Monday, 30th October 2017

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Asterix and Us

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By TT Bureau
  • Published 1.11.11
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The Characters

VITALSTATISTIX

What can you say about the leader of the “indomitable Gauls”? He is indomitable! Brave,hot-tempered and having an acute aversion to taking baths, he has no fear… except that the sky may fall on his head tomorrow! From his bulk to his virtues (don’t ever compare him with Homeopathix, his brother-in-law!) and the wondrous ways in which he manages to exasperate his wife Impedimenta or tumble off his shield in every other book, everything about the Chief is howlarious!

DOGMATIX

Obelix’s tiny pooch has great feats to his name. His sixth sense has saved the day for our heroes time and again. And he is often hailed as the world’s first environmentalist (he will howl and yap endlessly if you cut down, or in Obelix’s case yank out, trees). How much cooler can a dog get?

 

GETAFIX

The old druid of Asterix’s village might look benign, but don’t you dare cross his path. He is as canny as can be and when he is not up in trees gathering mistletoe with his golden sickle, he is brewing the invincible magic potion to make sure his village is safe and merry. And if you are of the enemy camp… know this, no amount of torture can make him reveal his secrets, it only tickles him… so forget about becoming invincible.

ASTERIX

Our underdog hero might be puny but he is mightier than Hercules, if you please! He is lightning-fast, brainy and witty and has achieved mighty feats — beating Caesar’s legionaries (often by “accident”), winning the gold medal at the Olympic Games without the magic potion and undertaking many a mission impossible with Obelix by his side! Our little big man’s only weakness? He often gets woozy before the charms of beautiful maidens (think Panacea, Latraviata...) but no one has or ever will, assures Uderzo, trap him into marital mundaneness.

 

OBELIX

Asterix’s buddy and the village’s menhir deliveryman is the reason why many of us keep coming back to the series. He is “healthy” (don’t you dare call Obelix fat!), sensitive (he sniffles at happy endings), a glutton (his love for wild boars is only matched by his appetite for a fight), has little idea about his own strength (he fell into a cauldron of magic potion as a child) and finds almost everyone else crazy (“tap, tap, tap”)! He can defeat armies by just sitting on them and empty Roman baths by just jumping into them but sulks every time he is denied a taste of Getafix’s invincibility fix. A constant source of laughs, we find this overgrown man-child irresistible, whether he is fighting (collecting Roman helmets as trophies), falling in love (remember him blushing and mumbling in front of Panacea?) or just being around.

CACOFONIX

Our very own Gaulish Tansen (his singing can cause thunderstorms and rain!) is the village bard. Of course, as his name suggests, Cacofonix plays the lyre and sings horribly, but jumps at every opportunity to display his, er, talents. In fact, statements like “take the parsley out of your ears!” takes on a whole new meaning with Cacofonix around. He is generally found tied up and gagged by “barbarians! philistines!”, hanging from a tree or bound to a tree during every village feast. So bad is his singing that he teaches the fearless Normans the meaning of fear and is considered a secret weapon by the Romans!

The Names

Asterix has been translated into a cool 111 languages, but no matter whether it’s in French, English, Greek or Hebrew, René Goscinny’s penmanship shines through, carried on by Uderzo. After all, what would the world of Asterix be without the ingenuous puns that are passed off as names of characters? It is possibly true that many kids learn their first dose of punning thanks to the Gaulish duo and their friends.

Who can deny the genius of names like Ekonomikrisis (merchant), Fulliautomatix (the village smith), Unhygienix (fishmonger), Metallurgix (the sickle-maker), Valueaddedtax, Crismus Bonus, Bicarbonatofsoda, Bogus Genius, Squareonthehypothenus, Marcus Ginantonicus, Clovogarlix or for that matter the Bengali versions like

Etashetamix (Getafix) and Brihotakritiksh (Vitalstatistix)? By Toutatis, not us!

The Stereotypes

One of the most entertaining aspects of Asterix — one that has had readers ROFL for generations — is the generic stereotype of the various nationalities that our heroes encounter.

The Goths, typified as military and regimented, wear headgear resembling German Pickelhaube helmets and mumble “Gut ve Go, But ve Komm back”. They speak in Gothic letters and when they curse, the skull and bones (the usual Gaulish cuss words) are shown wearing a Pickelhaube.

The Belgian in Asterix the Legionary has Tintin’s hair, while Thompson and Thomson make an appearance in Asterix in Belgium. The Britons are very “British,” giving formal speeches, loving warm beer, having boiled food with mint sauce and enjoying hot water with milk (till Asterix introduces them to tea!).

The Swiss are obsessed with cleanliness and are known for their “bank secrecy”. The Egyptians, including queen Cleopatra, whose nose had Caesar commenting “she’s a nice girl, only her nose is so easily put out of joint… pretty nose too!” speak in hilarious hieroglyphics. The Corsicans are lazy, hot-tempered. The Greeks have their aquiline noses. And what does one say about the toga-wearing Romans and their Romanesque personalities?

Ave Caesar! They are scheming (remember the bandit pair Villanus and Unscrupulus?), ambitious and simply precious!

The Plots

The manner in which Goscinny, from the first edition, has managed to captivate readers with his vision of history is remarkable. After all, where would our heroes be without those adrenaline-pumping adventures about golden sickles, laurel wreaths, black gold, mansions of gods and gladiator rings?

