The gall of it! Daughter's fury at Asterix 'betrayal': Only child of comic book genius Uderzo says he has sacrificed his hero... just to Getafix of cash

  • Sylvie Uderzo grew up referring to her father Albert's creation Asterix as her 'baby brother'
  • But now she is at odds with her father after he sold the character to Hachette

By Peter Allen


As the only child of the man who created Asterix, Sylvie Uderzo grew up fondly referring to France’s most famous cartoon-book hero as ‘my baby brother’.

But now she is locked in a bitter against-the-odds fight with a powerful enemy that would be worthy of the indomitable little Gaul himself. And her formidable foe is no less her own father, Albert.

The dispute stems from his decision to sell his stake in the moustachioed character to publishing conglomerate Hachette, a move that has left Sylvie heartbroken as she believes it betrays the independent spirit of his creation.

Before the rift: Sylvie and 'papa' Albert with some of his Asterix creations in 2003

Before the rift: Sylvie and 'papa' Albert with some of his Asterix creations in 2003

Arguments over the future of Asterix have now become so acrimonious that Sylvie is no longer on speaking terms with her 86-year-old father, even though she says she still ‘loves and adores’ him.

The family feud reached a new low last week when Sylvie opened the door of her exquisite townhouse, in the upmarket Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, to be faced with a bailiff brandishing a court summons accusing her of using ‘psychological violence’ against her beloved ‘papa’.

 

But she insists she is defending the spirit of her ‘baby brother’ – whom she calls ‘a symbol of France’s cultural heritage’ – and is determined to halt what her lawyers have described as his increasing ‘Disneyfication’.

Speaking with typical Gallic passion, she says that the sale of the little man, his portly sidekick, Obelix, and Getafix the druid, is an ‘insult to all the values of independence, fraternity, conviviality and resistance which Asterix represented as he struggled against the forces of Imperialism’.

Sacre Bleu!

Warming to the metaphor, she likened any victory of the corporate ‘suits’, whom she sees as the enemy of creativity, as being akin to Asterix and his plucky Gauls being defeated by the ancient Roman occupiers. 

‘This first victory of the invader over the indomitable Gauls is the only scenario no one has ever dared to imagine,’ she said.

Sylvie has always insisted that her father had pledged to her that there would be no more Asterix books once he retired.

But in October, Asterix And The Picts was released: the first book in the series not written by Uderzo or his writing partner René Goscinny, who died of a heart attack in 1977.

Fans complained about the Disney-like quality of the latest book, much of which is set in Scotland, saying it panders to the current fashion for fluffy rather than fighting heroes.

Rebus author Ian Rankin, a long-time aficionado, was unimpressed by Camomilla, the lady love of Pict MacAroon, saying ‘There is more than a hint of the animated [Disney] film, Brave, about the depiction.

And among book reviews, die-hard fans complain that it is ‘lacking in sophisticated and intelligent wit .  .  .  far too modern .  .  . a book more  suitable for a Batman or a Tomb Raider fan’.

Even leading French newspaper Le Monde suggests some ‘magic potion’ is needed because the new cartoonist Didier Conrad ‘is a long way from reaching the expressive quality of his illustrious master’.

Uderzo sold his 60 per cent stake in the Asterix ‘brand’ in 2007 for £20 million. At the time, Sylvie and her husband, Bernard de Choisy, were sacked as managers of the imprint which published the books.

Different: An image from the latest Asterix book

Different: An image from the latest Asterix book

Recalling her dismissal for alleged ‘gross misconduct’, Sylvie said: ‘I was in remission from breast cancer.’

She said her father was aware of her health problems, but was influenced by the ‘lawyers and accountants who have been around him for a long time’.

Sylvie, 57, has filed her own legal complaint saying her father was being ‘abused’ by callous profiteers, saying that Goscinny’s daughter Anne ‘has influenced my father in this choice’, which she says boils down to money.

‘This whole affair that they want to present as a family conflict is just a matter of money,’ she said.

‘But for me, the DNA of Asterix is not dead. Yes, I want him to survive his authors, but not in any which way, and not at any price.’

Despite his advancing years, Uderzo has been declared mentally sound and denies being in a fragile state that left him open to exploitation.

Latest issue: A woman poses with the new comic book Asterix and the Picts

Latest issue: A woman poses with the new comic book Asterix and the Picts

He says he has been harassed by his daughter, acting under the influence of her husband whom he calls ‘the Guru’.

Only days ago, Uderzo and his wife of 60 years Ada said in a joint statement that the complaint by their daughter had put them ‘through hell’.

They said: ‘We have suffered judicial harassment orchestrated by our daughter and her husband who have tried to portray us as weak and under the influence of others.’

Rounding on his daughter further, Uderzo added: ‘I did not think that success in life could lead to the destruction of a family.’

Classics: One of the original books 'Asterix The Gaul'

Classics: One of the original books 'Asterix The Gaul'

While Sylvie stresses she is fighting over the ‘spirit’ of Asterix, others point to book sales of three million copies a year, film rights, merchandising, and the money-spinning theme park Parc Asterix, just outside Paris.

The entire franchise is worth at least £100 million a year.

The 35 Asterix books have sold 352 million copies worldwide and been translated into 100 languages.

Anthea Bell, the English translator since 1969 and sister of former journalist and MP Martin Bell, diplomatically suggested the current dispute was a matter ‘for those involved’ but in the past she has admitted to reservations about Asterix carrying on without Uderzo, suggesting the new book was far from being as sharp and subtle as the originals.

It is this artistic principle that Sylvie is keen to defend, rejecting the notion that her dispute is about her own financial gain, insisting: ‘I have no worries making a living.’

Sylvie made £12 million from the sale of Asterix to Hachette, and she is believed to have earned much more from brand spin-offs.

‘This has cost me and my parents,’ she added. ‘I’m trying to protect them from the crows circling around them.

'It is my challenge to support, accompany, strengthen and develop the amazing career of this little paper character, my little brother Asterix.’

One reason that she is so closely attached to Asterix is that the  characters Panacea and Zaza are said to be based on her mother Ada and her.

But it is now a year since Sylvie and her father have spoken directly, even though they live just round the corner from each other.

And it is certainly a long time since she described the once close-knit family as an Asterix-style ‘tribe’.

Reconciliation, it would seem, is not on the cards. On Tuesday, Sylvie sent her father a text message. ‘I told him I was very sad and that  I will always continue to love him, no matter what happens,’ she said.

As yet, she has received no reply.