July 16, 2020

Albert Uderzo, the cartoonist who fell into a kettle

The magic potion was just two ingredients: the wit of Goscinny, who died in 1977, and the drawing of Uderzo. The first created the stories and the second lent the strength of his thug line. Both understood that there is nothing more serious than humor and that it is not a thick joke. In an era dominated by the strength of Tintin, a more serious character and with few wilts for grace beyond basic, they introduced ingenuity, a breath of fresh air that renewed the vignette which was corsetted by a certain tone of gravity. Uderzo died yesterday at 92 years of a heart crisis (not due to coronavirus) and with his disappearance the childhood library, the first one that one forms, remains somewhat orphaned, although we still have Ibáñez. He belonged to a generation of cartoonists who burst into the comic to give it modernity and renew it, which consisted of printing a lack of reverence, a setback that had never been seen before.

Uderzo soon began his career as a cartoonist. In the late 1940s he worked on the stories of Belloy and Arys Busk, and gained prestige in a publication, “Bravo!” developing a character, Captain Marvel Jr., and renting his talent at a bargain price in other magazines. His career changed in 1951, when Goscinny, one of the co-founders of «Pilote», crossed the path, where the first strips of Astérix and Obélix would appear, and a man with an unsuspected gift to write comic strips. A complicity and a friendship were born between them that they would try in successive creations, all of different acceleration and pulse. The first thing their joint intelligence would deliver to those post-European war readers would be “Jehan Pistolet,” and later “Umpah-pah,” a series with which they would forge a certain prestige. It developed in colonial America in the 17th century. The confrontation of two cultures, one more advanced, the European, and the other (hypothetically) more primitive, the Indian, would be an antecedent of the greatest success of his career: Asterix. The baptismal letter of this character is clear. It was born for everyone on October 29, 1959 in the aforementioned weekly publication “Pilote”. Then no one could have guessed that They would publish 37 albums with this Gallic hero, that his adventures would be translated into 57 languageps and that they would sell more than 300 million copies worldwide. A true capital and a column that would support the comic industry for years.

White irreverence

Goscinny would improvise stories with a subtle, intelligent, white irreverence, which leave the impression that they could have been the atrium or the entrance door of the “skits” that the Monty Phytons developed years later in an epic film. They had a surreal and cheeky point, a mocking accent that allowed him to laugh even at the French “grandeur” (Perhaps that is why, when Charles de Gaulle was asked about his favorite comic, the snotty general said, “Tintin,” which is a logical answer for someone who did not understand ’68 and who regained his homeland landed in Normandy.) Uderzo also brought with him a revolution that is not negligible: that of drawing.

His aesthetic commitment was a break with the Franco-Belgian design that prevailed at that time. He came from a hyper-realistic school (names like Franquin, Morris, Peyo and others gravitate to him). But He knew how to sharpen the opportunities offered by caricature, a discipline for which he was especially gifted, in order to carve his characters and, incidentally, also renew this technique. The proof is that throughout the Asterix series he introduced different caricatures of celebrities of the time, which accentuated his most insolent side and also gave him a very playful tone. Actor Charles Laughton, an ogre in movies and in real life (Alfred Hitchcock stated that children and Charles Laughton would never be seen in his films), appears on one of his albums as Gracus Astutus; in “Asterix in Brittany” we can see the Beatles; in “Asterix in Belgium”, Baldwin (with Tintin’s bangs, for greater scorn); in “Asterix and company”, Jacques Chirac, another convinced of himself; in “Asterix and the Cauldron”, Valéry Giscard d ‘Estaing, as a tax collector, which is no accident; and in “Asterix in Hispania”, Don Quixote and Sancho, who are more important than any politician or king who has ever left here. DE Uderzo also depended on locating the Gallic village. Goscinny left him that privilege and he recalled his childhood and the years he spent in Britain during World War II. There he placed it. In fact, many critics have pointed out that this conflict was at the genesis of history: a small town of irreducibles that withstands a foreign invasion. From there, Uderzo, together with Goscinny, They initialed exquisite comics, introduced Latin expressions (“QuoVadis, Gallic?”) into ordinary speech and renewed interest in the Roman Empire. through the heroes Asterix and Obelix, the Celtic tribe to which they belonged and their faithful companion the dog Idéfix, and they used humor to introduce veiled social and political criticism. And, in addition, they achieved something as difficult as creating universal and at the same time more French characters than the Eiffel Tower.

Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny are important for the stories of the irreducible Gallic village, for their ability to regenerate the vignette and, also, for the battle they waged in their country to ensure that cartoonists had access to copyright. A battle for which they were recognized and that nobody in France forgets. Their stories are also an example of how a prosperous industry can be built on leisure. Around Astérix there is now a commercial emporium, starting with a theme park and film adaptations. Uderzo also allowed another cartoonist and screenwriter to continue the adventures of Asterix. A modern concept that affirmed his idea that the characters, once created, belong to the world.


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