Astérix: A French Comic for the Whole Family Posted by mtaulier on Mar 5, 2014 in Literature
Lisez-vous des bandes dessinées (Do you read comics)? I’m not referring to classic American comics with superheroes fighting les forces du mal (the forces of evil). Everybody has heard of Superman, Batman and X-men. The popularity of these characters, once confined to the pages of paperback comic books, has soared in recent years thanks to a number of Hollywood film adaptations.
But what about the plethora of European comics? You might have recently become familiar with Tintin in Les Aventures de Tintin: Le Secret de la Licorne (The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn), a major motion picture that hit theaters in the U.S. a couple years ago. Tintin is a very popular Franco-Belgian comic book that has been translated into more than seventy languages and has sold in excess of two hundred million copies.
Very few French comic book characters have super powers. One exception is Astérix le Gaulois (Astérix the Gaul). Like Tintin, Astérix is a very renowned comic book that has been translated into over one hundred languages. Unlike Tintin, Astérix titles continue to be released every few years whereas the last official Tintin comic was released in the mid-1970s. In fact, the latest Astérix title called Astérix et les Pictes (Astérix and the Picts) was just released in 2013.
Created by French writer René Goscinny and illustrator Albert Uderzo, Astérix is the story of un Gaulois (a Gaul) named Astérix and his friend Obélix who lived during the time of Julius Caesar in Gaule (Gaul—a territory of the Roman Empire that comprised the area of present-day France and beyond). The stories revolved around Roman attempts to take over the last village in Gaul that remained beyond their control. This little village was filled with irréductibles Gaulois (invincible Gauls) who resisted Roman occupation. Their secret was une potion magique (a magic potion) concocted by Panoramix, le druide vénérable du village (the village’s venerable druid), that temporarily gave them superhuman strength which they used to fend off the Romans. Obélix, l’inséparable ami d’Astérix (Astérix’s inseparable friend), fell into la marmite de potion magique (the pot of magic potion) when he was a baby and became endowed with permanent superhuman strength.
Astérix comics are highly entertaining and humorous. The names of the characters and the locations in the story are based on modern French words but contain -ix or -um suffixes, typical of Gallic and Roman names of the period. So for example Astérix comes from the word asterisk; Obélix from obelisk; Panoramix from panorama, etc. You get the idea. The surrounding Roman garrisons are aptly named Aquarium (aquarium), Babaorum (Baba au Rhum—a tasty dessert made with rum), Laudanum (a form of opium), and Petibonum (from the words petit bonhomme, meaning little guy). Many of the names were changed when the books were translated but retain a characteristic comic element.
Pick up one of the Astérix titles in either French or English if you get a chance. They can be found in many large bookstores, online, and sometimes dans les grandes surfaces (in supermarkets). Like Tintin adventures, Astérix adventures appeal to people of all ages and make learning French fun!