when.

Have to be honest and say that most of the books since Goscinny’s death (The Belgiums being the last one he had a hand in) haven’t been as good, well Black Gold aside, but are still fun to read. As a none French speaker I agree whole heartedly that the role of Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge the translaters as most of the puns I guess must be their work and are frankly brillant.

Asterix is an absolute joy.

I love Asterix

My Highlights:
2. Asterix and the Golden Sickle (1960)
3. Asterix and the Goths (1961-62)
6. Asterix and Cleopatra (1963)
7. Asterix and the Big Fight (1964)
8. Asterix in Britain (1965)
9. Asterix and the Normans (1966)
13. Asterix and the Cauldron (1968)
15. Asterix and the Roman Agent (1970)
17. The Mansions of the Gods (1971)
18. Asterix and the Laurel Wreath (1971)
21. Asterix and Caesar’s Gift (1974)
23. Obelix and Co. (1976)
27. Asterix and Son (1983)

My low points:
5. Asterix and the Banquet (1963)
28. Asterix and the Magic Carpet (1987)
30. Asterix and Obelix All at Sea (1996)
31. Asterix and the Actress (2001)
32. Asterix and the Class Act (2003)
33. Asterix and the Falling Sky (2005)

I’ve been a fan since I discovered three hardcover translations that our family had back when I was in my single digits. Since then I’ve gotten nearly all the Goscinny/Uderzo editions, including a few in French which I can kinda sorta read (I was so proud when I got my first french pun). Kodos as well to Bell and Hockridge for their translations too. Great choice for the start of the new alphabet. :)

I just love Asterix, though it’s been a while I haven’t re-read any.
Yeah I completely agree, all the albums published since Goscinny’s death are just bad, except for one or two exceptions (‘Magic Carpet’ is correct I think, but that might just be childhood nostalgia).

There’s two kind of adventures in Asterix’s albums : some take place at Asterix’s village, where our heroes mostly interact with their neighbours, and with the local Roman camp nearby (The Mansions of the Gods, Obelix and Co. = personnal favorite, etc.); and then you have the adventures where Asterix, Obelix and the tiny dog go some place of the Roman empire and meet the locals (A. at the Olympics, A. in Spain, A. in Helvetia, etc.).

You’ll find excellent albums in both kinds, but i confess I’m a sucker for the Village stories…

PS : I think the fact that there’ll be more stories after Uderzo’s death is a real treat. It’s been 30 years no good Asterix has been published, it’s about time ! And it’s really not a question of ‘only Uderzo could do it proper’ because clearly, he himself can’t.
+ we have a very good example in Belgium/France: new ‘Blake and Mortimer’ albums are still produced today, even years after their creators’ death, and it rules ! ! (well, mostly).

Random Stranger

May 7, 2009 at 6:47 am

I’ve read a few Asterix stories but it’s been decades since I’ve looked at any. How’s the availability of the volumes in the US? Would it be safe to pick up any volume and dive in or are there enough call backs to the previous books that they should be read in order?

Matthew Johnson

May 7, 2009 at 7:18 am

Asterix & Company wins a special prize for economics being the best (and possibly only) depiction of inflation in a comic book.

“The Falling Sky” was NOT a bit less than beloved – it was and IS hated! The last few Asterixes show off the poor plots and sometimes atrocious conservative ramblings of Uderzo. We had Asterix and the Brits, Asterix in Spain, and now there was something like “Asterix and the feminists”. In another issue the Gauls suddenly were in an Atlantis straight out of Disney’s “Fantasia”, with cutesy little centaurs and other crap.
Since the other great series “Lucky Luke” is now handled very well by a new generation of artists, fandom has become quite vocal that Uderzo should put his pencil to rest and give the merchandise over to fresh blood.

Bonjour, Franophiles! Nous aimons Moebius! Nous aimons Geoff Darrow! Nous aimons Batroc the Leaper!

Q est pour Quasar.

I used to love these as a kid, time to dig round the old folks attic and see if they’re still around I think – time my kids got into these too.
I usually prefered the ones that involved travelling myself, A in Britain being number 1.

I recall there was once a Superman comic that featured Asterix and Obelix. Was that a parody/ripoff or a proper cross-company collaboration? It was at least a couple decades back and my old collection is sadly long gone…

I read them as a kid and read again 2 years ago. Man, it´s a great reading. Maybe the best comic ever.

For those who like Gosciny, you should try Iznogoud. I think the letter I should be for Iznogoud.

FunkyGreenJerusalem

May 7, 2009 at 5:20 pm

Of the three live action films, I reccomend avoiding the first and the third – Asterix Versus Caeser and Asterix at the olympics – but thoroughly reccomend the second film, Asterix And Obelix: Mission Cleopatra – it’s non-stop laugh out loud funny.

Since the other great series “Lucky Luke” is now handled very well by a new generation of artists, fandom has become quite vocal that Uderzo should put his pencil to rest and give the merchandise over to fresh blood.

Or he could put his pen down and put the series/characters to bed.

Pedro Bouça

May 7, 2009 at 5:41 pm

I don’t know if this is the world’s best comic, but it IS the world’s best selling comic series, so lots of people do love it.

Many people say the series went bad after Goscinny’s death. Although there WAS a visible drop in quality (as was for the other Goscinny series, the man is irreplaceable!), Uderzo did do some decent books and at least a great one (Black Gold). He does have interesting ideas and is still an excellent cartoonist, but has trouble structuring his stories and lacks the flair for humor Goscinny had (most of his gags are visual, as expected from an artist).

I’m sure he could improve A LOT with a co-writer, someone like Christophe Arleston (french writer who created the Asterix-inspired “Trolls of Troy” series) or Lewis Trondheim (yeah, I’m daydreaming here), who could turn Uderzo’s basic ideas and turn them into good STORIES! That’s what the recent books are lacking.

If he doesn’t, well, both Lucky Luke and Blake & Mortimer (two traditional european comics continued after their authors’ death) are better now with new creative teams than they were on the last years of their original creators. So a new creative team may be a good idea.

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

Same thing goes for Blueberry. Since Jean-Michel Charlier died, Giraud has been writing it alone and it’s well, garbage. Il est où, le grand Moebius ?

Now I have to differ here. Not just have I read but also translated the Blueberry storyarc Giraud wrote for the brazilian publisher and it’s a REAL good story. Maybe not up with the best Charlier did, but certainly better than the worst.

Best,
Hunter (Pedro Bouça)

The worst of Charlier, mh ? I don’t know, i’ve read a lot of what he has put out, and i’d have to say it might be better than “Los Gringos” (w/ artist Victor de la Fuente), but my least favorite issue of Blueberry written by Charlier (Général Tête Jaune… Yellow Head General!), i like more than Giraud’s solo outpout.

Does anybody here read Thorgal ? Van Hamme must have been it’s author for about 30 years, and then left. And i have to say so far, so good with the new guy.

Personally I really liked Asterix and Son. Asterix and the Great Divide and Asterix and the Secret Weapon are both fun too. Asterix and the Black gold didn’t grab me so much – except for the shot of Obelix floating on the Dead Sea.

Asterix and the Magic Carpet has to be the absolute low point for me though. It was just a lame tour of some of their previous stories.

Asterix is magic.

@Random Stranger. Any of the original books would be no problem. There are running jokes, but nothing that’s going to spoil your enjoyment or understanding of what’s going on. Asterix in Britain is my own favourite, but pretty much any of them will be worth a look.

Asterix is, was, and always will be superb!

At least the ones written by Rene Goscinny…

I lost interest when Uderzo took over…

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