Albert Uderzo, co-creator and illustrator of the Asterix comic book series, has died aged 92. The books have sold around 370 million copies worldwide since they began in 1959, when Uderzo and writer René Goscinny (who died in 1977) were tasked with creating a comic for Pilote, a new magazine for children. In 2008 he told French publisher The Connexion that the original brief from the magazine’s co-founder François Clauteaux was to create a character from French culture, and importantly, set itself apart from competitors such as American superhero comics and Hergé’s Tintin.
Deciding their character would be a Gaul, Uderzo originally drew a big warrior but said Goscinny was imagining “a little man, not necessarily good-looking, but cunning,” he told The Connexion. “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 result was Asterix, a peppy warrior in Roman-occupied ancient Gaul in 50AD, who together with his super strong sidekick Obelix spends his time battling the Romans from invading their village and going on adventures through history.
The stories were first serialised in Pilote magazine and then published yearly as a book, quickly going on to become hugely popular in France and then internationally. In 1967, the ninth volume sold 1.2 million copies in two days. After Goscinny died, Uderzo also took over the writing. Then in 2011 after 52 years drawing the comic, Uderzo retired and the books continued with a new illustrator, Didier Conrad, and writer, Jean-Yves Ferri. Uderzo came out of retirement in 2015 to pay homage to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attack with two new cartoons, one showing Asterix punching an assailant into the air and shouting “Moi aussi je suis un Charlie” and another showing Asterix and Obelix bowing their heads.
The books have since inspired dozens of films, games and an Asterix theme park, not to mention generations of illustrators, comic book artists, designers and publishers. Kev F Sutherland, a comic artist and contributor to the Beano, said in an interview on It's Nice That in 2012 of the Asterix books: “Their satire, their comic timing, their characterisations and their impeccable draughtsmanship are as good now as when they first appeared.” The Migrant Journal creators selected Astérix in Corsica for its Bookshelf feature, stating it was “probably the funniest comic book ever”.
Kick-Ass creator Mark Millar said on Twitter: “RIP Albert Uderzo, my gateway drug to beautiful European comics,” calling Uderzo “The Master”.
A statement on the Asterix website says: “For more than 60 years, Asterix has aroused in millions of readers around the world, page after page, and with each re-reading, a pleasure and a deep joy. [Becoming] a real myth, the little Gaul is today part of the universal literary and artistic heritage, and will continue for a long time to carry its values of tolerance and resistance in its adventures. Beyond the immense artist that he was, we lose an exceptional man, whom all those who had the chance to meet cherished.”
Courtesy Goscinny-Uderzo and Les Editions Albert Rene.