Along with The Adventures of Tintin, Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix came to me at an early age; both of these comics, particularly the latter, were a huge influence on my life as a child. Recently, to my chagrin, the famous French comic has come under fire for latent themes of racism and xenophobia, particularly their depiction of Africans and various non-white ethnicities. Other characters, like the cranky old Geriatrix, are often heard spouting their distrust of foreigners and non-villagers: “I’ve got nothing against foreigners. Some of my best friends are foreigners. But these particular foreigners aren’t from this village!”
Naturally, as a child, it wasn’t the racism that I focused on; I was captivated by the colourful illustrations and humorous storylines that are accessible to any age group. And, of course, now, as an adult, I hate to see a childhood favourite be labeled as racist, given its tremendous influence on my life, and for just how much I loved reading and collecting them.
Set during the Roman invasion of Ancient France, aka Gaul, Asterix takes place in the small village of the eponymous hero, as the inhabitants struggle for autonomy and independence against the constant onslaught of Roman Centurions. Along with his gargantuan best friend, Obelix, Asterix traverses the Roman Empire and beyond, visiting and exploring many different cultures. They are incredibly clever and very humorous, each issue a proud display of French culture and nationalism. First published in the late 1950s, Asterix was released to a nation with relatively fresh memories of WWII; to be sure, this is a story of the underdog coming out on top- a nice dose of French pride.
Nonetheless, the comic also possesse
s a somewhat colonial mindset, given France’s history in Africa and elsewhere. Indeed, looking back at this extremely nostalgic series, certain issues come to mind, like Asterix and the Great Crossing, where Asterix and Obelix travel by ship to North America, eventually having a run-in with the natives, who could not be more stereotypical. Red-skinned and wielding tomahawks, things start off on a pretty rough note, but both sides end up friends before the protagonists return to Gaul.
Other questionable depictions of race, to name a few, include Asterix and Cleopatra, Asterix in Corsica, and Asterix and the Black Gold. In hindsight, the stereotypes are appalling, and would never make it out of the editor’s office. Yet, having enjoyed Asterix immensely as a child, should I be obligated to utterly denounce the entire series for its racial themes? In spite of my guilt I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop loving Asterix, given our history.