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Asterix’s Journey to Find Oil: Environmental Traumics

By Donna Axel and Roberta Spivak

“The year is 50 BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely … one small village of the indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders…” (Uderzo 1981, 3). So begins each album1 in the Asterix series created in 19612 by writer René Goscinny and illustrator Albert Uderzo (AE Goscinny and Lambiek).

Asterix and the Black Gold offers one of the earliest examples of environmental traumics, comics that explore environmental trauma, featured in a graphic novel.3 In the aftermath of writer René Goscinny’s tragic death, Albert Uderzo combines his mastery of images with a rediscovered talent for writing text,4 to communicate the important environmental impact of the March 1978 Amoco Cadiz oil spill, which devastated the coast of Brittany. In this twenty-sixth Asterix album, Uderzo works through the trauma of the oil spill but also cautions that reliance on non-renewable resources is a real and significant threat. Uderzo’s cautionary message is particularly relevant in light of the re-opening of the debate on climate change and humans’ connection to long-term adverse consequences on the environment. From November 30 through December 11, 2015, France hosted the United Nations Conference on Climate Change to identify ways to decrease the environmental damage humans cause, in part due to our overuse and misuse of our earth’s limited resources,5 and on November 4, 2016, the Paris Agreement entered into force (UNFCCC). In April 2017, newly-elected U.S. President Trump threatened to “cancel” the agreement6, but apparently after receiving letters from global corporations, including Exxon Mobil, in support of the Paris agreement (Davenport), Trump then stated he would be open to staying with “better terms” (Volcovici). Recognizing Uderzo’s Black Gold (“rock oil” or petroleum) message as traumics is important today because we find ourselves in an untenable situation—Are we dependent on non-renewable resources like oil such that ultimately we are on a path to the end of the earth as we know it: Is the sky really falling? Or, in keeping with Asterix’s sidekick, Obelix whose catchphrase is “Ils sont fous,” logical minds might question politicians still debating climate change’s reality by saying, “Are they all crazy?” In fact, the irrationality lies in reopening the recently settled debate, failing to identify environmental distress as trauma. Here we uncover Asterix and the Black Gold as one of the earliest examples in a graphic novel or album that warns of a direct link between human action, including socio-political and economic power play, and environmental devastation, aka “avoidable trauma.”

In this article, we situate Asterix and the Black Gold against the backdrop of traumics, graphic novels that depict trauma. Ecological crises are traumas7: deforestation, oil spills, acid rain all contribute to human loss (Eaton 2012, 2), and environmental trauma is a particular type of trauma; as we humans become more aware of our role in causing environmental devastation, we are more likely to feel traumatized.8 Notably, there are differences between personal grief or trauma and dealing with environmental grief or trauma9, namely, “at the point of experiencing environmental trauma…we not only grieve the losses, but also mourn the fact that we are not the people we would like to be” and we recognize that we are “…complicit in the very real threats to the future of the planet; we are causing the devastation, and have to face that much of this destruction comes from our unwillingness to give up the things we enjoy” (Eaton 2012, 13 and Eaton 2017). In Asterix and the Black Gold, through sequential images, Uderzo renders visible the way we believe our individual strength and political power is linked to our control and possession of oil, the magic ingredient in the secret potion that gives Asterix his strength, and he invites us to mourn the great and terrible losses we foolishly cause to maintain it.

As early as 1981, in Asterix and the Black Gold, Uderzo uses traditional comics format—panels, gutters, and pages—to evoke powerful images of environmental devastation and human’s participatory role. Since “[c]limate change has tended to be an ugly story for media producers and consumers — difficult both to tell and to hear” (Smith 2014, 15), the comics format is particularly well-suited to accomplish this goal. As McCloud explains, “vital to the art of comics…a picture can evoke an emotional or sensual response in the viewer” (121). Through his selection of the sequence of images, Uderzo induces in the reader Uderzo’s strong feelings, his concerns and emotions of trauma, relying on this single iconic image of an oil-covered bird to unite our senses. He is not merely reproducing the 1978 Amoco Cadiz oil spill experienced by victims off the coast of Brittany in the northwest of France (ITOPF), he arouses in us the helplessness and devastation one experiences from such devastation without having actually witnessed the oil spill.10 We understand “at some fundamental level that each oil-damaged bird…represent[s] the fragility of life on the planet” (Eaton 2007, 1-2), but then we turn the page continuing with the adventure of Asterix. Uderzo’s use of iconic images renders visible and palpable an unprecedented environmental trauma that we may not have experienced first-hand, one that we (humans) in fact caused because of our unwillingness to give up that which we enjoy from our oil dependency—a position of power and safety. Thus, through the comics medium, Uderzo invites readers into an empathetic space to perceive a trauma through iconic imagery, but he also gives us permission to move on: readers turn the page.

