FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Ben Peek on Asterix and Obelix
In the first of a brand new feature, we're exploring the childhood influences of some of the world's best genre authors. To celebrate today's release of his brand new hardback, Leviathan's Blood, Ben Peek tells us how two scrappy Gauls and their dog influenced his writing life.
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Way back, when I was six, maybe seven, I read Asterix the Gaul. It was a comic book written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Albert Uderzo. It was the first of many that I found in my school library.
I was completely drawn in by it and the wonderful illustrations. The big noses, the little village, the cooked boars, the Romans and their armour. I would lose myself in the books for hours. Even at a young age, reading seemed like a useful past time. Not once did it seem a little strange that the only comic book in a public school in Sydney was a translation. Maybe I should have wanted for English language comics like Batman and Superman, but I never did. There was just Asterix. What could possibly be better than a pair of guys – one small and one big – who liked to pick on Romans? My favourite character was Obelix. He delivered large stones and was friendly to children and small animals. Naturally, he was played by Gérard Depardieu in the movie adaptation.
That doesn’t diminish my love of the series however. By the mid eighties there were twenty-seven comics in publication. I read the library’s stack countless times. If library cards were kept to haunt us, mine would have a damning French similarity to it. I loved it so much that in my youth, I thought I would be a comic book artist. It was a skill that, by the time I was thirteen or so, I realised I did not have. But we all have our dreams borne somewhere in something we love, even if they don’t last.
Unlike most people, I did not learn important life lessons in Asterix. I was a terrible liar as a child – I did not lie all the time, but I did lie badly – and the adventures of Asterix and Obelix did not teach me to be honest. I would learn this when I got older, when I learned how much more interesting it was. Nor did I learn to stand up to my fears reading Asterix. It was nice that someone, somewhere, stood up to their fears, but I had grown accustomed to mine at an early age, and my fears and I had reached an understanding of our needs. In short, I tried not to get in their way. It was a good policy.
What has remained with me, however, was how a magic potion let you beat up four or five Romans at a time, how Cleopatra had a cute nose, and how a little dog was often right (but occasionally wrong). I remember that sense of immersion, of being somewhere else, where the laws of the world were different. It seemed to me that anything could happen in a small village in Gaul, and I truly loved that. It was that power of immersion that Goscinny and Uderzo showed me at a young age that I have never forgotten. The ability to be taken somewhere entirely otherworldly, to a place not your own, but which you can imagine yourself in. That is something to aspire towards entirely.
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Ben Peek has been shortlisted for the David Gemmell Award for Best Debut Fantasy and the prestigious Australian Aurealis Award. He lives in Sydney with his partner, photographer Nikilyn Nevins, and their cat, Lily. You can follow him on Twitter @nosubstance. Leviathan’s Blood is out today in hardback.