As It Happens

Asterix illustrator Albert Uderzo left behind a 'magnificent legacy': author Cressida Cowell

Albert Uderzo, co-creator and illustrator of Asterix comics, died Tuesday of a heart attack at the age of 92.

The How to Train Your Dragon author-illustrator says Uderzo had a huge impact on her work

Albert Uderzo, French author and illustrator who launched the Asterix comics strip character in 1959 with author Rene Goscinny, has died. (Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)
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Transcript

Comic characters come and go. But some live for generations. Asterix is among those few. The French cartoon hero was created in 1959 — and is still treasured today.

Albert Uderzo, illustrator and co-creator of the Gaulish warriors' adventures, died Tuesday of a heart attack at the age of 92.

Many people were influenced by the tales of the plucky Asterix and his sidekick Obelix, rebelling against the ancient Romans.

One of them is Cressida Cowell, the U.K. Children's Laureate and author-illustrator of How to Train Your Dragon and The Wizards of Once

Cowell told As It Happens host Carol Off that the series was a huge influence in her life — and countless others for whom the comics were an entry into a love of reading. Here is part of their conversation. 

As a child, what did you love about the Asterix comics? 

I adored Asterix as a child. I loved the cleverness of the stories and the wonderful illustrations. I mean, he's just a genius. 

It is the stunning illustrations [which have been] influential for me. That's why, although I write books for older children, which are [novels] rather than comic books, I include masses and masses of pictures, because I think pictures are a way in for children. 

How To Train Your Dragon author Cressida Cowell says she was inspired by the late Albert Uderzo to include illustrations in her books. (Hachette Children's Group )

What is it about Asterix and Obelix, the two principal characters, the inhabitants of this Gaul-French village holding out against the Romans, that appeals to kids? 

[They're] the underdogs. We all love the idea of underdogs — you know, this one little village holding out against the whole might of Rome. That appeals to adults as well as children.

I think it's also the lovely affectionate relationship between Asterix and Obelix that's so appealing to children. 

Children are very, very clever. But television and film is just beamed magically into their heads without them having to work at it. And a book can very easily come to represent something that makes them feel stupid, even though they're not at all stupid. So the lavish illustrations, combined with a very sophisticated story, are absolutely key. 

Flowers have been laid outside Uderzo's home. (Romain Favre/AFP/Getty Images)

The way Uderzo illustrated, there are many who have obviously been influenced by him. How did his style help develop storytelling for kids? 

As an illustrator myself, I don't think you consciously realize that you're being influenced by somebody else. 

But, of course, if you grow up with something, if you read something as a child, it just embeds itself in your consciousness without you even really realizing it. 

The sort of intensely lovable characters [like Asterix and Obelix] have influenced generations of children's illustrators. It was so widespread it has had an effect on illustrators across the world, not just in France.

Cowell says illustrations make books more accessible to young people. (Hachette )

What is your favourite Asterix book? 

Oh, that's so tricky. I adored Asterix in Switzerland because it has a magnificent spirit. Asterix in Britain, of course. And I've got a bit of a soft spot for — oh goodness, I can't choose one — Asterix in Spain. 

They try to rescue this kidnapped kid who keeps on holding his breath. I mean, the whole thing was so funny and clever. 

It's very difficult to choose a single one. It's given generations of pleasure to so many children and still many more reading for the joy of it today. What a magnificent legacy for one man.  


Written by Adam Jacobson. Produced by Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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