Asterix v2 Asterix and the Golden Sickle cover detail

Asterix v2: “Asterix and the Golden Sickle”

Writer: Rene Goscinny
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Colorist: Marcel Uderzo
Lettering: Bryony Newhouse
Translator: Anthea Bell, Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion Books (a division of Hachette)
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1961

Asterix and Obelix go shopping for a Golden Sickle, but need to get past bandits, Romans, and crooks to get one.

How to Start Your Story

Rene Goscinny wastes no time with this one. The story needs a quest to sparks an adventure that gets Asterix and Obelix out of the village and across Europe.  He pulls that off within the first three pages.

Asterix teases the Druid Getafix

Asterix teases the Druid Getafix

Here’s how: Getafix breaks his golden sickle.  To make the magic potion that gives Asterix his strength, Getafix needs that sickle.  Since the potion is “magic,” we don’t question the need of so specific a tool to make it. Also, you don’t really care nor do you need to ponder the magic system of Asterix.  You just want the adventure, so let’s go!

In this case, the source for a new golden sickle is with Metallurgix in Lutetia, though it means traveling through some sketchy places.  Getafix needs one before he travels to the Druid convention.  Lutetia is “a long way off” and Getafix needs to leave for his convention “soon.”

Asterix offers to make the trip for Getafix, and Obelix joins him, naturally.  Off they go!

Asterix and Obelix are warned that Lutetia is a dangerous place

Goscinny does so many things right from a storytelling point of view in these first pages. He establishes the problem and the consequences of not solving it. There’s a ticking time bomb with the conference coming up soon. Then, by setting the fix for this so far away, he adds a complication to the solution. And by making it a dangerous road, he adds another one.

Nothing in this story is happening because people think it might be a good idea or because it would be nice to do something.  Things are happening because they have to, and they have to happen quickly, and it won’t be easy.  For a book that’s a comedy, Goscinny has already added in all the great parts of a drama to propel it.

The gags will come — and they come very quickly — but not unless there’s a reason for all of it.  That helps to make the book feel “important.”

Lesson to learn here: Comedy without drama feels hollow.

 

On to Lutetia

Once in Lutetia, Asterix and Obelix have to play nice and not antagonize the Romans

Of course, Asterix and Obelix encounter and handily defeat plenty of bandits along the way. When they get to Lutetia, the large size of the village impresses them. It’s like a city to them, filled with people living fancy and polluting.  They’re rude to each other on the streets when their horse-drawn chariots pass each other, and there’s corruption around every corner.

By the way, have I mentioned yet that “Lutetia” is another name for Paris?  Yeah, there’s that.

As it turns out, Metallurgix is missing.  Suddenly, a quick shopping trip becomes a mystery to be solved with a cast of characters who are all involved in one way or another.

There’s the bar owner who closes up his shop and moves out of town as soon as Metallurgix’s name is mentioned.  Italian restauranteur, Navishtrix, is capitalizing on Metallurgix’s disappearance by selling sickles at a hefty markup.  There’s my favorite name in the whole book, Clovogarlix. He’s the hired muscle. Strong, but dumb. (“Clovogarlix.”  Gets me every time.)

The Roman centurion, who is like the chief of police in town, wants to arrest Asterix and lock him up forever.  Next to him is the bored, lazy, and hungry Surplus Dairiprodus (!), who can’t muster the energy to enforce the law too heavily.  He’s bored and can’t be bothered to work, unless really pushed.

Asterix and Obelix find themselves going around in circles with all these people, often creating hilarious running gags. The best of these is their propensity to get thrown into jail.  Obelix casually breaks them back out at will, and they make quick friends there with a drunk who provides some key information.

 

Asterix and The Smurfs

The Smurfs stories happened in medieval times, which is roughly between 500 and 1500 AD.  Asterix is set in 50 BC.  That’s a big difference in time periods, but architecture was still limited to the available tools and materials.

