Asterix celebrates his 50th birthday with a 34th comic book

Asterix and his village of Gauls, who have already sold 325 million copies and been translated into 107 languages, will celebrate their 50th birthday with the launch of the 34th book in the series.


AFP - After 50 years Asterix and his village of indomitable Gauls are still gamely holding out against the Romans, while in the meantime they have become a global publishing phenomenon.

Despite their defiantly French character, the comic book adventures of the first century BC warrior have sold 325 million copies -- 200 million of them abroad -- and been translated into 107 languages and dialects.

The 20-year-old Asterix theme park outside Paris rivals even the same city's Disneyland as a tourist draw and a series of hit movies, including both live action and animated capers, have been worldwide hits.

This month's anniversary will be a huge event in France, with the launch of the 34th book -- a celebratory retrospective -- and major events in the capital and in Brittany, where several villages claim to be the hero's home.

Asterix's creators, the late writer Rene Goscinny and illustrator Albert Uderzo, have never identified a single site as the inspiration for the village, a Gaullish hamlet in a forest by the sea besieged by Caesar's legions.

The map on the first page of every Asterix book shows the village in close up under a magnifying glass, thus obscuring its exact location, but in Erquy, on the Breton peninsula's rocky northern coast, they have no doubts.

"You see these three rocks? They're the same as those you see under the magnifying glass!" declares Jean-Pierre Allain, the picturesque fishing port's retired bookseller and passionate amateur archaeologist.

There are other clues. Hiking maps record a nearby site called "Caesar's camp", and locals insist a lighthouse on the jetty looks remarkably like the one on page four of Asterix's 1971 adventure "The Mansions of the Gods".

"Asterix's village is here," declares Manuel Mendes, a stonemason whose girth resembles that of Obelix, Asterix's huge comrade, a warrior so strong he can carry Brittany's menhirs -- prehistoric standing stones.

A granite statue of Mendes' hero stands outside his business, celebrating the village's pride but also pointing to the massive commercial potential for any resort that becomes recognised as Asterix's home.

Accordingly, several other villages have also claimed the title, including one in nearby Normandy and one hundreds of 460 kilometres (285 miles) away in the Calais region. "That's not very likely," snorts Allain.

Since the first story in 1959, Uderzo has drawn the village -- with its stone huts, Fulliautomatix the blacksmith's forge, Unhygenix the fishmonger's stall and Cacophonix the bard's treehouse -- hundreds of times.

He took a helicopter flight over Erquy in 1996 and afterwards admitted that he might have "unconsciously" modelled his vision on the area's rocky cape and sandy bay, before later insisting the village was purely imaginary.

Erquy will therefore have to content itself with being an unofficial draw for the Gaul's fanatic devotees, unlike Parc Asterix outside Paris, which drew 1.8 million visitors last year despite the economic crisis.

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