I first remember coming across Asterix the Gaul at primary school. I would have been about six or seven and was looking through the school library for something to read, when I came across this annual sized book with a cartoon character on the front. I picked it off the shelf and started flicking through it and was immediately excited to discover that the school library contained a comic book!
Scarcely believing my luck I headed back to my chair and started looking through the book, whose title and plot details sadly elude my memory now. The first thing that struck me was that there was a great deal of use of the letter ‘X’, a letter which to me seemed rarely used back then. I struggled a bit with some of the character names, but the story seemed pretty exciting, with a group of villagers fighting against some Roman centurions.
The main character, Asterix, felt a little like Popeye the Sailor Man, one of my favourite cartoon characters as a boy, especially since he only became strong when he drunk a magic potion, but I have to say I found the man mountain that was Obelix far more entertaining.
I certainly enjoyed reading the book, but given it appeared to be the only one in the school library (I guess it must have been donated) and I never seemed to be able to find the books in either shops or public libraries, I never got to read any more of them. I do remember having a friend at some point when I was a bit older who had some of the books, and got to flick through a couple more then, but that book remains the one and only Asterix story I have ever read.
Over the years I seem to have somehow picked up the names of some of the other characters from the books, though I don’t quite know how. Sure, there have been films and video games and even a theme park made of Asterix, but I’ve never seen any of these either, so it’s a bit of a mystery to me how I know there was a dog called Dogmatix, that the creator of the magic potions was the druid Getafix (what a brilliant name!) and that the head of the village was called Vitalstatistix.
In writing this piece I did a little research into the Asterix books and was extremely surprised to see how long the characters have been around for, with the first serialised story, Asterix the Gaul, being published in 1959.
Even more astounding is that there have been more than 30 Asterix books published since then, the most recent in 2009, and that over this span of more than fifty years all the books have been written and illustrated by the same two people. RenÃ© Goscinny was the writer, whilst Albert Uderzo was the illustrator. Goscinny died back in 1979 however, so since then Albert Uderzo has both written and illustrated the books, though Goscinny’s name still appears on all the books, which I feel is a very honourable thing to do.