In this paper, we summarize Asterix and the Black Gold and then highlight the influence of the 1978 Amoco Cadiz oil spill on the plot and setting. Uderzo uses this album as a springboard for informing and warning against avoidable environmental devastation. In the third section, we explore three specific ways in which Uderzo reveals the futility of oil dependency, and briefly summarize the significance of understanding Asterix as a fallible hero in French culture and internationally to the plot. Finally, we propose that despite having been published in 1981, Asterix and the Black Gold sheds light on contemporary issues regarding reliance on non-renewable energy and their associated avoidable traumas. Beyond informing the reader, we recognize Uderzo’s important place in the growing body of traumics literature and other scholarship that recognizes environmental trauma, especially as we become increasingly aware of the human contribution to triggering environmental problems and the ensuing trauma.

1. Asterix and the Black Gold (1981): Oil dependency on the Middle East is “crazy.”

On the heels of a major environmental disaster, Uderzo’s twenty-sixth Asterix album features an oil spill (“black gold”). In this album, our hero, Asterix, travels to the Middle East to bring home “black gold,” a necessary ingredient in the potion that gives his village super-human strength and allows them to resist Roman invasion. However, Asterix fails in his mission. While he might be able to fend off Caesar’s army, even Asterix is no match for the complexity and volatility of the Middle East. To further Asterix’s confusion, when he returns home to Gaul11 empty-handed, he learns that petra oleum (Goscinny and Uderzo 1981, 17, panel 10) is not really necessary—beetroot juice works just as well, thereby signifying the ridiculousness of reliance on oil when other resources suffice, and proving, as his sidekick, Obelix often says, “They are all crazy.” Thus, Uderzo’s environmental concerns are clear, particularly the notion that oil dependency on the Middle East is irrational and a waste of time since renewable energy sources are abundant.

2. The 1978 Amoco Cadiz oil spill influenced Uderzo

Published in 1981, Asterix and the Black Gold‘s setting and storyline were heavily impacted by the 1978 Amoco Cadiz (BBC) oil spill, the world’s worst environmental disaster known at that time. We consider the tragedy’s explicit impact on the plot and setting with a view to understanding the way Uderzo uses this album as a spring board for showcasing his views on oil dependency. The oil spill took place along the coast of Brittany—the same area of France where Asterix’s village is based (in Armorica) and where Uderzo spent one year of his childhood during WWII (Kessler, 2). The Amoco Cadiz tanker, travelling from the Arabian Gulf to The Netherlands, broke apart in rough weather causing it to spill 69 million gallons (223,000 tons) of oil into the Atlantic about 1.7 miles off the coast of Brittany at Portsall (BBC). It is the 8th worst oil spill in history (and the worst at that time) resulting in widespread damage to the ecosystem. It was responsible for “creating a slick 18 miles (29km) wide and 80 miles (128km) long which polluted approximately 200 miles (321km) of the Brittany coastline” (BBC). Wilmot Hess, director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said it was “the largest biological kill from any spill we’ve looked at” (Gillis 2011).

Traumatized by the devastation to his homeland, Uderzo’s central plot in Asterix and the Black Gold revolves around Asterix’s search for oil. Phoenician merchant Ekonomikrisis has forgotten the druid Getafix’s order for rock oil—and it is revealed in this album that oil is an essential ingredient in the magic potion. Realizing that he will be unable to manufacture the potion that provides temporary super-human strength and allows the villagers to fight off the Romans, Getafix has a stroke. Asterix, his loyal friend, Obelix, and Obelix’s ecologically-minded dog, Dogmatix12, head to the Middle East in search of oil, the crucial “black gold” for the Gauls. The Roman secret agent and druid Dubbelosix, equipped with all the latest spy gadgets, attempts to thwart their plans every step of the way.

