Asterix book spines with most all of the titles (OK, I'm missing two)

Announcing The Asterix Agenda

In 2018, it is my goal to review all 34 volumes of “Asterix” that Albert Uderzo drew. (If I get adventurous, there’s a 35th that’s a collection of shorts, too.)

That includes the amazing first 25 books that Rene Goscinny wrote, and the 10 after that which Uderzo did on his own.  Given the wordplay in the books, it’s also important to acknowledge the work of Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge in the English language translations.

I’ve read all but two of the latter volumes before, but haven’t read most of them in the last 5 or 10 years.  So it’ll be like reading them again for the first time in many cases, I’m sure.

Who is calling out to Asterix?

Thankfully, these books are all packed with gags, political and cultural references, and really good art.  They provide plenty of material.

They’re not quick reads, but they’re hilarious reads that deserve all the time I can give them.  This year, that’ll be a lot of time.  There won’t be any problems about running out of things to say.

Why Asterix?

 

The Enormity of Asterix

Asterix is kind of a big deal in France.  For starters, he has his own theme park.

Ladies and gentlemen, Parc Asterix. conveniently located a half hour north of Paris:

map of Parc Asterix, a half hour north of Paris, France

Yeah, Asterix is big. (If you have an hour to spare, here’s a walk through the park from 2014.)

The first satellite France launched into space in the 1960s?  They named it “Asterix.”

The French satellite, Asterix

There’s even an entry in TVTropes.com devoted to Asterix and all the tropes it uses.

Yes, people know the name “Asterix” here in the States.  They may have even been subject to one of those awful cheap cartoon DVDs from the dollar bins at the supermarket at one point.

He’s friggin’ Mickey Mouse in France.

 

L’Histoire

René GoscinnyAlbert Uderzo

 

A creation of writer Rene Goscinny (left) and artist Albert Uderzo (right), “Asterix” began as a serial in the pages of “Pilote” magazine in 1959. (Goscinny was editing it, so it was an easy sell.) The first album collecting that storyline debuted in 1961, and off they went.  In their first ten years, they published 16 books.  Given the quality of those books, that kind of production is insane.

Uderzo drew 34 books, officially, before he retired. Goscinny, sadly, died in 1977, but wrote the first 25.  At a much slower pace, Uderzo went on to do ten books on his own before retiring.

There’s a lot to be said about how that all worked out, but that’s the topic of another post for another day…

A new creative team, Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad, created the most recent three books.  They’ve sold like gangbusters, and have been good reads, over all. I think one could even credibly argue that they’re better than many — if not most — of Uderzo’s solo work on the series, but we’ll take a careful look at that in the year ahead.

 

The Asterix Project Schedule

Asterix lost, pointing, calling out to Obelix

The goal here is to start each week with a new Asterix review. There are 34 or 35 books to review, and 52 weeks in the year.  I have some leeway in case I miss a week due to life or a holiday or something.

And, as part of The Asterix Project, you’ll get more than just reviews.  More articles supporting the reviews will pop up from time to time, so keep your eyes open as we go along.

We start with “Asterix the Gaul,” the first book in the series, right here.

 

Credits

Rene Goscinny picture: By Peters, Hans / Anefo – Nationaal Archief Fotocollectie Anefo (cropped) Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief: Fotocollectie Algemeen Nederlands Fotopersbureau (ANEFO), 1945-1989 – negatiefstroken zwart/wit, nummer toegang 2.24.01.05, bestanddeelnummer 924-5891, CC BY-SA 3.0 nl, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22670427

Albert Uderzo picture: By Georges Seguin (Okki) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3741094

