I was reading an interview with the new artist-writer duo taking over Asterix & Obelix from Albert Uderzo, when I came across a passage about how this duo thinks Asterix & Obelix isn’t popular in America because the Americans have neither villages nor a history of Roman occupation.
This got me thinking: Norway has no history of Roman occupation. Is there, however, anything resembling traditional European villages in Norway? We have a word for village, landsby, but it is never used about settlements in Norway. You always find it in some article or documentary about a foreign country. But I had to be sure, so I went on a Wikipedia walk, and I found this:
“In the time after the Black Death in the 1300s, a unique farm structure developed in Norway, with free farmers who somewhat owned their own land, contrary to the most of the rest of Europe. It deviated in other ways too; in Central Europe, people lived in distinctive villages, while in Norway, the settlements clustered around various types of farmyards.”
That is indeed what I’m familiar with from Norwegian rural life. A big family with many children living in a house in the middle of a field, and the next family some distance away across the next field, miles away from the nearest market town.
Villages, by contrast, are a foreign (yet charming) concept. Fantasy novels and role-play games are full of villages and foreign invaders who threaten to disrupt them. I think these are universally appealing concepts: The cozy, warm, fallible villagers contrasted against the bureaucratic, cold, efficient hordes. This, I think, is where Asterix & Obelix appeals to many.
And the lack of success in the United States? European comic book culture would be unrecognizable to an American: “Newspaper comics serialized in magazines? Comic books that are not about superheroes? Comics with cultural sophistication and historical references? Donald Duck as an adventurer and Mickey Mouse as a detective? Cute characters in violent settings? This is too weird for me.”
The Americans can have their superhero comics. In the meanwhile, Europe can enjoy the fact she has come up with her very own brand of successful popular culture. No matter where you come from: Have a good read!