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Comic hero ‘Asterix’ plans friendly assault on the New World

NEW YORK (AP) — Americans have long adored things from France, like its bread, cheese and wine. But they’ve been stubbornly resistant to one of France’s biggest imports: “Asterix.”

The bite-sized, brawling hero of a series of treasured comic books is as invisible in America as the Eurovision Song Contest is big in Europe. One U.S. publisher hopes to change that.

Papercutz, which specializes in graphic novels for all ages, is republishing “Asterix” collections this summer with a new English translation — one specifically geared to American readers.

“Compared to the great success it is worldwide, we have a lot of potential here to explore,” said Terry Nantier, CEO and publisher of Papercutz, who spent his teenage years in France. “We’re just looking to make this as appealing to an American audience as possible.”

Enter Joe Johnson, a professor of French and Spanish at Clayton State University in Georgia who has translated hundreds of graphic novels and comics. He ignored the existing translation for the United Kingdom and went directly to the original French source.

“My driving thing is ‘What do I think a kid will understand?'” Johnson said. “That’s in the back of my mind as I translate it. But still keeping to the spirit of the original.”

Created by comic-strip artist Alberto Uderzo and writer Rene Goscinny in 1959, “Asterix” books have been translated into 111 languages, sold some 380 million collections worldwide and spawned multiple films.

They’re set in 50 B.C. in a region of Western Europe almost entirely conquered by the Romans. One small village of Gauls manages to resist, thanks to a special magic formula. The heroes are the wily and tough Asterix and his best friend Obelix, a red-haired giant prone to pratfalls and drinking too much.

Johnson’s translations are more streamlined and accessible than its predecessors. In the old books, the Roman camps were “entrenched.” Now, they are “fortified.” In the old, the village leader announced: “And now I declare the revels open!” In the new, he says: “Let the party begin!”

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