20 Comments

  • JC LEBOURDAIS January 14, 2018 at 3:28 am

    Great news!
    It should be interesting to see an outsider’s perspective on such a beloved series here.
    Its creation and origins are so rooted in 1960s French politics (this book started as an allegory of Charles De Gaulle’s view of what France should become after the war) that there are loads of erudite books out there analyzing all the parallels with real life events. It also helped build this self-image that French people still treasure about being the scrawny underdog who always comes out on top at the end.
    The first album’s original printing was only 6000 copies, yet over the years the series sold 350 million volumes to this day (for 34 albums that’s roughly 10 millions per) internationally. Compare that to the thousands and thousands of pages chain-produced by DC for, say, Superman, that leaves me speechless. It made the original publisher rich, yet the French copyright law allowed the original creators to retain all ownership to the characters and maintain the integrity of the series throughout; how great is that?
    Your comparison with Mickey Mouse is right on the money, seeing how the physicality of the main character evolved over the years to match closely the shape of the mouse today. There have been dissertations on how brilliant this is as a marketing move.
    We’ll never sing praise high enough for Goscinny’s genius. Every time I reread any volume of his tenure, I find a little nugget that I missed on the previous 500 reads. It truly is a book for all ages. Kudos to the English translators if they managed to convey that through. And obviously, since you’re primarily an Art guy, Uderzo’s mastery of the pen and brush was always a few notches above the crowd, for the perfect team-up of talents. Lightning in a bottle, as they say.
    Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and read it all again for the first time, so I envy you a little bit now. Enjoy!

    Reply
    • Augie January 15, 2018 at 4:53 pm

      On my first read through of the series, I remember using a couple websites to clue me into some of the caricatures and background political bits and pieces of the series. I’ll have to see if I can find those sites again. I’m sure I’ll still miss a lot. It’s funny to think about that in this day and age when people like to fight about political content in comics. Goscinny did it all the time, but 50 years later we can’t even tell…

      Now, why is “Asterix and the Class Act” not counted as a volume in the series? It’s a short story collection, but it’s still all original Asterix material by Goscinny and Uderzo. I think it gets short shrift.

      Uderzo’s ink lines are mesmerizing. I didn’t call them out in the first review because I’m pacing myself, but we’ll get to examples of those, too.

      And, yes, this is a much better publishing model than Superman’s. I wish more people had created more new characters than just worked on Superman retreads over and over again. Ah, well….

      Reply
  • Dan Condon-Jones January 15, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    Ooh, I’ve been half thinking of reading though all of the Asterix books again. I might try to keep up with you on this

    Reply
    • Augie January 15, 2018 at 4:48 pm

      Thanks, Dan, and please do join me! It shouldn’t ever be more than one per week. I thought about launching with the first two, but didn’t have the time and didn’t want to overwhelm. (The first review is loooong.)

      Reply
  • Colin Taylor January 22, 2018 at 7:26 am

    So stoked about this. I adore Asterix and this will be a good excuse to crack my copies open again. Really looking forward to this and thanks for putting the time and effort in to do it Augie.

    Reply
    • Augie January 22, 2018 at 12:41 pm

      Thanks, Colin. Hopefully, the pleasure will be all mine. Ask me in about six weeks again and we’ll see if I regret this decision yet or not. (Ask me in 20 weeks and we’ll REALLY get an idea. 😉

      Reply
      • dancondonjones January 22, 2018 at 12:49 pm

        I think the time to ask will be once you’re into the Uderzo penned ones. I positively enjoy Asterix and the Great Divide and (particularly) Asterix and Son, but I don’t have good memories of any of his other ones. I might wind up dropping out once it reaches those.

        Reply
        • Colin Taylor January 22, 2018 at 2:37 pm

          I have very fond memories of Black Gold… will it hold up to re-read???

          Reply
          • Augie January 22, 2018 at 2:47 pm

            True story, which I should probably save until I review the book, but what the heck: I had a friend in high school who went to Europe one summer. Knowing I was a comic book fan, he brought back an English copy of “Black Gold” for me. And I never read more than about 10 pages of it. I should have been an Asterix fan a decade earlier. UGH. I need to dig that book up so I can do a comparison between the 2004 editions and the earlier hand-lettered editions. (I might do it sooner. There are plenty of images on-line I can borrow for such a thing…)

          • JC LEBOURDAIS February 20, 2018 at 11:24 am

            Not really, no. I’m not sure which ghost scripter assisted Uderzo on that one, but the objective was to revisit the fun quests of the early volumes. needless to say it fails on all counts. and if you’re looking for offensive cultural stereotypes of Jews and Arabs, look no further.

          • dancondonjones February 20, 2018 at 11:34 am

            That description sounds very much like Asterix and the Magic Carpet – which is pretty much a waste of space.

