France's Cartoon Hero Astérix Celebrates 50th Anniversary
France's Cartoon Hero Astérix Celebrates 50th Anniversary

<!-- IMAGE -->

France is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Astérix, the comic book character whose adventures find him battling the armies of Julius Caesar with his Gallic buddies in Brittany more than 2,000 years ago.  Since Astérix made his debut in 1959, he has starred in three movies and 34 books, and has fans worldwide.  From Paris, Lisa Bryant takes a look at what makes France's cartoon mascot so beloved.

Astérix is not your typical hero.  He is not tall or handsome, and he is certainly not a prince.  But along with his sidekicks, enormous, goofy Obelix and dog Idéfix, Astérix wages battle against the ancient Romans to defend the Gaullish way of life.

Astérix comic books and cartoon strips have been published in 107 languages and dialects.  Three Astérix movies have drawn millions of viewers.  The French version of the latest Astérix book, The Birthday of Astérix and Obelix, was launched Thursday.

Nobody could be more surprised about Astérix's stunning success than the original illustrator of Astérix, Albert Uderzo, who has also authored the series since the death of the original writer, Rene Goscinny.

Uderzo told French radio that Astérix was born when the owner of a French magazine called Pilote wanted a comic strip his kids could read that represented French culture.  The creators settled on Gaulles as their characters, because he said, nothing is more French than the Gaulles.

Astérix' half-century birthday is being celebrated around France with special exhibits and other commemorations.  

In the Paris suburb of Bobigny, a plaque was unveiled honoring his 1959 birth there.  Several villages in Brittany, the part of ancient Gaulle never conquered by the Romans, are also claiming to have inspired the Astérix series.

Many see Astérix as the ultimate symbol of France and the battle of many French to preserve their culture and way of life.

But Astérix has fans worldwide, including Brian Spence, the Canadian owner of The Abbey Bookshop in Paris.  

Spence has a copy of every Astérix book in his English language book store.  He says they remain in demand.  Spence started reading Astérix when he was young.

"I am still a fan.  I have not kept up with the latest ones, to tell you the truth," he said.  "But sure, I went to see the premiere of Astérix and Cleopatra when it was at the Grand Rex [movie theatre], almost 30,000 people there just to laugh along.  There is a very special place in my heart for Astérix."

So what is Astérix' appeal, 50 years later?

"Maybe we identify with the imperial pretensions," he explained.  "Manifest destiny, and so forth.  And I think most of the world probably feels it is in the same situation as Astérix and his village Gaullois in that we can identify with that sense of wanting to hold out and resist against the encroaching powers.  That sense of using your wits and a little bit of brawn to get out of peril, danger or any kind of threat."

And besides, Spence says, there is always a bit of exoticism, because Astérix is French.  That makes fans want to keep on reading, to get a better understanding of what Astérix, and France, is all about.