The Asterix Series, American-style

The now-classic Asterix comic series receives an American gloss in a new edition.

Astrix Omnibus #1, 2, and 3 by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. Papercutz (American edition), 2020, 152 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 8-up

Back in 1959, a feisty, pint-sized character with superhuman strength hit the European comics market. This was before comic books became “graphic novels”; otherwise the book-length adventures of a ca. 50 B.C. Gaul would qualify as a graphic novel, though a distinctly unserious one. The series was launched as a European answer to an art form developed around American superheroes and villains. But Asterix was an unusual superhero: with his beefy sidekick Obelix (a menhir delivery man—look it up), he fought the ambitions of Julius Caesar, who had already conquered most of Gaul. The opening panel of Asterix the Gaul pictures the legendary scene of chieftain Vercingetorix throwing his shield at Caesar’s feet in a gesture of surrender. Caesar’s reaction: “Ouch!”

Despite the surrender of Vercingetorix (an actual historical character), the little village of Asterix and Obelix, with its traditional druid (Getafix) and bard (Cacaphonix) remain the last outpost of Gallic resistance against Roman rule.

We discovered these books at our local library back in the early 1980s, after they had already been translated into some 111 languages. My kids devoured them, and I found them a congenial companion to our Latin studies. This latest edition features the latest translation–into American English! Though some of the Americanisms are a bit jarring for one familiar with the slightly more literary British translations, the new edition could lure a whole new class of fans to the series.

As you can tell by the names mentioned above, much of the humor depends on atrocious puns, but also good old-fashioned sight gags and clever setups. Asterix and Obelix travel through the known western world and the provinces of Asia, encountering such character as Cleopatra, Cicero, and Marcus Brutus. Readers will absorb a sense of ancient geography, Roman and barbarian culture, early Imperial politics, and a smattering of Latin. Most of the humor is accessible to middle-graders and younger, but some of it is sophisticated enough for teens and adults.

Over thirty Asterix titles were published before the death of Goscinni in 1977 (and more of inferior quality after that).  The new editions bundle three stories in three volumes. Vol 1, for instance includes Asterix the Gaul, Asterix and the Golden Sickle, and Asterix and the Goths. The size is a bit smaller than the originals, which means the pages don’t lay as flat, but kids who love comics won’t care—and they’ll learn a little history and culture, too.

Overall rating: 3.75 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Artistic/literary value: 4.75

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Janie

Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

4 Comments

  1. Gail O’Connor on July 24, 2020 at 3:50 pm

    Having spent most of my childhood in France, I grew up with Asterix books and loved them. We used to get a new one every Christmas. You described the books well! Although Tintin series by Herge are much more well known here in the US, Asterix books deserves a place of honor in the world of graphic novels. Every book in the series ends with the bard trying to sing (he’s a terrible singer and harp player) and inevitably getting tied up to keep him quiet. Thanks for sharing!

    • Janie on July 25, 2020 at 6:07 am

      Thanks for that perspective, Gail!

  2. Amy on July 29, 2020 at 2:15 pm

    I bought this for my son on your recommendation and he really enjoyed it. Thank you! I’ll look for the other Volumes for Christmas. 🙂

    • Janie on July 30, 2020 at 6:40 am

      Amy – Good to hear!

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