Day 37

5.02: No one, I don’t suppose, will be surprised to discover that potion-swigging, Roman-bashing, pre-Christian midget warrior Asterix stands to be knocked off his perch as France’s best selling comic book by “a cheeky erotic comic” called Happy Sex.

What I’m vaguely bewildered by is how the historico-military pen-and-posterpaint skit on hokey drunkards in plaits and nipple-high trousers, sprawled into such a durable and encompassing global franchise in the first place.

Fair enough, people tend to warm to stories of under-resourced simple folk and their doughtiness in the face of imperial conquerors – who, apart from the acutely phobic, doesn’t like Ewoks? But, that said, plenty of people don’t like the French: you should see how many people have posted the question “How do you say ‘I don’t like you,’ in French?” on the Yahoo questions website.

Let me give you some numbers for an idea of how mentally-popular the Asterix series is. Over half a decade, 34 volumes of Asterix have been published. They’ve sold 330 million copies in over 100 languages. And since 1967, these have spawned 12 movies (only nine of them animated; three are live-action flicks with actual men sporting actual nipple-high stripy pantaloons, and plaited hairdos). The last one, Asterix at the Olympic Games, clocked in with a budget of €78 million, making it one of the most expensive European movies ever.

Now let me summarise the formula, and you tell me if it makes the damnedest bit of sense. Asterix is a moustachioed Arian dwarf and Obelix a morbidly-obese sculptor-cum-delivery boy who both live in a village somewhere in France or Belgium. And, for some reason, the Romans are particularly bent on gaining control of this nowhere-middling fleapit. Our heroes are aided in their resistance by a free-lovin’ drug-potion which gives them superhuman powers to kick all manner of shit out of their oppressing overlords. This they do week in and week out. And that is basically it. Except that the potion is supplied by their village pharmacist, Getafix – perhaps the best-named apothecary in all of literature.

If René Goscinny dreamed that up and thought to himself “this is going to make me richer than spacemen, kings and dominions,” then I’m as choked with surprise as Obelix’s arteries are with cholesterol. You can-out sell him, Happy Sex, with your wryly water-coloured foibles and fetishes, but let’s see if you’re onto your third live-action film in 50 years time, shall we?

6.47: Better progress this morning, although scarcely rampant. Definitely less invading army than hobbling carthorse. Still good to get through a week back on the blog. The only way is up, change you can believe in, things can only get better…

~ by David Thorley on January 29, 2010.

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