24.03.2020 Europe

Albert Uderzo - illustrator and co-creator of 'Astérix and Obélix' - dies aged 92

By David Coffey - RFI
© Reuters/Yves Herman/File Photo
LISTEN MAR 24, 2020
© Reuters/Yves Herman/File Photo

Albert Uderzo, the co-creator and illustrator of the world famous "Asterix and Obelix" comic books that delighted legions of children and adults over the past six decades, died of a heart attack at his home in the Paris suburb of Neuilly.

Uderzo's co-creation of Asterix the Gaul began in 1959 with fellow Frenchman and writer René Goscinny, who brought them to life in the Franco-Belgian comic magazine "Pilote".

The exploits of the shrewd and indomitable Gaul, with his winged helmet and formidable blond moustache, along with his massive sidekick Obelix became a huge hit, as they gleefully thwarted Roman legionnaires and the Roman empire.  

With translations into dozens of languages, the series extended into 38 books - the most recent being "Asterix and the Chieftain's Daughter" - that was published last year. Although Uderzo had stopped illustrating the series in 2011, he did carry on alone following Goscinny's death in 1977.

Both Goscinny & Uderzo are considered the founding fathers of modern comic books and graphic novels, with 380 million of their editions sold worldwide, and several stories turned into animated cartoons and feature films.

The pun-filled series is brimming with fist-fights, drunken arguments, heroic rescues and romantic interludes, and the stories often include not-so-subtle references to politicians or popular figures of the day.

They have been translated into 111 languages and dialects, including Latin and Ancient Greek.

Creativity through cigarettes & pastis 
Uderzo was born April 25, 1927, in Fismes, a village in northeast France near Reims, to Italian immigrants.

At birth he had six fingers on each hand -- an anomaly corrected by surgery -- and was colourblind, yet he discovered drawing after joining a Parisian publishing house after World War II, while also providing comic drawings for newspapers.

"Making a living through comics was extremely hard in those days, I drew an astronomical amount of pages just to get through the month," he recalled.

Upon meeting René Goscinny in 1951,they forged a friendship that would lead the to dreaming up Asterix and his village in Amorican Brittany, fuelled by cigarettes and pastis, in a social housing apartment outside Paris eight years later.

Uderzo claimed he was inspired by tales from his older brother Bruno, who would head to western France to escape labour conscription by the Nazi occupiers.

The first Asterix book, "Asterix the Gaul," appeared in 1961 and became an overnight sensation, eventually introducing the world of comics to a much wider public.

Marketing rights that extended to toys and a popular French amusement park north of Paris, made Uderzo a wealthy man. In 2017, an original Uderzo cover for one of the first Asterix books sold in Paris for a record €1.4 million.

He took up his drawing board for one of the last times in 2015, to depict an Asterix in hommage to fellow illustrators and others killed in the jihadist massacre at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

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