©April 2010 by Fabienne Lopez
Mystic Medusa’s posts on Astrology and cartoons inspired me to write a post with my own favorite cartoon characters. Being raised in a multicultural family, I came in contact with a variety of cartoons, so I assumed everybody knew the same characters as I did. Imagine my shock the other day when talking to G. and he didn’t know who Asterix was!
Over a cup of coffee, I happened to mention my love for Asterix the Gaul. He gave me a blank look because he had not, never ever, heard of this character before. As can be expected, I was shocked and horrified.
“How can you have never heard of Asterix?” I cried.
He looked a little alarmed at my outburst.
“Asterix is famous! He is everyone’s childhood hero. The books still make me roll on the ground with laughter.”
He gave me a polite nod, took a bite of his Danish, and changed the conversation.
If you’re French and you grew up in the 60s and 70s, you grew up reading the French comic book, Asterix, created by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. Asterix is about a Gaul warrior, named Asterix, who lives around 50 BC in a fictional village in northwest Armorica (a region of ancient Gaul). This village is celebrated amongst the Gauls as the only part of that country not yet conquered by Julius Caesar and his Roman legions. The inhabitants of the village gain superhuman strength by drinking a magic potion prepared by the druid Getafix. The village is surrounded by the ocean on one side, and four Roman garrisons on the other, who intend to keep a watchful eye and ensure that the Gauls do not get up to mischief.
The first Asterix comic appeared on October 29, 1959, as a weekly series in the magazine Pilote. This timing makes Asterix a Scorpio, with loads of Scorpio, Sun, Mars, Mercury, Neptune and South Node. Asterix is a caring and brave warrior, ready to face dangers, and will do anything for the liberty of his village. The fate of the village has rested on his shoulders more than once. As a character with an abundance of Scorpio, Asterix is the personification of the anti-hero, a plutonian attribute. Small and wiry, but tough, he inspires an enormous terror in the 4 roman garrisons stationed around the village, and the in pirate ship that sails around the Brittany coastline where the village is located. As a multiple Scorpio, Asterix likes nothing more than a brawl (Sun-Mars-Neptune in Scorpio). But he also comes across as a Jovian type (Jupiter in Sagittarius) who has an urge to wander all around the Mediterranean countries, and he needs a big celebration at the end of each story. (To party is to have Jupiter in Sagittarius!) The Venus in Virgo (fussiness in love) combined with Uranus in Leo (love of freedom) and Jupiter in Sagittarius (an urge to travel) would explain the fact that he is a confirmed bachelor, never seen with a woman, remains a celibate, and actually seems terrified of them.
To this day, I remember the time when the names started making sense to me, how I chuckled like never before when I figured out why the druid was called Getafix, the bard Cacofonix, the village elder, Geriatrix and the fishmonger, Unhygienix, with his wife, Bacteria. It was awesome.
Besides the names, the books also have so many jokes within jokes within jokes. By the time you’ve unwrapped them all, you’re in a coma of humor. As a young child, the enduring quality of the series was concentrated in the fist-fights and recurring visual running gags. One of these is that the bard Cacofonix is inspired to sing whenever Asterix and Obelix leave or come back from a grand journey, but he’s usually prevented from performing by Fulliautomatix (the blacksmith). There is also Obelix tapping his forehead and muttering, “These [people] are crazy,” every time he learns something new about the land he is visiting and their people. His most common targets are the Romans, which is ironic because they consider the Gauls as the crazy ones.
My favorite running gag is about the group of pirates that tend to get caught in the middle of conflict and always get their ship sunk. The ship is sunk for a variety of reasons, such as a stray thrown menhir (a huge upright standing stone that Obelix throws). Usually, though, Asterix and Obelix board the pirate ship and [do what to sink it?]. In one episode, they attack a ship carrying a Roman agent, who points at a random crew member and states he gave him a bagful of gold if he wouldn’t attack the agent. In the ensuing battle over the nonexistent bag of gold, the pirates sink their own ship. In another, tired of being sunk, they give up pirating completely, and open a ship-themed restaurant. The captain reasons that it, “Saves us a few knocks, and comes to the same thing in the end,”
As I grew up, I tended to appreciate the cleverness of the historical allusions. My favorite was the recurring references to the assassination of Julius Caesar by Brutus. In Asterix the Gladiator, Julius Caesar asks Brutus to clap for him and uses the famous Shakespearean phrase, “Et tu Brute.” In Asterix and the Soothsayer, a fortune-teller vouches Brutus’s fidelity to Caesar. In Asterix and the Roman Agent, Caesar tells Brutus to stop handling his knife, or he’ll injure himself.
As a history buff, I appreciated the revisionist explanation of some historical facts. In Asterix and Cleopatra, when visiting Egypt, Obelix scales the sphinx. As he is about to mount the sphinx’s nose it breaks off and falls to the ground. Immediately all the souvenir-shops nearby chisel off the noses of their souvenir-sphinxes in order to maintain the resemblance to the real monument. Another favorite was the explanation for the introduction of tea in Great Britain. In Asterix in Britain, Getafix gives Asterix some herbs to take to Britain. At the time Britons drink hot water, sometimes with a drop of milk. Asterix loses the barrel of magic potion and simply adds Getafix’s herbs to their hot water instead as a moral booster. When they return to Gaul, Getafix informs Asterix that the herbs are called tea.
Also it was fun to observe the caricatures of famous people or characters made into characters in the books, like a very Elizabeth Taylor-like Cleopatra in Asterix and Cleopatra; Britain’s most famous bards in the story, Asterix in Britain, who are four in number and look remarkably like the Beatles; in Asterix and the Black Gold, a Roman spy is a young Sean Connery named Dubbelosix drawn in a James Bond style, and in Asterix and Obelix All at Sea, the leader of the escaped slaves (named Spartakis, being Greek) is based on Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus. In Asterix and the Cauldron, the head of the theatre is Laurensolivius, based on the actor Laurence Olivier.
After more than a decade in the US, I have come to realize that most of my multicultural references are lost here. Few Americans know who Asterix is, or Mafalda, or even “Les Frustés” from Claire Bretécher. I feel Americans tend to be more insular than other cultures. But all cultures are insular and I just happened to grow up with 3 different cultures under my belt. I have to accept that. But if you love words and wordplay, you will absolutely adore these 3 characters. Check them out at Amazon or your local comic bookstore.