‘The Complete Guide To Asterix’ by David Litchfield
One Saturday afternoon, many, many years ago, my nan bought home a book called ‘The Complete Guide To Asterix’. She picked the book up from Kempston Library thinking it was another narrative adventure in the series of books she knew I loved so much. The book was in fact a detailed text book written by Peter Kessler which offers a thorough behind the scenes breakdown of every Asterix book that had been created up to that point. There was also a number of features in the book that looked at the creators of these great characters- the writer René Goscinny and the illustrator Albert Uderzo.
The Asterix books were a big deal for me growing up. They are essentially comedy books but there is something very emotive about them. Asterix and his fellow villagers have so much heart and soul and the companionship between Asterix and his best friend Obelix was a beautiful thing. This may sound odd but carrying an Asterix book around with me at school gave me a sort of weird confidence that is hard to explain.
The exquisite artwork made it very easy for me to escape into this different time and place and visit ancient Gaul.
Growing up in a small town in Bedfordshire, England, there was something magical about reading books that were written and drawn in a different country that- at the time- seemed so far away. This was in the late 80s/early 90’s, before the internet. In a funny way reading Asterix made me feel more connected to the world.
I consumed as many of the stories as I could. The artwork was always what drew me in. I still find the Asterix books a real source of inspiration in terms of Uderzo’s drawing style
In fact, I think it is fair to say that I learnt to draw by copying the illustrations in the Asterix books and spent hours trying to capture Uderzo’s distinctive style. I love how beautifully ‘French’ a lot of the gestures and mannerisms his characters have.
When my nan bought home ‘The Complete Guide To Asterix’ that Saturday I remember being initially disappointed that it wasn’t a new adventure to get lost in. However, I soon forgot this disappointment and read the whole book that afternoon. I reveled in the background information it offered on how these fantastic, beautifully exotic and hilariously funny comic books were bought to life.
The reason that the moment my Nan bought this book home is so important to me is that I am pretty sure that this is the precise moment that I realized that an ‘Illustrator’ was an actual job that people did.
The book told me that the illustrator and co-creator of Asterix: Albert Uderzo got paid to draw everyday and create characters and worlds and come up with adventures. I found out that Uderzo didn’t have to go to school, or go to work- (or at least the type of ‘work’ that I was getting accustomed to through my parents moaning about their own jobs) – Uderzo went to an art studio everyday. In this studio he was surrounded by pens, paint, paper and inspirational books and colorful posters. And he got to create new things every day.
There were photographs of Uderzo in the book. One was of him in his studio at his drawing desk staring up at us smiling. Another was of him working, totally focused on the page he was drawing and the new adventure he was creating. These photos were captivating. Uderzo was an actual illustrator. And he did get to do this every single day.
The thought that it was someone’s job to come up with these characters and spend their days drawing them was hugely exciting. When I realised that I could possibly do something similar and that could be my job …well, that thought blew my mind.
The life of Albert Uderzo sounded like a really happy and wonderful life to lead.
We didn’t have a great deal of money when I was growing up and we didn’t have computer games or satellite TV anything like that. But a library card was a very important object indeed and the library was a very important place. One of the most important places in the world in fact. It was there after-all that, aged 5, I found my first Asterix book. ‘Asterix & Cleopatra’.
Every weekend my brother, sister and I along with my mum or my nan would head to Kempston library and I would grab me some more Asterix.
Another thing we did seem to have a lot of back then was paper. My mum was able to get hold of lots of blank paper from her workplace. And I just drew all of the time.
With that paper I made my very own Asterix books. There was ‘Asterix & The Giant’ ‘Asterix In Space’ ‘Asterix Back From the Future’ All these self-made books were around 4 pages in length and written and drawn by me, inspired by the creations of Goscinny and (especially) Uderzo. This soon developed into me coming up with my own characters and brand-new stories not associated with Asterix. I started to make comics for my brother and sister and my friends. I remember, when I was around 7 or 8, that we had a comic club where me and a few other kids would create comics together in my friends shed. It was a really great time and further sparked the creative fire inside me. There was- and still is- a magic to creating an image or a whole story from nothing. Something that didn’t exist before and now it does. Although, I have no idea where most of these comics are now. There are probably some remnants of them in various attics, garden sheds and birds’ nests around the Bedfordshire area.
When I did grow up and I really committed to becoming a full-time illustrator I thought about what area I wanted to focus on. I kept thinking back to the joy I felt getting lost in the artwork of, not just Asterix, but ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ by Maurice Sendak and ‘The Moomins’ by Tove Jansen. I thought about how much these books inspired me when I was young.
I thought about how great it would be to be given the opportunity to create my very own, real life picture books.
It is obviously a joy to be able to do what I do and I am incredibly lucky. Illustrating books for children is one of the greatest jobs in the world. But, this job does also comes with a lot of negative factors. The hours are long, the deadlines come around too quickly, being sensible with money is hard, there is no paid holiday leave or health insurance. Sometimes these things can make you feel overwhelmed and down into the dumps.
But when I do feel like that, I think back to those photographs of Uderzo looking happy and content, lost in a zen like state whilst drawing in his studio. I remember how those photos made me aspire to want to live that creative life and how his art made me feel.
I have only been doing this full time for just over 4 years and I still feel very humbled by it all. I feel humbled when someone says that they enjoyed my book, when someone wants me to draw their book or when someone asks to buy some of my drawings.
One of the most humbling and rewarding aspects of this job however is talking to kids at signings or reading the letters they send me about how much they have enjoyed my book and that they read it every night. That is seriously one of the greatest feelings ever. It really does make me feel very honored. It’s such a privilege to have my books be- maybe just in a small, fleeting kind of way- a very small part of someone’s childhood.
I hope that I never lose that feeling of being humble. I hope that I feel humble forever.
Those Asterix books and Albert Uderzo’s illustrations meant so much to me when I was a child. The thought that maybe my own illustrations will maybe do the same and inspire a child today is one of the main reasons of why I do what I do.
David Litchfield is the creator of the award-winning The Bear and the Piano, as well as the illustrator of Miss Muffet, Or What Came After by Marilyn Singer and many other picture books. He lives with his family in Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom. Visit him online at davidlitchfieldillustration.com, on Twitter @dc_litchfield, and on Instagram @david_c_litchfield.