Turning underdogs into victors, the writer duo made generations fall in love with their strangely accurate yet warped re-telling of the Roman-Gaul trysts. They have ridiculed every race on earth without ever being considered racist. And those random encounters, those ridiculous lines and incredible characters have ensured that no one can ever fall out of love with the members of the Gaulish village.

The Phrases

While Asterix gives us our fair share of quotable quotes, there are some phrases spouted by the characters that spring up time and again, becoming as celebrated as Uderzo and Goscinny’s play with names. Foremost among them of course is “By Toutatis!” After all, who would remember an obscure Celtic god if not for Chief Vitalstatistix’s cussing and swearing? But for all hardcore Asterix followers, it is not just the random “By Belenos” that makes perfect sense, certain phrases hold a world of meaning even when heard out of context. Getafix says “No, Obelix, not you!” and we know that Obelix is trying to get a sip of the magic potion. “These Gauls are crazy” say the Roman legionaries and you know they are lying somewhere in a heap, beaten and bruised. When Obelix claims “These Romans are crazy”, often substituted by Britons, Goths or even Indians (at the sight of Indians “squelching about in the mud” in the dried-up holy Ganges), you know things are just not making any sense to him. Phrases like “It’s them again,” or “Victims to the Starboard” can only mean the poor pirates have been sunk again.

The Footnotes

In the world of Asterix, the number of races and languages present is directly proportional to the degree of confusion and mayhem caused! Hence, Uderzo and Goscinny’s use of the ever-so-illuminating footnotes — those delightful patches of yellow with strange Gaulish wisdom — is priceless. From the unforgettable description of the ancient Gaulish signage for hitchhiking and the importance of the direction of the thumb, except when heading to Rome, (since all roads lead to Rome, silly!) in Asterix the Gladiator to the confused Egyptian conversations in hieroglyphics in Asterix and Cleopatra and the explanations of the curses in the name of Hindu gods Vayu, Vakh and Vishnu in Asterix and the Magic Carpet, the footnotes make the dry wit of the series even more enjoyable.

 

Fanonomix

How can you not love something with a huge, fat man who screams when called fat, a tiny guy who is brilliant and smart, a tone-deaf bard and an environmentally-conscious dog? Asterix is awesome. I think it is far better than any other comic book. Its humour is dry and witty, the artwork is crisp and brilliant and I love the way it is a complete re-telling of history.

Niharika Chatterjee, Class XII

I have literally grown up with Asterix. Just reading about the Gauls and their escapades makes me happy. I absolutely love Obelix, who, though not considered the real hero, is so much cooler. He unknowingly saves the day and defeats Caesar’s men with brute force, every time. And oh, those feasts that are depicted in the comics: how I have drooled over those roasted wild boars with an apple in the mouth!

Shawan Sur, IT employee

 

Asterix resides in the details

Down what is Elliot Road, resided Rightways, a lending library as it called itself, run by three brothers. This treasure trove used to be the hunting ground for my brother Mohit and me, all through our schooldays during the ’70s. It’s also the place where we discovered, among several comic characters of our wonder years, the intellectually adorable Asterix, who my brother always thought was so much like me — perhaps because our height (and, sense of witty mischief) matched!

I loved every drawing detail of Uderzo’s caricature of the little fellow’s wickedness and day-dreamt of fighting the Romans — but only dreamt, mind you. Alas, my skinny brother was no menhir-toting Obelix, but his best friend and protector at school, Lawrence Lobo, came pretty close in shape and spirit.

That’s how Asterix has been to me — a part of my family. And remains so, even today, with every single comic of the 35-odd series still voraciously devoured by my nephew and niece in Gurgaon. From Gaul to Gurgaon, what an epic journey it has been!

Every classic — and undoubtedly, Goscinny and Uderzo have created a timeless set of characters — compels a reader to return and discover new facets. So, too, is it with Asterix. I fell in love first with the incredible illustrations and speech blurbs which I would lovingly copy onto posters… and, when I ran out of paper, I would use the wooden partition of our joint family home as my canvas — much to the dismay of my mother who never understood why she had to come home to these comic heroes all over the place! I distinctly remember almost all the characters, with unique names that invariably end with an ‘ix’ — usually with a personality description within the name itself: the tiny and incredibly cute, but nasty-tempered Dogmatix, the lyre-strumming village bard with an effeminate poise Cacofonix, the red pony-tailed village leader Vitalstatistix and of course, the village druid with the magic potion Getafix! And remember Bacteria? She was some sicko’s wife!

In my case, being a self-taught caricaturist and someone who was honing my inherent skills to pursue what was to become a full-fledged career in visualisation, Asterix was the playstation of my imagination. I could spend hours observing and absorbing the characters and their graphic details and not only transport myself into that magical story to live amidst them, but they shaped my ability to pay rapt attention to design detail. For instance, during my formative years as a young visualiser, I have often resorted to copying the famous illustration of the magnifying glass which showed the location of the Gaulish village, in some of my initial work, to magnify something. To that end, if I have professionally gained from Asterix, it has certainly been about — apart from the over-the-head wit and humour — the fact that for me, besides God, I guess Asterix resides in the details. To date, I remember the last frame of the grand feast of a roasted boar in several Asterix comics, with the cantankerously loud Cacofonix all

gagged up!

‘By Toutatis!’ Over time, I became interested in typography but the ‘asterisk’ (*) remained my second love, dominated by the little Gaul.

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