Asterix battles new Romans in publishing dispute

PARIS (Reuters) - Asterix may still be fighting Roman invaders in comic strip adventures that have sold millions of copies around the world, but the plucky Gaul’s author stands accused of surrender -- to commercial interests.

Albert Uderzo, the artist of all thirty-three Asterix adventures and the story writer of the last nine books, sits next to a model of Asterix at a news conference in Brussels September 22, 2005. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The accuser is no Roman but Albert Uderzo’s own daughter.

Uderzo, 81, the illustrator who created Asterix in 1959 with the late writer Rene Goscinny, sold his stake in the Asterix publishers in December. The new owners said last week he had authorized them to continue the series after his death.

His daughter, Sylvie Uderzo, said on Wednesday the decision betrayed the spirit of Asterix, a diminutive warrior who holds off hordes of hapless Romans with help from the druid Getafix’s magic potion that gives superhuman strength.

“I am entering resistance against perhaps the worst enemies of Asterix, the men of finance and industry,” Sylvie Uderzo wrote in a column published by Le Monde newspaper.

“It’s as if the gates of the Gaulish village had been thrown open to the Roman Empire,” she said.

In her view, the besieged village is Editions Albert Rene, the publishers of Asterix, of which she owns 40 percent. The empire is publishing giant Hachette Livre, which has bought the other 60 percent from her father and from Goscinny’s daughter.

Albert Uderzo, who rarely speaks in public, could not be reached for comment. Spokeswomen for Editions Albert Rene and for Hachette Livre, a unit of publishing-to-aerospace group Lagardere, had no immediate comment.

Sylvie Uderzo said her concern was that any Asterix stories written without input from her father would be of poor quality. But the stakes for her are also commercial.

The series is one of the biggest success stories in French publishing history, with 33 comic strip albums that have sold 325 million copies around the world in 107 languages and dialects, according to Editions Albert Rene.

There is also a franchise for merchandise, a theme park outside Paris and eight movies.

Millions of French children have grown up with Asterix for the past five decades and millions more have continued to enjoy the books well into adulthood. With each new generation introduced to Asterix, the market grows.

Editions Albert Rene was created in 1979, two years after co-author Goscinny died suddenly. Albert Uderzo has continued the series on his own ever since, selling millions more books.

At the time of the sale of his stake to Hachette Livre, Uderzo was quoted as saying that he believed the new owners were “respectful of the moral and patrimonial rights of the authors,” according to literary newsletter La Republique des Lettres.

Editing by Katie Nguyen