Thursday, March 03, 2016


Obscurity of the Day: Asterix and Obelix

The Asterix comic albums by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, published in France starting in 1959, are wildly popular in that country, and many other countries throughout the world. In the Canada of my childhood,Asterix was a familiar character to both French and English children, and many English kids learned French with the assistance of the wacky little Gaul and his oafish companion, Obelix.

However, Asterix has never really garnered wide interest in the U.S. That's a shame, because the characters are delightful, the stories are droll and full of terrific wordplay (most of which, miraculously, has been successfully translated to English), and the art is superb. My assumption is that Americans, who are, generally speaking, almost entirely innocent of knowledge of European history, just don't get the basic premise, and the various locales may as well be in Middle Earth for all they know. While that knowledge isn't absolutely necessary to understanding the Asterix tales, it certainly helps.

In 1977, Field Enterprises chose to take on the daunting, and ultimately thankless, task of adapting Asterix albums to American newspaper comic form. Adapting the albums to daily and Sunday strip form required a great deal of editing and reworking. The easiest way to see how much the material was changed is to compare with the (English translated) albums. Compare the strips above to the album pages below:

Not only does the art suffer terribly from the postage-stamp size reproduction of daily comic strips, but the storyline gets chopped up so much that the comedic pacing is completed defeated. It's a mess in other words, though I must admit that some editor really put a lot of effort into remolding the material, even sometimes creating new gags where they didn't exist. The Sundays weren't quite so badly chopped up, but of course the muddy newspaper coloring of the 1970s did those strips no favors.

EDIT 3/23/2021: Since this post was originally made, better information on stories has come to light. Here is the story list as compiled by Justin Bur:





1 – 2



Introduction (Sunday starts 11/20)

3 – 15



Asterix the Gladiator

16 – 28



Asterix and Cleopatra

29 – 41



Asterix and the Great Crossing

42 – 54



Asterix and the Big Fight

55 – 67



Asterix in Spain (Sunday ends mid-story? Last known is 1/7/79)

68 – 69



Asterix in Britain (no Sundays, only gets part way through the story)

 Despite boastful claims that 150 clients signed up for the strip, you'll find it appearing in few papers, and by the end of the run the clientele was tiny. In fact, I've been searching for a definitive end date of the strip for years. However, now both Jeffrey Lindenblatt and Justin Bur have independently found papers that ran the strip to the same end date shown above (New Castle News and Windsor Star), so I think the case is closed. The only piece of the puzzle left unfound is the date of the final Sunday - no one has found it running anywhere near as long as the daily.

If Asterix intrigues you, I'm surprised to report than you can read all the albums, in English, at Asterix Online, for free.


Asterix ran also in the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette. It did suffer from reduction there, also!
I have used this great, addictive epic when teaching Ancient History - both the comics themselves, and clips from the English-dubbed versions of the Asterix films. The students loved it. One became so enthused that he downloaded the entire Asterix corpus from that website and started digging in.

People tend to think that high school students today can't "get into" material that isn't culturally sanctioned for their age group and for the contemporary moment, but that simply isn't true. I have gotten students interested in all kinds of things simply by introducing them shrewdly.
I have Asterix Sunday pages starting from Nov. 27, 1977 (which I think is the first Sunday?) - so did the color pages begin before the daily strips, or is the Wiki page wrong?
Patrick -- three cheers for you! I can't agree more that kids are very open to learning, if only it can be made interesting and fun.

Cliff -- Sorry, I made a typo and forgot to put in the footnote. All cleared up now.

"If Asterix intrigues you, I'm surprised to report than you can read all the albums, in English, at Asterix Online, for free."

And if you're STILL into hardcopies, Amazon does feature the books for sale domestically, including the recent ones penned by Ferri and Conrad!

Speaking of Asterix, Tintin also had an interesting brush with the daily section of my hometown newspaper it the 1960's (Toledo Blade), I blogged about it here!
For English readers, they've completed the Asterix Omnibus series with three albums per volume. It's available in paperback, making a nice and comparatively cheap way to own them all.

In reading them now, the puzzle isn't so much history as it is the contemporary jokes and satire. There's a lot of playing with national stereotypes (Favorite crack in "Asterix in Britain": "Drink your beer before it gets cold!") and celebrity references. "Mansions of the Gods", while it stands very well on its own, feels like they were satirizing something very specific. Even the hapless pirates were originally a parody of a serious adventure comic; they've outlasted their models by many years.

A little annoyed that, aside from a few ancient VHS releases, none of the Asterix films -- animated or live action -- are available here.
I grew up during my teens in France and at school our economics teacher used the Asterix book 'Obelix and Co.' to introduce the concepts of money and fiduciary value, as also the effects of monetary trading on society. There is so much in the original Goscinny & Uderzo albums that serve a truly educational purpose. As a result of my own experience, I have never forgotten that teacher or that particular class. This is why I now myself create educational comics, inspired of course by the fabulous Asterix albums and also Tintin.
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]