PARIS (Reuters Life!) - In the comic strip adventures of Asterix the Gaul, birthdays are marked with feasts of roast boar, gifts of shields and swords, and the odd celebratory punch-up with the hapless Romans.
In real life, Asterix at 50 will be honoured with concerts, exhibitions, artwork, a festival that will take over central Paris, and even an acrobatic display by elite fighter pilots from the French air force.
"Asterix is a bit like the Eiffel Tower," said publisher Arnaud Noury at a news conference on Thursday to present anniversary plans, summing up the diminutive warrior's elevated status in France.
The cunning Asterix and his jovial friend Obelix appeared for the first time in print in the French comic strip magazine Pilote on Oct. 29, 1959. They were an instant hit with readers.
Two years later, the first hardback volume of their adventures came out, with an initial print run of 6,000 copies.
Since then, a total of 325 million copies of 33 Asterix books have been sold around the world, making co-creators Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo France's bestselling authors abroad.
Goscinny, who wrote the texts, died suddenly in 1977. Uderzo, who did the drawings and later continued the series alone, recalled that their original ambition was modest.
"What we wanted with Pilote was to create our own, homegrown comic strip heroes, because at the time youth magazines were full of comic strips from America," he told the news conference.
ASTERIX IN THE SKY
The patriotic mandate has been fulfilled, with the saga of the plucky Gauls who stand up to Julius Caesar now available in 107 languages and famous well beyond France's borders.
Such is the prestige of Asterix in his native country that the "Patrouille de France", an elite corps of fighter pilots well known for their spectacular displays in formation during Bastille Day military parades, has joined the birthday party.
In a short film presented to journalists on Thursday and soon to be posted on the Internet, their jets zoom through the sky, leaving trails that draw Asterix's head, complete with winged helmet.
Among other anniversary celebrations, Uderzo has created a new volume of adventures entitled "The birthday of Asterix and Obelix". Reflecting the changing fortunes of the Gaul, the initial print run is 3 million.
There will also be a festival entitled "The Gauls invade Paris" on Oct. 29 that will take place at eight high-profile venues including the Opera, the Eiffel Tower and the City Hall.
A series of concerts for children and an exhibition at the usually austere Cluny museum in Paris, which is dedicated to art from the Middle Ages, will also pay homage to Asterix.
Uderzo mused that the lavish celebrations showed just how far comic strips had come since Asterix was born. Considered a "Ninth Art", comics are taken very seriously in France where thousands of new books appear every year and sales are high.
"In those days, being a comic strip writer wasn't considered a proper job at all and it was very badly paid. But we didn't mind because we did it for the laughs," he said.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
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