Asterix and the Class Act


By R. Goscinny & A. Uderzo, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Orion)
ISBN: 978-0-7528-6640-6

One of the most-read comics strips in the world, Asterix the Gaul has been translated into over 100 languages. More than 325 million copies of the 35 canonical Asterix books have sold worldwide, making Goscinny & Uderzo France’s bestselling international authors.

The strip has spawned numerous animated and live-action movies, TV series, assorted toys, games, apparel and even been enshrined in its own tourist hotspot – Parc Astérix, near Paris.

The diminutive, doughty hero was created in 1959 by two of the Ninth Art’s greatest proponents, René Goscinny & Albert Uderzo: masters of cartoon narrative then at the peak of their creative powers.

Firmly established as a global brand and premium French export by the mid-1960s, Asterix continued to grow in quality as Goscinny & Uderzo toiled ever onward, crafting further fabulous sagas; building a stunning legacy of graphic excellence and storytelling gold. As such prominent and ever-rising stars their presence was often requested in other places, as varied as fashion magazine Elle, global icon National Geographic and even a part of Paris’ 1992 Olympic Bid…

Although the ancient Gaul was a massive hit from the start, Uderzo continued working on other strips, but as soon as the initial epic was collected as Astérix le gaulois in 1961 it became clear that the series would demand most of his time – especially as the astounding Goscinny never seemed to require rest or run out of ideas.

By 1967 Asterix occupied all Uderzo’s attention, and in 1974 the partners formed Idéfix Studios to fully exploit their creation. At the same time, after nearly 15 years as a weekly comic strip subsequently collected into compilations, the 21st tale (Asterix and Caesar’s Gift) was the first published as a complete original album before being serialised. Thereafter each new release was a long anticipated, eagerly awaited treat for the strip’s millions of fans…

With the sudden death of impossibly prolific scripter Goscinny in 1977, the creative wonderment continued with Uderzo – rather reluctantly – writing and drawing fresh adventures until his retirement in 2010.

In 2013 new yarn Asterix and the Picts opened a fresh chapter in the annals as Jean-Yves Ferri & Didier Conrad began a much-anticipated continuation of the franchise.

Before that, however, Uderzo was convinced to gather and – in many instances – artistically re-master some of the historical oddments and pictorial asides which had incrementally accrued over the glory-filled decades; features by the perfect partners which just didn’t fit into major album arcs, tales done for Specials, guest publications and commercial projects starring the indomitable Gaul. To cap off the new-old package Albert crafted an all-original vignette from that halcyon world of immortal heroes…

This intriguing compilation first appeared in France as Astérix et la rentrée gauloise in 1993 – and a decade later in English – gathering those long-forgotten side-pieces and spin-off material starring the Gallant Gauls and frequently their minor-celebrity creators too.

Following an expansive and explanatory ‘French Publisher’s Note’ – and the traditional background maps and cast list – a press conference from Chief Vitalstatistix leads directly into the eponymous ‘Asterix and the Class Act’ (from Pilote #363 October 6th 1966) wherein the first day of school finds the little legend and his big buddy sadly miscast as truant inspectors and kid catchers for head teacher Getafix…

Each little gem is preceded by an introductory piece, and following the hard facts comes ‘The Birth of Asterix’. First seen in October 1994’s Le Journal exceptionnel d’Astérix, the tale is set ‘In the Year 35 BC (Before Caesar)’ and finds a certain village in high dudgeon as two young women go into labour. Their distracted husbands soon find a way to distract themselves – and everybody else – with a mass punch-up that quickly becomes the hamlet’s preferred means of airing issues and passing the time…

‘In 50 BC’ comes from May 1977 and re-presents newspaper-style strips produced at the request of an American publisher hoping to break the European sensation in the USA. The endeavour inevitably stalled but the panels – introducing and reprising the unique world of the Gallic goliaths – wound up being published in National Geographic.

Apparently Uderzo loves chickens and, especially for the original August 2003 release, he concocted the tale of ‘Chanticleerix the Gaulish Cockerel’ detailing the struggle between the village’s chief clucker and a marauding Roman Eagle. It sounds pretty one-sided but faithful mutt Dogmatix knows where the magic portion is kept…

Pilote #424 (7th December 1967) was full of Seasonal festive fun so ‘For Gaul Lang Syne’ saw Obelix attempt to use druidic mistletoe to snaffle a kiss from beautiful Panacea. He soon came to regret the notion…

‘Mini, Midi, Maxi’ was produced for fashion magazine Elle (#1337 2nd August 1971) but the discussion of ancient Gaulish couture soon devolved into the kind of scraps you’d expect, after which ‘Asterix As You Have Never Seen Him Before…’ (Pilote #527, 11th December 1969) displays Uderzo’s practised visual versatility as our heroes are realised in various popular art styles from gritty superhero to Flash Gordon, a Charles Schulz pastiche and even as an underground psychedelic trip…

Approached to contribute a strip to Paris’ bid, the partners produced ‘The Lutetia Olympics’ which was later published in Jours de France #1660 (25th October 1986) and depicted how Caesar’s attempts to scotch a similar attempt to hold the great games in Gaul failed because of a certain doughty duo, whilst ‘Springtime in Gaul’ (from Pilote #334, 17th March 1966) was an early all-Albert affair wherein our heroes help the mystic herald of changing seasons give pernicious winter the boot…

‘The Mascot’ originated in the first digest-sized Super Pocket Pilote (#1, 13th June 1968) and revealed how the constantly thrashed Romans decided to get a lucky animal totem, but chose the wrong-est dog in the world to confiscate, after which ‘Latinomania’ (originally crafted in March 1973 and re-mastered for the first Astérix et la rentrée gauloise in 1993) took a sly poke at the fragile mutability of language.

‘The Authors Take the Stage’ describes how usually-invisible creators became characters in their own work and ‘The Obelix Family Tree’ collects a continuing panel strip which began in Pilote #172 (7th February 1963) and ran until #186 wherein Mssrs. Goscinny and Uderzo encounter a modern day Gaulish giant and track his ancestors back through history.

An at last everything ends with ‘How Do They Think It All Up?’ (Pilote #157, 25th October 1962) as two cartoonists in a café experience ‘The Birth of an Idea’

Adding extra lustre to an already stellar canon, these quirky sidebars and secret views thankfully collect just a few more precious gags and wry capers to augment if not complete the long and glorious career of two of France’s greatest heroes – both the real ones and their fictive masterpieces. Not to be missed…
© 2003 Les Éditions Albert René/Goscinny-Uderzo. English translation: © 2003 Les Éditions Albert René/Goscinny-Uderzo. All rights reserved.