Toward the end of this album, Uderzo draws an actual oil spill, reminiscent of the Amoco Cadiz disaster. Our hero, along with Obelix and Dogmatix, find the black oil in the dessert and capture it in their water skin. They must hurry back to Gaul before Caesar’s army realizes that the village is vulnerable. They make it to the coast where they meet up with the Phoenician trader, who offers them passage back to Gaul. While on the ship, Asterix, in a moment of hubris, discloses to Caesar’s spy, Dubbleosix, that in spite of his best efforts they have succeeded in capturing the oil they need to create the magic potion. As the two wrestle over the water skin, Obelix jumps into the melee causing the oil to burst from the water skin into the sea, emphasizing the deadly risks associated even with well-intentioned involvement in battles to obtain oil. The next panel’s caption reads, “And the waters of the channel are polluted for the first time in history” (Goscinny and Uderzo 1981, 45, panel 10). In this same panel a bird covered in oil laments, “Oh No! Don’t say you’re starting already?!” (Goscinny and Uderzo 1981, 45). The oil-covered bird is an often-used image that evokes strong emotions and reminds us of environmental trauma. The words are better understood as exasperated paternalism, a parent talking to a child who has awoken too early in the morning and has begun drumming or playing the trumpet way too loudly while the house tries to sleep. In this way, Uderzo’s bird symbolizes the elder who cannot imagine the idiocy and immaturity of those who caused such environmental trauma—those who should know better.

3. The traumas of oil dependency.

Uderzo uses comics to explore the immediate environmental trauma of the oil spill, but also to explore a contributory trauma. Uderzo introduces comics about economic and political traumas stemming from perceived oil dependency that ultimately contribute to environmental destruction, including on the waters, the creatures in the water, the food supply, and human beings. In this section, we analyze three specific examples of Uderzo’s theme that oil dependency is irrational, especially when viable renewable energy alternatives are readily available.

a. Oil dependency is economically unsound.

Uderzo introduces the Phoenician merchant character “Ekonomikrisis” to demonstrate that economic crisis follows from oil dependency. Written in the late 1970s, his meaning becomes clear with context: Uderzo underscores the political-economic turmoil and trauma of the 1970s stemming from war in the Middle East and OPEC’s subsequent oil embargo. Early in the story the following dilemma is introduced: Why is the village druid, Getafix, the man responsible for making the magic potion, so bothered? (Goscinny and Uderzo 1981, 10-11). It turns out that he has run out of oil, the vital ingredient for the potion, and is waiting for the arrival of Ekonomikrisis, the Phoenician merchant-supplier of oil. Uderzo’s 1970s perspective is relevant today: a lack of oil leads to economic crisis. When Ekonomikrisis finally arrives there is bad news—he has no oil (Goscinny and Uderzo 1981, 12-13). Without oil, Getafix believes the village has no chance of survival and responds by shaking and strangling Ekonomikrisis (Goscinny and Uderzo 1981, 13, panels 3-4) until Getafix turns grayish green and passes out, the victim of a stroke (Goscinny and Uderzo 1981, 13, panels 5-7). In this way, Uderzo points out not only the mistaken way leaders believe that lacking oil is catastrophic,13 but also the tremendous stress on community leaders that results from oil dependency.

b. Oil dependence on Middle East: Historically & politically complicated.

