Asterix the hero goes back into battle

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The Independent Culture
A new children's book featuring the Gallic hero Asterix is to be published in October, two years after Asterix author and illustrator Albert Uderzo announced he was retiring and taking his creation with him.

Publishers Hodder and Stoughton, who will have a worldwide print run of 3 million and an initial run in the United Kingdom of 50,000, say that Uderzo was persuaded to change his mind following an Asterix Convention attended by 3,000 British fans, at which he was guest of honour.

The book, the 35th in the Asterix series, is the first new one for five years and, say the publishers, possibly the last ever. Though Asterix is sometimes thought of as a childhood hero for twenty- and thirtysomethings, he is actually more popular today than ever before. More than 3.5 million books have been sold in Britain in the past three years.

Asterix the Gaul, created in Paris by the author and illustrator team Goscinny and Uderzo, is one of the greatest publishing successes ever. It started life in the French weekly magazine Pilote, and the worldwide book sales are now well over 25 million. Hodder and Stoughton published the first English language edition during 1969.

Asterix and Tintin are the only European cartoon heroes to have been successful in Britain. The appeal of Asterix and his compatriot Obelix staunchly resisting Roman invasion, and the crafty little villager outwitting a far mightier enemy force, has proved so strong that in opinion surveys he has proved to be more popular than Mickey Mouse. He has also featured on CD-Roms and CD-i language learning sets. Uderzo, who is 69, was the original illustrator of Asterix, but took over writing the stories as well in the Seventies when the author Rene Goscinny died.

The new book was prompted by the Asterix Convention that marked the 25th anniversary of Asterix in Britain in 1994. Uderzo was so moved by the warmth of his British admirers and their pleadings for him to come out of retirement, that he finally started another book.

Hodder and Stoughton, with Asterix publishers throughout Europe, have been sworn to secrecy about the plot and even the title of the new book, although there are heavy hints that the story might see Asterix and Obelix returning to Britain. Peter Kessler, author of The Complete Guide To Asterix, disagrees, believing that in the new book the Gauls will reach China, one of the few countries they have not yet visited.

Hodder Children's Books are making the most of the return of one of the perennial children's favourites with a marketing campaign which is to involve chartering a train from London for the day of publication to go to Parc Asterix, the French theme park just outside Paris to collect the book.

On board the "Asterix Express", travellers will be issued with Gaullish passports, stamped on board by a Roman legionary. When they arrive at Gare du Nord, travellers will be piped on to special coaches by Cacofonix the bard and taken to the park, where Albert Uderzo will welcome them. A theme-park Asterix will accompany them back to London with stacks of the books to deliver to the shops.

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