I vaguely recalled hearing about an Asterix exhibition some time ago, so when N enquired whether anyone was interested in visiting the Jewish Museum’s Goscinny exhibition, I realised that must have been what I was thinking of and so I went along. We also met up with J and, later on, her other half. The exhibition is on Goscinny‘s life and work, so it is more broad ranging than just the Asterix comics, though these do form the highlight. He had an eventful childhood, born in Paris, moving to Argentina (due to his father’s job) before World War II, then to the US and back to France. The early work seems less comical, with a focus on detective storylines and interactions between American settlers and indigenous populations (we debated to what extent the illustrations would be allowable today; though in at least one case, we noted, the native Americans were the heroes of the story). Goscinny began his collaboration with Uderzo in the 1950s, and Asterix debuted at the end of the decade, as an immediate success. The exhibition includes an unofficial early appearance in Britain, re-styled as “Little Fred (i.e. Asterix) and Big Ed (Obelix)”, ancient Britons battling the Roman invaders; though even in this version, there are linguistic puns, such as the Roman commander Pompous and the British chieftan Bearwolf. Apparently at least three British publishers turned down the opportunity to publish, because they feared the jokes wouldn’t translate, but Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge turned in a sterling performance. There’s an international selection of covers on display; intriguingly, the Arabic version of Asterix the Gaul has the illustration reflected right-to-left; whether this is necessary in some sense to go with the direction of the writing I don’t know. Americans, apparently, have a different translation to the British.
We also went around the permanent exhibition, chronicling the history of the Jews in Britain. Unfortunately, it follows the usual pattern in Europe, including inconsistency. Bad King John (readers of 1066 And All That know the moniker isn’t applied to any other monarch) granted the Jews various rights of residence and property; then Edward I (by the previous implication, “Good” – though the Welsh probably have other views) threw them out a few decades later. Fortunately, progress was made in the following centuries, though inevitably the section on the twentieth century is dominated by migration, refugees, and the Holocaust. A space containing a series of portraits of LGBTQ Jewish figures provides a contemporary view of a diverse community.