Friday, 14 February 2014

Asterix and the Picts Review (Jean-Yves Ferri, Didier Conrad)

Asterix was my favourite comic as a kid, and one of the first I ever read that turned me on to comics for life. The adventures of the moustachioed little Gaul from 50BC and his best friend, the much larger Obelix (don’t call him fat!), were an endless delight and even after I’d grown up (kinda) and moved on to the likes of Batman and Superman (see?), I still went back and re-read some of my favourite books like Asterix in Corsica and Asterix and the Laurel Wreath. 

Asterix and the Picts is the first non-Uderzo Asterix book. Rene Goscinny - one half of the Asterix creative team - died in the 1970s but Albert Uderzo continued producing the books, writing and drawing them. Now Uderzo’s in his late 80s, he’s probably unable to keep making them plus he’s not long for this world and it’s good to know Asterix will still be around even if his creators aren’t. So how is the first non-creator created Asterix book? Actually pretty good. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, I’d say it was written and drawn by Uderzo himself!

A Pict (ancient Scotsman) washes up to the Gaulish (ancient France) coast outside Asterix’s village, encased in ice. After Getafix the druid defrosts him, he reveals his home to be across the English Channel and, taking Unhygienix’s fishing boat, Asterix and Obelix accompany the Pict back to Scotland.

The really weird thing about this book is the stuff that you normally see in an Asterix book, replicated perfectly here. Asterix and Obelix getting into a heated argument, their large noses turning red as they scream at each other; Cacofonix getting beaten up after attempting to sing; Obelix getting drunk and not knowing his own strength; the inept Romans; and the book ending with the Great Feast – it’s like watching a cover band at work!

I don’t want to take it away from Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad as they do a fine job and given the popularity of the characters, it’s unlikely they were given much room to put their own personal stamp on it. But it is remarkable how similar this book is to any of Uderzo’s Asterix books. The Pirates make their obligatory appearance and surprisingly still managed to make me laugh: “It’s the Gauls! They’re making straight for us!” (cut to Obelix rubbing his hands). It’s such an old and cheesy joke but ridiculously funny. It’s also amazing that they’re still comfortable using the racist caricature of the black pirate with the oversized red lips! 

But that’s another important part Ferri gets right with this book - the abundance of corny humour. Like when they make it to Scotland and, like in Gaul and Rome everyone’s names are puns, they all have names that start with Mac - Macaroon, Macabre, Machinations, etc. 

So why only a lukewarm reaction to it? It’s because I’ve outgrown the style of these stories. It’ll never be as sophisticated as I want it to be because it never was, it’s me who’s changed, and grown-ups really aren’t the target audience. If a 10 year old me was reviewing this he’d be calling this the book of the year and would have re-read it several times before the next one comes out; the older me can recognise what I loved about it but, sadly, I’m also aware that this kind of book doesn’t work for me anymore. 

Ferri and Conrad produce about as good an Asterix book as any Uderzo has produced in the last 20 years, which is to say it’s enjoyable, funny, and absolutely charming even if the story isn’t a standout compared to the classic Asterix. Picky grown-up readers won’t mind this latest addition to the Asterix series, and it’s nostalgia still works for me but the real audience for these books, as they’ve always been, are the nonjudgmental kids. They’ll adore it, as they should. 

Asterix and Obelix Forever, By Toutatis!

Asterix and the Picts

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