Through Asterix and the Black Gold, Uderzo warns that oil dependency is politically unsound. To obtain oil for their village’s survival, Asterix volunteers to travel to the Middle East (18). Uderzo portrays Asterix and his companions in the Middle East as innocents, trying in vain to use logic in a dangerous and illogical world. While wandering in the desert to find the oil, they are attacked by a series of warring tribes (36-38). Asterix and Obelix learn that the Sumerians are at war with the Akkadians (36) who believe the Hittities to be their enemy (37). However, the Hittites seem to despise the Assyrians (37). Each group apologizes for attacking Asterix and friends (36-37). As the leader of the Akkadians tell them: “Oh, terribly sorry, we thought you were Hittites! We Akkadians don’t hit it off with the Hittites. We’re at war with them!” (37). Asterix’s response to this apology: “Well don’t drag us in!” (37). Obelix is angered as well: “I ask you” he says, “Do we look like Hittites?” (37). Uderzo seems to be telling us that not only is the Middle East a dangerous neighborhood but it is complex. Moreover, it is naïve and irresponsible to assume that outsiders can enter and exit easily and unscathed.

The conclusion of each series of attacks culminates with Obelix’s constant refrain, “They’re crazy” (Goscinny and Uderzo 1981, 37-39). This is a common French expression, one that is synonymous with Obelix. Uderzo uses it here to emphasize the common French response to most political situations, meaning: This situation is too complex; I am smart enough to understand that it is complex; I do not see a way out of the complexity; I do not have faith in the powers that be to resolve this issue; I am wise enough to know they will not resolve this issue; It is hopeless, so I throw my hands in the air and return to daily life. Asterix and Obelix are portrayed as not understanding the reasons for these battles, yet they are caught repeatedly in the crossfire of these warring groups. Uderzo draws the unmistakable parallel: when we go into the Middle East for oil, there is a history that we must recognize. Even if we do not understand it, we cannot ignore it, and, since we cannot fix this problem, we must go about our business. In this case, obtaining oil.

Uderzo depicts Asterix and his companions as innocent when entering the desert. He wrote the album just a few decades after France’s 8-year war with Algeria to maintain its century-old occupation. France and Britain had divided up the region into spheres of influence with little thought to coherence, thereby creating countries, with France occupying present-day Syria and Lebanon. Uderzo’s depiction seems to gloss over an extremely complicated relationship, possibly because it may not have fit with the French narrative of the 1970s, a time when France was trying to present itself as neutral broker in the region. However, Uderzo concludes this plotline with Obelix referencing himself, exclaiming, “Well! This Gaul is crazy!” (Goscinny and Uderzo 1981, 39, panel 3)—perhaps acknowledging a French role in this complicated political ordeal.

The shock of the oil spill in France ushered in an explicit, modern understanding that modern problems are not only transnational but in many instances supersede the state. The oil that gushed from the Amoco Cadiz was from the Gulf and heading for The Netherlands. The ship was owned by an American company, built by a Spanish shipbuilder, leased to a Dutch company, operated under a license from Liberia, insured in the United Kingdom, and crewed by seafarers from around the globe. When the time came to decide who was at fault the parties all blamed each other much like the Hittites, Assyrians, and the Akkadians in Asterix and the Black Gold. Just as Asterix and Obelix were not immune to the Hittites, et al., Uderzo shows us that France is not immune to global problems. While Asterix and Obelix eventually extricated themselves from the chaos, France, like all states in the world, would have to consider ways to exist in this ever-increasing globalized world in which state hegemony had waned in the light of private sector and civil society involvement. The Amoco Cadiz disaster is reflected in this album: when it comes to oil, even the indomitable Asterix, ostensibly, is unable to protect the village.

c. Oil dependency is unnecessary

In the final pages of Asterix and the Black Gold, Uderzo uses Asterix’s role as a French superhero and an international superstar to underscore his view that oil dependency is absurd.

i. Asterix, a uniquely French superhero & superstar who fails in his quest for oil.

Asterix is a uniquely French superhero and an international superstar, so when he fails in his quest to obtain the “all-important” ingredient to save his people, Uderzo demonstrates the absurdity of a powerful figure whose failed quest was actually futile since the oil is nonessential. Although not as well-known in the U.S., Asterix is both a French version of a superhero (Houze 1994) and an “instantly recognized superstar” (Elliott 2005, 167) in France. Asterix’s popularity, however, is not limited to France, and the Asterix series has been translated into over 107 languages (AE: Asterix Translations) and has sold over 350 million copies (Asterix News) worldwide.14 The French embraced Asterix from the very start and in 1965 named their first satellite “Asterix-1” (NASA; Wilson).

