Asterix co-creator Uderzo has died

Albert Uderzo with René Goscinny's daughter Anne

Asterix co-creator Albert Uderzo has died, aged 92, leaving a legacy of 380million comic albums sold, in 111 languages.

The comic book artist died in his sleep from a heart attack, and there was no link with Covid-19, his family said.

The co-creator of the most popular European comic book series, set in ancient Gaul at the time of Julius Caesar, Uderzo was born in the Marne in 1927 to an Italian immigrant family and grew up in a Paris suburb Clichy-sous-Bois. He became French in 1934.

Uderzo was interested in drawing from an early age, having his first drawing published in his teens, in 1941. He went on to work in animation briefly, and in comic books.

Sometimes claimed to be part of the 'Franco-Belgian' comics tradition, Uderzo's biggest early inspirations were in fact transatlantic - Disney and Popeye, the latter especially influencing the way he would go on to draw fight scenes in Asterix.

His meeting with Asterix co-creator René Goscinny (who wrote the text for the books) was in 1951 when they were both working at a specialised press agency. Goscinny later said they hit it off straight away.

After leaving following a dispute with their employers in which Goscinny was sacked, they continued to work together and came up with the idea for the Asterix series in 1959 one evening at Goscinny's high-rise flat. 

In an interview with Connexion in 2008, Uderzo said: "Asterix was born at the best time of the day - aperitif time!"

Appearing at first in a comic book called Pilote, which they created together, Asterix rapidly became his most popular creation and he focused on the character after that.

In a televised interview in 1967, the pair explained they had been looking for a ‘typically French’ story to tell.

At first they considered an adaptation of the Roman de Renart, medieval tales about talking animal characters.

“Then we found out it had already been done,” Uderzo said. “So we thought of ‘our ancestors the Gauls’.” [A stock phrase from old children’s history books.]

Goscinny added: “It hadn’t really been done – in France we had rather forgotten the Gauls, but we had the good fortune to find a simple idea. We were like Americans discovering the Far West – our own Far West.”

He explained to Connexion: "Straight away I made sketches of big warriors, as you might imagine the people of the time, but René wasn't keen - he was imagining a little man, not necessarily good-looking, but cunning. What you could call an anti-hero.

"So, I came up with a little man with a moustache and a big nose! I've always liked drawing big noses because they make me laugh. That's how Asterix was born."

The stories revolve around the quick-witted little warrior's adventures alongside his well-built friend the menhir deliveryman Obelix, as their village holds out against the Romans with help from the magic potion brewed by their druid, which gives superhuman strength.

They often travel abroad, including to Great Britain, in Asterix in Britain, and the books have introduced many young people to ancient Greece (Asterix at the Olympic Games) and Rome.

The duo published 24 full albums of the characters' adventures between 1961 and 1977, when Goscinny died, after which Uderzo continued alone until 2009.

Since 2013 Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad have been authorised to continue the series for Editions Albert René.

Asterix and Obelix - from mural painting in Brussels / Editions Albert René

The books are known for their humour, including characters’ amusing names and many puns and allusions, so they can appeal on different levels to readers of all ages (in this 2010 article Anthea Bell, who translated the books into English for many years, told Connexion about the challenges it involved).

The Gaulish village was located on the Breton coast, an area Uderzo knew from having spent time in the Côtes-du-Nord as a teenager.

In France the stories have also been made into numerous films, some starring Gérard Depardieu as Obelix, and inspired a popular theme park, Parc Astérix.

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