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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Plucky Gauls Look to Conquer Russia

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SHLYOP! SHBLYAMS! BAKH! BUMM! is what two Gauls — one fat and fond of boars, and one small with a magic potion — bashing a pair of Roman soldiers sounds like in Russian.

Not many people in Russia know that yet, even though 300 million readers speaking 80 different languages have read with glee the adventures of those two Gauls — Asterix and Obelix — and their plucky village that holds out against the mighty Roman empire in 50 B.C.

French publisher Emmanuel Durand intends to change all that. He recently published a Russian-language version of "Asterix and the Goths" in the hope that not only will Russians be enchanted by the tales of Asterix and Obelix but, perhaps, a comics culture can take root in a land that has so few comics that the Asterix translators had to make up their own versions of KAPOW!, WHAM! and BAM!

"There's no culture in Russia of comics," said Durand, sitting in the office of his bookshop and publisher, Pangloss, "I don't know if people will buy it."

"Asterix and the Goths," or "Asteriks i Goty" in Russian, started selling in Moscow for 70 rubles ($2.50) this month.

Durand is so hopeful that Russians will enjoy the misadventures of the wise-cracking duo that he already plans to publish five more of the comic books penned by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo by the end of the year.

Asterix's first adventure was published in 1959 in the French comic journal Pilote. Scripted by Goscinny and drawn by Uderzo, it quickly became a national and international success, and generations have grown up on what grew to be 31 comic books.

The adventures follow Asterix, the smart, if short, Gaul who gets super-strength by drinking a potion made by the village druid, Getafix, and his trusted friend Obelix, a jolly, obese giant, who is the heart and soul of the books. Fixated on eating boars, making menhirs and bashing as many Romans as he can, Obelix has had superhuman strength ever since he fell into a cauldron of magic potion as a child.

Although set in 50 B.C., the books have always mixed old and modern humor. The Romans often speak in Latin, mixing quotes from Horace and Cicero with phrases like "Credo Elvem ipsum etian vivere," or "I think that Elvis is still alive," and "Facut nemo me vocet," or "Hold my calls." Many of the comics poke fun at modern French society.

Surrounding Asterix and Obelix are characters whose names tell their own stories, such as the bard of the village, Cacophonix, whose off-tone singing is feared by all, and the village chief, Vitalstatistix.

"Every name in Asterix is a joke," said one of the translators, Nadezhda Butman.

Adapting the books into Russian has been a challenge for translators Butman and Mikhail Khachaturov. But they both had the advantage of translating various Asterix books from French many years before — Butman for her children and Khachaturov for himself for fun.

Butman, a French teacher at Moscow State University, even used the books to help teach basic commerce, using descriptions of trading in the books.

Many of the names had to be changed to suit the Russian ear. The Gaul chief was named Avtoritariks, compared to Vitalstatistix in English and Abraracourix in the original French. The village bard became Conservatoriks.

Apart from the natural problems of wordplay, another difficulty in translating came in choosing words that would fit into the bubbles, said Khachaturov. Russian words tend to be much longer than French and English ones.

The translators also had to find noises of a Roman being bashed about. SHLYOP! and SHBLYAMS! are Khachaturov's picks, while BA-BAKH, a favorite of Butman's, will appear in the future books.

The most difficult task was bridging the many cultural differences. Asterix books are filled with cultural allusions to life in modern France, such as complaints about traffic jams in August. The books touch on very different Frances, since they were published from the 1960s through the 1990s.

Whether the initial book will be a success remains to be seen. Comics have never been popular in Russia or the Soviet Union, a phenomenon Durand could not explain.

"They are good illustrators, scenarists. I don't understand," said Durand. "Maybe comics were bourgeois."

Even now, while comics are respected by all age groups in France, many Russians dismiss them as books just for children. Inside the Russian "Asterix and the Goths" is a note that pointedly states the book "will be interesting not only for children but for adults who can fully understand humor."

But Durand does have some cause to believe Russians will buy the book. He made up his mind to publish the book after hearing that the French film "Asterix the Gaul" starring Gerard Depardieu as Obelix was watched by more than 120,000 people in Moscow. "It's good that people already know," said Durand, who personally didn't like the film.

His only worry is that some readers may be disappointed when they see the Uderzo drawings rather than Depardieu in the book. "[They'll say] he's a bad artist. That's not Depardieu," he joked.

Pangloss, which has only recently begun publishing, could not afford to buy the rights for Asterix in Russia and the publishers only got the rights after Durand met with Uderzo in Paris.

Uderzo, who took over the scripting of the books after his partner Goscinny died in 1977, told Durand that one of his dreams was to publish in Russia and agreed to let Pangloss have the rights at a cheaper price.

Six more Asterix books have been translated, and Pangloss plans to publish them by December.

Meanwhile, Butman is working on "Asterix in Britain" and the tricky task of getting the Britons to speak Russian with a slight English accent.

"We have some ideas," said Butman with a smile.