To fully grasp the punchline-message of Asterix’s inconsequential failure, we briefly examine Goscinny and Urderzo’s motivations when creating Asterix. They sought to create a new French protagonist who was intentionally not an American hero, but a French one. Early in his career, Goscinny worked on children’s books in New York City (AE, Goscinny; Encyclopedia Brittanica),15 but in 1959, when he co-founded the French humor magazine Pilote, he set out to invent a hero who represented French cultural values and was an underdog. As Uderzo explained years later, “…we wanted… to create our own, homegrown comic strip heroes, because at the time youth magazines were full of comic strips from America” (Shirbon).16 In fact, “Uderzo’s first sketches portrayed Asterix as a huge and strong traditional Gaulish warrior” (Kessler 1995; AE Obelix), but Goscinny requested Asterix be a small-sized warrior who would prefer intelligence over strength (Kessler 1995; AE: Obelix). Together they conceived of a French superhero, one whose failures proved as valuable as successes.

Even though Asterix does not look like the typical American superhero of that era, he fulfills the three key requirements for superhero classification: mission, superpowers, and identity (Coogan).17 Like Superman who is a “champion of the oppressed” (Coogan 77) and combats “evil and injustice” (Coogan 77),18 Asterix’s mission is to preserve and protect his small village of Gauls in Armorica19—the only hold-out against the Roman invaders who have conquered all of Gaul.20 Similar to many American superheroes of that era, Asterix is “pro-social and selfless” (Coogan 77) with no other agenda than to serve and protect his people, thereby fulfilling the mission element. His superpowers are strength, which is temporarily acquired through drinking a magic potion, and, like Batman, wit. Lastly, Asterix’s identity is embodied in his name and costume. Just as “Superman is a super man who represents the best humanity can hope to achieve,” (Coogan 79), Asterix’s costume and “codename express[] his inner character” (Coogan 79).21 The diminutive Asterix, as his name implies, is a “little star.” Unlike the other Gauls, he wears wings on his helmet reminiscent of the stereotypical “Gallic warrior” (Connolly 1981). For these reasons, he is a uniquely French superhero, one who carries the equivalent weight and power when delivering a message.

Asterix holds a unique position in French society, different than American superheroes in the U.S. When Goscinny and Uderzo first began the comic strip, Asterix, in 1959, the French sought to protect themselves from American hegemony and, at the same time, to compete with America and American values. While the American discourse at this time revolved around virtue, individual freedom, and progress (Costello 2009), the French were more concerned with equality, community, and culture, and entrusted the state as the guarantor of these values (Pedder 1999), all of which Asterix and the titular character highlight. For example, Asterix has come to be seen as “an iconic defender of French identity” (Elliott 2005, 168), the subject of undying loyalty and high expectations. Over the years, “globalization and Americanization have long been connected in French minds and rhetoric” (Meuniere 2010, 214). The French were “at once admiring, resentful and disdainful, fascinated, infuriated and threatened by America” (Pedder 1999). In 1999, a film version of Asterix was released at the same time as the American film, Titanic. Uderzo’s response at the time was: “We must sink ‘Titanic’ with this film; French pride is at stake” (Pedder 1999). In this way, Uderzo demonstrated his awareness of an ongoing French competition, especially with the U.S., as well as Asterix’s important role in promoting French culture. “Astérix, declared the highbrow newspaper Le Monde, was ‘a national matter of the greatest importance’ [and] ‘a symbol of Gallic resistance to the Hollywood invasion'” (Pedder 1999).22

