Comic book artist and scriptwriter

Born: April 25, 1927;

Died: March 24, 2020.

ALBERT Uderzo, who has died of a heart attack at the age of 92, co-created the hugely popular series of Asterix comic books, which sold millions of copies around the world.

A gifted cartoonist and satirist, his tales of Gaulish warriors fiercely resisting Roman occupation around 50BC became mainstays of French culture and were translated into dozens of languages, with 370 million books being sold in his lifetime.

Asterix, the droopy-moustached star, and his larger-than-life friend Obelix would also appear in a number of films based on the books.

Uderzo was the son of Italian immigrants; he was born in Paris after his parents moved to France.

He would later recount an anecdote that he was named ‘Alberto’ on his birth certificate, though his name was ‘Albert’, pronounced in the French fashion. The registrar had been unable to understand his father’s heavy Italian accent.

Uderzo came in contact with the arts for the first time at kindergarten, where he was noted as being precociously talented. Most of his siblings also shared certain artistic talents, and their mother used to give them sheets of paper and pencils.

However, it soon became apparent that the young Albert was colour-blind, something he would get around by applying labels to the colours he intended to use.

Too young to serve during the Second World War, Uderzo remained with his family in Paris until hostilities were over, and he later decided to abandon his artistic pursuits to follow his brother, Bruno, into aircraft engineering.

It was not until 1951, when he was aged 24, that he returned to cartooning after meeting writer René Goscinny, who would become his lifelong collaborator.

The two men quickly became good friends, and worked together at the newly-opened Paris office of the Belgian company, World Press. Their first creations were the characters Oumpah-pah, Jehan Pistolet and Luc Junior.

In 1959 Goscinny and Uderzo became editor and artistic director of Pilote magazine, a new venture aimed at older children, which would introduce Astérix to the French world in its first issue.

In an interview with The Connexion in 2008, the Frenchman joked that Asterix was born “at the best time of the day - aperitif time!” He and Goscinny were sitting on the balcony of his apartment trying to dream up a character for the new magazine.

“The brief was very precise - François Clauteaux, one of the magazine’s founders, wanted a character taken from French culture,” Uderzo recalled. “At the time it was important to try to set yourself apart from the American superheroes, or certain reporters one could mention [Tintin]. So I looked back through history with René and reviewed all the different periods of French history. We needed something original which no-one else had worked on.”

The Asterix series, once it took root, struck a chord with the French public, and grew to a worldwide audience as his adventures took off.

Each book was a self-contained tale which saw the duo travel to many different countries, fuelled by a magic potion which gave them super strength and had helped their village resist Roman rule. Asterix and Obelix would visit Germany, Africa and America. In Britain they took part in a primitive rugby match.

Much of the humour came from clever wordplay, which was mirrored in translations, with the cast of characters including the druid Getafix, the bard Cacofonix, the chief Vitalstatistix and the dog Dogmatix.

Their success was exponential. T he first book sold 6,000 copies in its year of publication; a year later, the second sold 20,000. In 1963, the third sold 40,000; the fourth, released in 1964, sold 150,000. A year later, the fifth sold 300,000, while 1966’s Asterix and the Big Fight sold 400,000 upon initial publication. The ninth Asterix volume, when first released in 1967, sold 1.2 million copies in two days.

A signed original illustration for an early Asterix comic book cover sold for more than 1.4m Euros (£1.25m) at a Paris auction in 2017.

When Goscinny died in 1977, Uderzo continued the series by the popular demand of the readers, who implored him to continue. He continued to issue new volumes of the series. Asterix also gave rise to 11 films and a theme park.

On a recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, screenwriter Russell T Davies chose to take “the finest book ever made”, Asterix and the Roman Agent, to the fictional island.

According to his son-in-law Bernard de Choisy, Uderzo died in his sleep at his home in Neuilly, after a heart attack that was unrelated to the coronavirus. He had been “very tired for several weeks”, de Choisy added.