CENTREFOLD / Gaul of the century: Fish fighters and menhir tossers invade Kensington for Asterix convention

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Indy Lifestyle Online
This weekend Kensington will resound to cries of 'Up Gaul' and 'By Toutatis]' as lovers of one of the world's most popular comic strips indulge in menhir tossing, treasure hunts and Gallic fish fights.

A horde of Britons is set to invade the Commonwealth Institute on Saturday to celebrate 35 years of Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's moustachioed warrior, Asterix the Gaul. If their enthusiasm wanes, it will be replenished by a banquet of wild boar sausages and ladles of Magic Potion.

Asterix first appeared in the French magazine, Pilote, in 1959. Goscinny created the character and wrote the text and Uderzo drew the pictures. Thirty-two stories have since been published and translated into over 57 languages and dialects, including Gaelic, Latvian and Gujarati. Total sales worldwide are over 250 million, including half a million a year in Britain alone.

'Asterix was the first French comic that actually crossed the generations,' says the National Museum of Cartoon Art's European comics expert, Paul Gravett, who will host a special reception for Uderzo tomorrow.

'It was a phenomenon and Asterix mania made the cover of L'Express magazine in 1966. The phrase, 'Ils sont fous, ces Romains]' entered French culture, and stayed there.'

When Goscinny died suddenly in 1977, Uderzo decided to carry on alone and has since written and illustrated five books about France's plucky hero. He is currently working on a new story for publication in 1995, which will also see a new feature film on the adventures of Asterix, Obelisk, Dogmatix and Getafix the Druid.

Some say Asterix was inspired by France's response to the German occupation in Worid War II. Others believe the Romans, depicted in the strip as stupid, cowardly, greedy and gullible, represent American imperialism. 'I think that Goscinny and Uderzo were just having fun,' suggests Gravett. 'They also touched on France's deep xenophobia. Asterix is the 20th century's answer to David and Goliath, well-drawn and wittily worded. Its popularity is probably because most people support the underdog and want to defy dumb, idiotic authority.'

Reception: Fri 16 Sept, 12noon-2pm, National Museum of Cartoon Art, 183 Eversholt St, NW1 (071-386 4326) pounds 4 incl drink. Convention: Sat 17 Sept, 10am-6pm, Commonwealth Institute, 230 Kensington High St, W8 (071-873 6213) pounds 5/pounds 3, up to two kids under-12 free if accompanied by adult

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