Despite the comics’ original intentions to entertain children, many debate whether political views are embedded within the comic albums, including Asterix‘s role as a reaction to American hegemony and globalization. In the late 1950s and 1960s, the French were struggling “to balance the mixed blessing of American mass-culture with the emphasis placed on their own rich culture and heritage” (Elliott 2005, 168). According to leading French international relations theorist Dominique Moisi, the dilemma for France is to decide “whether to be ‘a modern, normal country’ or one which is different, even exceptional” (Ellwood 2001). Jean-Marie Guéhenno, an expert on the State and national identity, cautions against clinging to what many in France pejoratively call the “Asterix syndrome,” in which people “withdraw in to a world of illusions in which la francophonie stands up to les anglo-saxons in the same way that Astérix confronted the Roman Empire” (Ellwood 2001). Many Asterix fans resent those who “make a political point about France’s supposed endangered status” (Cendrowicz 2009) because they believe it “demeans the brilliance of the art and writing in the comics” (Cendrowicz 2009). To this fan base, “the success has less to do with national pride and more to do with ‘thrilling adventures, rich characters and subversive comedy'” (Cendrowicz 2013). Moreover, Uderzo insists that although they wanted to create a uniquely French protagonist, their goal was to provide entertainment “mainly for children,” (Cendrowicz 2013) and they did not intend for their message to extend “beyond the age-old one of supporting an underdog and sticking it to the man” (Cendrowicz 2013).

Regardless of whether Asterix is for children’s entertainment or to encourage political debate about American hegemony, Goscinny and Uderzo often address contemporary social and political issues. Beginning in the 1970s, the Asterix books “take their themes more and more from real life: politics, money, business, superstition and even…alcoholism” (Kessler 47). With Goscinny’s passing in 1977, Uderzo unabashedly launched into a clearly delineated environmental and Middle East politics theme in Asterix and the Black Gold.23 In this album, Uderzo makes the case that dependence on Middle East countries is dangerous, both geopolitically and environmentally, and unnecessary since renewable energy sources are readily available.

ii. Asterix’s failure: The Gauls survive despite their hero’s failure.

Under Caesar’s command, the Romans have sent Dubbleosix to foil Asterix, the champion for the Gauls. Unfortunately, Obelix’s brute strength unwittingly aids Dubbelosix. During a fight, Oblelix jumps onto Dubbelosix, inadvertently emptying the oil from the water skin into the ocean. Likely, this demonstrates Uderzo’s view that France contributes to environmental pollution, even in its attempt to control the trauma. Asterix’s immediate response is “We’re done for!…Done for!…Done for! The whole village will be waiting on tenterhooks and in fear of the Romans, and now what am I going to tell them?” (Goscinny and Uderzo 1981, 46, panels 1-4). His words demonstrate the superhero’s concern for the survival of his village. His disappointment at returning home empty-handed is tremendous because he is accustomed to saving his village, and he believes that his failure will lead to the Romans conquering his village—to the annihilation of the last remaining Gauls. Therefore, his failure is particularly significant in light of him being the French superhero: he is the sole Gaul responsible for the survival of his people.

The absurdity of oil dependency is underscored when Asterix later finds out that his mission was unnecessary. France has long been involved in finding alternatives to oil and gas, since it has very few natural resources. “France’s decision to launch a large nuclear program dates back to 1973 and the events in the Middle East that they refer to as the ‘oil shock’ [namely, the] quadrupling of the price of oil by OPEC nations…because at that time most of its electricity came from oil burning plants.” (Palfreman). General Director for Energy and Raw Materials at the Ministry of Industry Claude Mandil cites the following as one reason France succeeded in getting its citizens to accept nuclear power as an alternative energy: “…the French are an independent people. The thought of being dependent for energy on a volatile region of the world such as the Middle East disturbed many French people” (Palfreman). In Asterix and the Black Gold, Uderzo illustrates and exaggerates the popular French retort to the question of why they have so much nuclear energy: “no oil, no gas, no coal, no choice”. Asterix thought he had no choice but to find oil, but then the druid found that beetroot juice was an adequate substitute, “and it tastes nicer” (Goscinny and Uderzo 1981, 47, panel 5). In fact, the French view oil dependency as not an option, as the Gauls came to realize in Asterix and the Black Gold. Thus, when Asterix, France’s superhero, mistakenly believes he has failed to save his village, Uderzo’s point achieves full impact: even the most powerful players on the political stage seek oil in vain because alternative renewable resources exist, and oil is not a viable choice for the French.

