Asterix? The gall!

In France, the comic book – or “la BD”, for ‘bande dessinée’ – is considered a proper art-form in its own right. Think Manga, but without the violence or inherent cultural barriers.

That said, la BD can be pretty extreme in its own right; take Lolo et Sucette, for example.

Anyway. I bloody love Asterix. The story of a small village of indomitable Gauls defying the onwards march of Caesar and his men, this series of books is about the only reason I know anything about the Roman Empire, the classification of its army’s ranks, and its numerals. Illustrated by Albert Uderzo and written by René Goscinny (until his death in 1977 when Uderzo took on both roles), it’s funny, cheery, and fundamentally optimistic stuff (they do say opposites attract).

My favourite example of the wit underpinning much of the series is the way that Asterix’s dog, Idéfix (or ‘fixed ideas’) in the original French books, is translated to become Dogmatix in English. I don’t know how much Goscinny or Uderzo were involved in the translations, and I don’t care. In either language, the linguistic brilliance shines through.

It also contains dozens of brilliant, playful stereotypes of different nationalities and we’re going to learn a little more about these stereotypes over what I suspect will evolve into a small handful of theme weeks.

A quick disclaimer – I don’t have one of them new-fangled scanning dohickeys so the following pictures are the result of using a good old-fashioned (ahem, digital…) camera, and as such aren’t always the best quality. The illustration and writing, however, always are.

A small taster. While not particularly addresing any national stereotypes (apart from the fundamental, ongoing ineptitude and cowardice of the Romans), I do like Obelix & Co., where Obelix becomes a business man. His untrustworthy mentor buries him in business jargon. When I first read this, probably around the age of 10, I thought this stuff was gibberish. Nowadays, sadly, I find it easily understandable, and on a very bad day may even slip into it myself.

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