PARIS (AFP) - Asterix is to ride again in the 37th book in the legendary comic series, its publishers said Monday (Oct 9).
"Asterix and the Chariot Race" will hit the bookshelves on Oct 19 recounting the adventures of the shrewd Gallic hero and his rotund sidekick Obelix during a mad dash down the length of ancient Italy.
The only Asterix story to be set entirely on the Italian peninsula, it takes place in 50 BC with Julius Caesar trying to prove "that all of Italy is in thrall to Rome" even though "many regions are determined to maintain their independence."
To burnish Roman glory and showcase the "dazzling excellence of Roman roads" Caesar invites teams from all over the known world to compete in the race.
There is only one catch - "the Roman competitor must absolutely cross the finishing first," the publishers said.
Caesar's charioteer and the latest Asterix baddie is a masked villain called Coronavirus, named after the Sars virus which caused a worldwide health alert in 2002.
Writers Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad, who have penned the last three Asterix stories, said this time they wanted Obelix to take the limelight.
"It's very much Obelix driving the chariot and the story," said Conrad as the book's publication date was announced in Paris.
Although details of the story are still under wraps, it features Bretons, Picts (Scots), Goths and Phoenicians as well as the two Gauls.
Five million copies of "Asterix and the Chariot Race" have been printed for the first edition, with two million alone to go on sale in France.
Albert Uderzo, now 90, who created the characters in 1959 with Rene Goscinny, told reporters in a video message that the "story really touched me because as well as cartoons I love cars."
More than 370 million Asterix books have been sold since Goscinny and Uderzo first brought him to life in the Franco-Belgium comic Pilote.