Albert Uderzo, illustrator of the popular Asterix adventures saga, passed away on March 24th at the age of 92, a few months after the comic strip, co-created with René Goscinny, turned 60 years old. This anniversary was much celebrated last year in France. Furthermore, 2020 is the bande dessineé (BD) year at the BnF (this will be covered later in another post).
The Asterix adventures have entertained, amused and captivated generations of young and less young readers. The two protagonists of the series, Asterix and Obelix, and their village of indomitable Gauls who always repel the Roman troops, have become universally known, and their series is one of the most popular created in the history of comics. Its remarkable success has not faded with time, it is the best selling European bande dessinée saga (370 million copies) and the most translated comic (111 languages).
Uderzo was born in 1927 (in Fismes, Marne) into a family of Italian origin. He was an admirer of Walt Disney at a young age, as was his colleague and co-author René Goscinny (interestingly also the son of immigrants, a Polish father and a Ukranian mother). First they created in collaboration two humour comics: Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior. The latter, similar to the famous Tintin (see anniversary post), was a French reporter for the supplement of the journal La Libre Belgique. The years after the 2nd World War were a flourishing period for the Franco-Belgian comic industry and Goscinny and Uderzo, along with Jean-Michel Charlier and a few other colleagues, created their own comic magazine, Pilote, in which they had total creative freedom. Soon after it was bought by the Franco-Belgian comics publisher Dargaud. Goscinny and Uderzo were trying to find a particularly French topic, and it was in that publication that Asterix was born on October 29th 1959. The first album, Astérix le Galois, was published independently two years later. Uderzo himself created the character of Obelix, the one he admitted to preferring.
Uderzo was the co-creator of other comics especially popular in France, such as: Tanguy et Laverdure (with Jean-Michel Charlier) and Oumpah-pah (with Goscinny), all surpassed by the extraordinary success of Asterix. In those years Goscinny was also working on numerous comic strips apart from Asterix in collaboration with different artists: Iznogoud; Valentin (both with Tabary); Le Petit Nicolas (with Sempé); Lucky Luke (with Morris); Les Dingodossiers (with Gotlib).
Since 1965 Asterix has also been a long and successful series of films, both animated and non-animated (see the exhibition catalogue, Goscinny et le cinema S950.b.201.5032). In 1977 Goscinny died at the age of 55, and Uderzo decided to continue publishing Asterix, not only being responsible for the artwork, but also writing the stories until 2009. In that year he sold a 60% stake in Éditions Albert-René to Hachette, retiring two years later.
Asterix adventures have been the subject of research in recent years (see the thesis 735:45.c.200.157 and a conference proceedings e-book). In addition, the stories of Asterix have also been attractive to collectors for some time, and they are present in one of the University Library special collections (Waddleton collection), with several albums in different languages.
We can highlight a few biographies of the creators of the series: the autobiographical Uderzo se raconte (404:45.c.200.19), and two biographies of Goscinny, the first by M.-A. Guillaume and J.-L. Bocquet (9009.c.3468), the second by Pascal Ory (404:45.c.200.18), among others.
Uderzo earned himself various distinctions during his career, such as the Max & Moritz Prize Special Prize for outstanding life’s work (2004). He was awarded the Knight and later the Officer of the Legion of Honour (in 1985 and 2013 respectively). Uderzo retired in 2011, and Asterix was taken over by Jean-Yves Ferri (text) and Didier Conrad (illustrations). La fille de Vercingetorix, the 38th album, was published last year coinciding with the 60 year anniversary of the series.
Manuel del Campo
Guillaume, Marie-Ange; Bocquet, José-Louis. Goscinny: biographie. Paris: Actes Sud, 1997. 9009.c.3468
Mckinney, Mark (ed.) History and Politics in French-Language Comics and Graphic Novels. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008.
Ory, Pascal. Goscinny: 1926-1977: la liberté d’en rire. Paris: Perrin, 2007. 404:45.c.200.18
Picaud, Carine (éd.) Astérix de A à Z [exhibition catalogue]. Paris: BnF, 2013. 2014.12.85
Rouvière, Nicolas. Astérix, ou, Les lumières de la civilisation. Paris: PUF, 2006. 735:45.c.200.157
Uderzo, Albert. Uderzo se raconte. Paris: Stock, 2008. 404:45.c.200.19