In a world beset with tragedy, Asterix illustrator Albert Uderzo passed away on 92, his family announced.
The French comic book artist had created the Asterix comics in 1959 with the writer Rene Goscinny and they continued till Goscinny passed away in 1977. Uderzo would continue to illustrate til 2011.
Asterix was a remarkable cartoon in the sense that despite the obviously French humour that the comics used, it transcended all cultural-linguistic barriers. The story was about Asterix, a pint-sized hero who is fuelled by a magic potion brewed by Getafix which gives them superhuman strength. Asterix is always seen with his best buddy and Menhir salesman Obelix. Originally portrayed as a huge warrior, they decided to downsize him instead making him tiny and clever. The comics would often portray various real historical figures including Julius Caesar who couldn’t believe that a tiny Gaulish village continued to defy him.
Each comic started with the line:
The year is 50 BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely... One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium...”
Together the duo of Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo created one of the most beloved strips with Asterix travelling to various countries including England, Rome, North America, Switzerland and even Africa.
Asterix comics were particularly popular in India, especially among well-heeled Bengalis, who perhaps saw their own rebellion against the ruling regime (Congress) by picking the CPI(M).
The characters would often have very obvious puns as names and -ix as a suffix. The chief is called Vitalstatistix, the ironsmith Fulliautomatix, the bard Cacophonix and the druid Getafix.
Like all pieces of art, Asterix would fall foul of the woke crowd of the 21st century and would be accused of racial stereotyping. Uderzo retired after 1979 after Goscinny’s passing, briefly coming out retirement to express solidarity with Charlie Hebdo.
Asterix would be drawn by other comic illustrators but none of them could match the genius of the original duo. Uderzo would continue to illustrate till 2011.
Amid a world battling coronavirus, Uderzo's death does feel like, to borrow a phrase from Vitalstatistix: "The sky falling on our heads."