4. Rock oil is not “black gold”: Non-renewable energy sources abound

In addition to this album being Uderzo’s first foray into the Middle East, he uses this issue to decry environmental concerns regarding non-renewable resources. With Asterix’s grave disappointment at failure, his realization becomes ours: the mission was a waste of time since oil dependency is a fallacy. This story illustrates not only anxieties about oil crises and environmental devastation, but also our misguided notions that non-renewable energy sources are the best and only viable solution. Even though Asterix, the superhero, has the best intentions, his efforts at bringing home rock oil are futile since Getafix uses beetroot juice: the notion that oil is as precious as “gold” is arbitrary.

Despite having been published in 1981, Asterix and the Black Gold sheds light on two contemporary issues regarding non-renewable energy: first, oil still dictates the relationship between States—with the Middle East remaining a battlefield for control over oil—and second, contemporary anxieties regarding non-renewable energy resources and efforts to develop renewable sources remain at an all-time high. In this way, Asterix and his companions serve as one of the earliest—and most poignant—traumics on the dangerous nature of oil dependency.


[1] This appears in every Asterix album on page 3.

[2] In 1959, Goscinny and Uderzo created the comic strip, Asterix, for the magazine, Pilote.

[3] With the exception of Swamp Thing (first appearance in House of Secrets #92 in 1971 and the later Swamp Thing #1 in October-November 1972; then revived in 1982), until more recently (mid-1990s and later) graphic novels, especially mainstream ones, have not typically featured environmental themes. On the other hand, “[n]ewspaper cartoonists have a longstanding tradition of critiquing those in power” (Duncan 263). For example, environmental issues were addressed in Impollutable Pogo, published in 1970 by Walt Kelly, featuing a boat in a sea of pollution, and in 1970, Walt Kelly created a well-known Pogo comic strip for the first Earth Day, “We have met the enemy and he is us” ( As early as 1975, Pogo addressed pollution of swamps, and Bob and Tom Thaves included in a single frame an environmentally conscious theme in their comic strip, Frank and Ernest which appeared in a newspaper. On October 6, 1980, they explicitly feature nuclear power in Frank and Ernest (see Nonetheless, Uderzo’s Black Oil was one of the earliest mainstream graphic novels attacking a recent current event and highlighting the politics and the longer term environmental trauma.

[4] Uderzo had “started out in the comics business as a writer/artist, and…he had in any case written several short Asterix adventures as one-offs in Pilots…” (Kessler 27). Also, Asterix and the Great Divide (volume #25) was Uderzo’s first Asterix that he wrote and illustrated. Asterix and the Black Gold immediately followed.

[5] In 2015, France hosted the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21/CMP11) at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the agreement went into effect on November 4, 2016 (Paris Agreement). As part of the agreement, State parties agree to take actions to keep “global warming below 2 degrees Celsius” (Paris Agreement).

[6] “During the 2016 presidential election campaign, Trump described climate change as a hoax” (Volcovici).

[7] In her article, Marie Eaton explores “the dimensions of environmental grief and trauma.” Eaton recognizes and considers the PTSD experienced by environmentalists and those working in the area of sustainability, including sustainability educators, and the particular trauma they experience due to their deep understanding of the environmental devastation and the human activities that cause it (Eaton 2012, 2). Fraser, Pantesco, et. al. claim that environmentally aware workers may suffer from psychological trauma, a type of PTSD. They examine two studies of the emotional experience of environmentalists, conservationists, and environmental educators working with profound awareness of how current human behavior is degrading the environment, some would say beyond recovery. They found that stressful experiences may be understood better within a trauma-based framework that acknowledges their implications, similar to clinical diagnosis and treatment of acute stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder.

[8] “As we learn more and more about how our own destructive behaviors precipitate natural or man-made events and signal the loss of fragile ecosystems, we experience a grief reaction” (Eaton 2007, 2).

