The Asterix Phenomenon
Asterix the Gaul must be Europe’s favourite comic book hero.
On a global scale he may only be forced into second place by a rather famous American mouse.
So, who is this Asterix ?
Asterix the Gaul is the inspired creation of Rene Goscinny, renowned author of several several short stories and comics (Lucky Luke, Isnogood, to name but two of his most successful), and Albert Uderzo, a highly talented comic book artist.
together they set out in 1959 to create a humorous character set in Roman times (around 50 BC), a defiant Gaul, for whom surrender to the ‘crazy Romans’ was not an option. A classic underdog, who, from with a magic potion brewed by his village’s druid, draws supernatural strength with which he can overcome the impossible odds of taking on the Roman Empire, at times defying (and outwitting) even the mighty Julius Caesar himself.
If the idea of Asterix sounds simple enough, its realization by the two comic geniuses Goscinny and Uderzo was an outstanding work.
Far more than mere comic book, the Asterix adventures are an outrageous mixture of humour, jocous comments on European national stereotypes, funny swipes at the achievements of the Roman Empire (with beautiful sceneries set by Uderzo of the streets of Ancient Rome, etc…), charicatural cameo appearances of pretty much anyone who ever was someone, and a group of Gallic villagers in Asterix’ home village who will give you belly-aches of laughter reading about their flaws and feuds.
His adventures have Asterix touring France, visiting Britain, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Egypt, the Near East (when looking for oil !), Greece, Corsica, Rome, even America (although unwittingly!) and recently he even went to India…
From what I had last heard, over one hundred and eighty million copies of Asterix had been sold. It is estimated that on average ten people get to read each copy, thus putting the estimated readership of Asterix comics at a staggering number !
Several feature length films have been made of Asterix adventures by now, and in France even a theme park in his honour has been opened !
To my knowledge Asterix’ adventures have been translated into 29 different languages, – even Latin (it is used in many schools where Latin is taught in order to loosen up an otherwise rather dry matter.).
The best Asterix comics (in my opinion):
- Asterix the Legionary
- Asterix in Britain
- Asterix and the Roman Agent
- Asterix and the Laurel Wreath
- Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield
Historian Franco Cavazzi dedicated hundreds of hours of his life to creating this website, roman-empire.net as a trove of educational material on this fascinating period of history. His work has been cited in a number of textbooks on the Roman Empire and mentioned on numerous publications such as the New York Times, PBS, The Guardian, and many more.