        • JC LEBOURDAIS February 20, 2018 at 11:20 am

          the great divide was plotted by Pierre Tchernia who was a media legend from TV and film for more than 50 years. He was incidentally the narrator in the early animated Asterix films, so this was the most solid you can get without being Mr. G himself writing. it’s all downhill from there.
          It’s obviously based on Romeo and Juliet, so I guess Shakespeare deserves some of the credit as well 🙂

          Reply
          • dancondonjones February 20, 2018 at 11:33 am

            Ah – that explains why The Great Divide is better than most of the other Uderzo ones – even though it is a little odd, with it’s walking fish person and general strange feel.

            Still love Asterix and Son most out of the Uderzo ones though.

  • JC LEBOURDAIS February 20, 2018 at 4:36 am

    I just finished reading your most recent email newsletter that I found in my inbox this morning and as I was going through the first few words I started feeling the outrage building up inside me (you like to provoke, don’t you?). Is Asterix repetitive and boring? Then I started to think about it. Really think. I’ve known your work for a good many years, I know you genuinely like comics, and that your perspective, though often very different from mine, is worthy of interest and thought-provoking most of the time.
    There is an argument to be made that all Asterix stories follow a pattern. At the beginning of the story, a problem arises that triggers some kind of quest, hijinx ensue and in the end it’s clobbering time. All’s well that ends well (“Violence solves everything” is a great message, isn’t it?). Then again that’s not unheard of in literature, Lester Dent had a formula and still managed to write hundreds of gripping Doc Savage novels. In TV and Film, Americans have “perfected” story structure, boiling it down into a 3-act drama, yet managed to tell a sizable number of good shows and summer blockbusters (a few drops in the sea of mediocre and really bad ones, but you see my point).
    To be fair, Goscinny himself, around the middle of his tenure, stated several times in interviews that he was struggling to find new angles, new starting points to keep the adventures of our favourite Gauls fresh and appealing. So there’s that.
    I continued reading your prose. Which now makes perfect sense. The seemingly simplistic story structure is but a vehicule, to be accessible to young readers and adults equally, so the creators can painstakingly craft each page, mastery in art aligned with mastery in writing doesn’t happen every day, let alone consistently over almost 2 decades. As they say, the devil is in the details. Many books have been written on Asterix, including some ridiculously erudite ones (not too many in english, but a couple of good ones, showing this is one of the few series where the translation to a different language manages to capture some of the sparks of the original), so you launching into a written analysis of every bit would be treading water, that makes sense.
    The idea of a podcast is an intriguing one. 50 years have passed since the original books were published and obviously you are from a different cultural background than the original target audience, so that could make for an interesting approach. Podcasts are obviously a way to attract a younger crowd which wouldn’t read long essays, so if you manage to make it dynamic, that is definitely something worth listening to. What kind of format are you thinking about? Would it be just you or would you be bouncing ideas against some fellow chronicler? The idea of an exchange/dialogue sounds certainly more dynamic. I do listen to podcast in bot short (5-10 mn) and long (1 hr) so if the subject is rich enough there is room for experimentation. I’ve watched a few of your “reviewer in car getting analytical” youtube videos and they definitely show promise, if you can add a little bit of pizzazz to it (am I using that term correctly?). Keep it light and fun.
    To be continued… Whatever you put out next I’ll definitely sample it, for starters.

    Reply
    • dancondonjones February 20, 2018 at 6:35 am

      “as I was going through the first few words I started feeling the outrage building up inside me (you like to provoke, don’t you?). Is Asterix repetitive and boring?”

      I’m confused. What was your outrage about? I can’t see Augie implying it would be repetitive and boring.

      Reply
      • JC LEBOURDAIS February 20, 2018 at 11:08 am

        His first few words are: “I was worried when I began this project that I’d run out of things to say. I feared that it would be repetitious to cover the same old ground over and over again.”
        I’m barely exaggerating for comedic effect.

        Reply
        • dancondonjones February 20, 2018 at 11:19 am

          Those words are familiar, so I know I’ve read them, but I can’t find them on this page anywhere – which is why I was confused.

          Reply
          • JC LEBOURDAIS February 20, 2018 at 11:27 am

            I’m referring to Augie’s latest periodical Pipeline newsletter that he sent out this morning. Never leave home without it (subscribe button on the upper right corner of the page on this very site).

          • dancondonjones February 20, 2018 at 11:31 am

            Ah. I didn’t know about that. Cheers.

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