Alberto Aleandro Uderzo was born in Fismes, France, on April 25, 1927, and raised outside Paris. His father was a luthier, and both parents immigrated from Italy. He had surgery as a child to remove the extra digit on each hand.

By age 14, Albert — he dropped the o from his first name — was publishing his first illustrations, churning out cartoons for French and Belgian publications. A decade later he began working with Goscinny at a publishing house in Paris. They soon developed characters such as Oumpah-pah, a Native American scout, and helped launch the magazine Pilote, where Asterix made his debut.

“They wanted a comic strip with ‘French’ themes, and we toyed with ideas from different periods of history,” Uderzo told the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Getting the right look for Asterix took a little more time. In an interview with Britain’s Independent newspaper, Uderzo explained, “I drew him bigger and more handsome. It was Goscinny who suggested changes until we got him just right.”

The duo published two dozen Asterix books, beginning with Astérix le Gaulois (1961) before Goscinny died at age 51 after a heart attack. Uderzo said he considered killing off Asterix before deciding to carry on his work alone, and spent about three months crafting each book’s story and twice as long on the drawings.

In his spare time, he collected cars and, serving as president of the French Ferrari Club, raced across the countryside. He married Ada Milani in 1953 and had a daughter, Sylvie Uderzo.

While Asterix volumes continued to sell well in almost every country but the United States, some critics said the later books lacked the wit of those written by Goscinny. Uderzo handed the reins to a new creative team, writer Jean-Yves Ferri and illustrator Didier Conrad, beginning with the 2013 book Asterix and the Picts.

By then Uderzo had sold a majority stake of his publishing company, Éditions Albert-René, to the French conglomerate Hachette Livre, kicking off a bitter dispute with his daughter, Sylvie, a former executive at Albert-René. In a 2009 letter published in Le Monde, she accused him of turning his comics over to “perhaps the worst enemies of Asterix, the men of finance and industry.”

A long legal battle ensued, with Uderzo suing his daughter and son-in-law for “psychological violence” before the family publicly reconciled in 2014.

The episode marked a rare moment in the spotlight for Uderzo, who generally remained behind the scenes — a name on a book cover, with Asterix front and centre.

“I’m the puppeteer who hides behind the puppet,” he told the Times. “I don’t sell myself. I’m not the star. Nobody knows my face. I could hold up a bank and no one would recognise me.”

The Washington Post

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