Keeping it out of the open: The production and collections history of Asterix und das Atomkraftwerk as an example of the liminality of underground literature

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Abstract

The German anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s and early 1980s produced a plethora of issue-based textual material. These were mainly in the form of flyers, pamphlets and newsletters which often only had a limited spatial reach. The outstanding and truly international publication of the “scene” was the underground comic book Asterix und das Atomkraftwerk (‘Asterix and the Nuclear Power Station’). The book was created in Vienna in 1978 by cutting up existing Asterix comic books, rearranging selected panels and adding a new narrative into the speech bubbles. The story of the successful resistance of the Gaulish village that was declared a site for a nuclear power plant resonated with the anti-nuclear movement. Pirated copies were circulated in various German towns even before the distribution of the first German edition was stopped as a result of legal action by the copyright owners of the Asterix brand. The book proved extremely popular: well over 20 German-language print versions could be identified. The volume was translated and adapted into Dutch, French and various dialects of Spanish, incl. Basque.Asterix und das Atomkraftwerk is an attempt at a fictional narrative that expresses the concerns of the movement. In its fictional successful ending, it also signals its hopes. The rapid dissemination of the title in its various forms is a testament to how much the treatment of the topic and sentiments expressed therein resonated in the alternative scene. It also effectively highlights the need among the movement for some comic relief in an otherwise highly intense and serious debate. This paper traces the background of the publication, describes the print variants in the various languages and provides a chronology of their publication. It presents the history of the actions taken by the copyright owners of the Asterix brand to put an end to its production and distribution, describes the reception of the work and discusses its cultural significance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)161-201
Number of pages41
JournalLeipziger Jahrbuch für Buchgeschichte
Volume24
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2016

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