[9] According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is defined as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster” (APA). Uderzo may not have experienced the oil spill as a direct witness, but he, like many others, had a strong emotional reaction. Psychologists Fraser and Pantesco (2008) write that “[s]econdary traumatic stress is the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another…[and i]ts symptoms mimic those of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)” (NCTSN). Uderzo relays his response to the oil spill so that we can experience the devastation as an environmental trauma that both invokes sympathy, but allows us to distance ourselves so we may take in the full scope of the absurdity of the problem: we humans have caused the oil spill, but we do not really need oil; we bring ourselves one step closer to our own demise through our attempt to maintain power. When Uderzo’s oil-covered bird cries out “Oh no! Don’t say you’re starting already?!” (Uderzo 45), he implies that we could have waited, and that it is too soon to start on the road toward self-destruction, to destruction of the seas, to destruction of life as we know it, to human extinction. In this way, comics provides an insight into a terrible inevitability, one that most would prefer to deny, and in fact, to a reality that many of us still ignore.

[10] Scott McCloud references Paul Klee, “Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.”

[11] Gaul refers to the ancient French and the Gaul region referred to present day Western Europe, including France, which was under Roman rule during the second and first centuries BCE.

[12] Dogmatix makes his first appearance in Asterix and the Banquet (1979, but serialized in Pilote magazine, issues 172-213, in 1963;

[13]Getafix is seen walking through the village mumbling, “Appalling, Ghastly!, Catastrophic!” in response to having run out of oil (Goscinny and Uderzo 1981, 11, panel 9; See also panels 6-10).

[14] In 2009, France celebrated Asterix’s 50th anniversary with children’s concerts and festivals, including a flyover by the French airforce over central Paris (Snotr; Freedman).

[15] Goscinny was born in France but raised in Argentina. In the mid-to-late 1940s he worked with the team from MAD Magazine, including Willy Elder, Harvey Kurtzman, John Severin, and Jack Davis (Lambiek: Comicopledia; Encyclopedia Brittanica; AE Goscinny).

[16] In another special edition about France, Asterix and Obelix appeared on the cover of Time Magazine.

[17] We use Peter Coogan’s definition of a superhero: “A heroic character with a selfless, pro-social mission; with superpowers—extraordinary abilities…or highly developed physical, mental, or mystical skills; who has a superhero identity embodied in a codename and iconic costume, which typically express his biography, character, powers…; and who is generically distinct, i.e., can be distinguished from characters of related genres (fantasy, science fiction, detective, etc.) by a preponderance of generic conventions” (77). Coogan was influenced by Judge Learned Hand’s legal decisions when putting this definition together.

[18] “Judge Learned Hand referred to both Superman and Wonder Man as ‘champion[s] of the oppressed’ who combat ‘evil and injustice,’ thus summing up the heart of the superhero’s mission” (77).

[19] Armorica is the ancient word for Brittany.

[20] See Asterix, volumes 1-35.

[21] Coogan also references Judge Hand when defining the two elements that make up the identity convention of the superhero: “the heroic codename and the costume” (78).

[22] Just two years later, Uderzo sold the rights of Asterix’s image to McDonalds creating a furor in France and prompting one French blogger to lament: “My childhood hero sacrificed like a wild boar! What next? Tintin eating at Subway?” (Buffery 2010). Another angry Asterix fan tweeted, “How ironic, the indomitable Gauls making an advert for the invaders” (Buffery 2010). Clearly, the French are not surprised when an American superhero is attached to capitalistic ventures, but react strongly when Asterix is used to increase McDonald’s sales.

[23] Goscinny’s mother was Jewish (Kessler), but he expressly emphasized he did not wish to write about Israel. According to Kessler, “The book is dedicated to Rene Goscinny (who also appears as a character on pages 34 and 35). Did Uderzo feel this dedication was appropriate since Goscinny was Jewish, and the book is set partly in Israel? [U]derzo says: (Yes. But you know, Goscinny had something of a complex about his Jewish origins, having lost many of his relatives during the war. He was very aware of his Jewish identity, but felt he could not write a story set in the Jewish State because he feared he would be accused of writing propaganda for Israel. We were invited by the Israeli government to visit their country, because they wanted us to use it as a location for Asterix. That is why this book is dedicated to Goscinny: it is the one adventure that was easier for me to write than for him.” ( Following Goscinny’s death, Uderzo accepted an invitation to go to Israel. Shortly thereafter, he began on Asterix and the Black Gold.

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