It’s no surprise, then, that the two worlds share similar architecture in their villages. From the opening page of this Asterix volume:

Asterix's village reminds me a lot of the Smurfs' village

 

And, then, Smurf Village:

Smurf Village overview with plenty of mushroom houses, from "A Smurf Not Like the Others" by Peyo and friends

 

Or, wait, given that Asterix’s village had a wall surrounding it to keep out the Romans, maybe this is a better image to use, from “The Smurf King”:

Smurf Village with surrounding wall from "The Smurf King"

 

Best Names of the Book

Clovogarlix appears in Asterix and the Golden Sickle

Clovogarlix wins!  That’s no contest.

 

Asterix's Roman prefect is based on actor Charlie Haughton

By MGM photographer Clarence Bull – eBay, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19298756

In any other book, the local Prefect, Surplus Dairiprodus, might have taken the crown. He is modeled after the actor, Charles Haughton.

The Prefect ages quickly in this book, by the way.  His hair goes from yellow in his earlier appearances to white at the end.  (Do I win a No Prize for explaining a coloring mistake?)

 

Page Formatting (and the Big Boo-Boo?)

“Asterix” originally appeared in the weekly “Pilote” magazine. These albums are collections of those strips, essentially.  I’m not sure how they formatted the magazine or how much story appeared in each issue, but you can generally see how Uderzo drew the comics.  Each page in the album is made up of two distinct pages of art, each with two tiers of panel art.  Uderzo tapes them together to form the final page.

Essentially, Uderzo worked twice-up.  Take a full size page, hold it sideways, and that’s the top half of your page.  Repeat for the bottom half.  This gives the artist plenty of room on the page to draw in all the backgrounds and add as much detail as he might want.

If it wasn’t for the page numbers in the lower right corners of the second and fourth tiers of every page, you might not ever notice that.  They have the same page number, but the top half is “A” and the bottom half is “B”.

Goscinny’s story flows well, but each half-page reads well on its own. I’m sorry to have pointed this out if you never noticed before, because now you’ll see pages one half at a time.

I bring all this up because something weird happens in the final 11 pages of this book. I don’t know how this happened, but it looks like Uderzo measured out his pages wrong, or only drew one tier at a time or something.  Suddenly, instead of looking like complete pages of art, those last few pages resemble comic strips where four days’ worth of strips were stacked up per printed page in the book.  There’s a large margin of white space between the strips. It’s very weird.

I couldn’t find any theories online with a search, but perhaps my Google-fu is weak.  Anyone know anything about this one?

 

Asterix to Obelix Ratio

It’s very early on for the series here.  Uderzo is still finding his way, artistically, with the book.  Check out the proportions here between the diminutive Asterix and the large (but not fat!) Obelix. That’s something Uderzo still had to work out.

Asterix and Obelix in silhouette

Whenever I look at that first panel, Asterix looks huge to me.  The evolution of the two characters is interesting, and something to keep an eye on in the next few albums.

 

Recommended?

Asterix Project v2 Asterix and the Golden SIckle

Yup.  We get to see Asterix and Obelix working together and getting further away from the village than just the Roman camps.  This is the start of their travels that bring about some of the biggest laughs in the course of the series.  It starts in Paris here, but future volumes will take Asterix to such far off places as Germany, Italy, Spain, England, Belgium, and more.  And in each one, we’ll see Goscinny pick apart the local cultures for as many gags as he can get.  In comparison to other albums like “Asterix in Belgium” and “Asterix in Britain,” this book is relatively restrained, though the gags related to driving and the bad roads leading into town are pretty good.

Goscinny starts the story quickly and gives them all the reasons in the world to do what they do here.  He leaves plenty of room for them to do it, which means Asterix and Obelix get to have fun in the big city torturing a whole new group of bad people.

— 2018.006 —

 

Buy It Now

 

Next Week

The Asterix Agenda returns for “Asterix and the Goths,” wherein Asterix and Obelix accompany Getafix to the Druids’ annual conference that they had to get him a sickle for in this volume.  The problem is, the Goths want Getafix and will stop at nothing to take him.

Oh, and then the Romans show up.

It’s kinda chaotic.  You’re going to love it.  And, yes, Obelix gets to punch some Romans, so a good time is had by all.

Asterix and the Goths, where Obelix still finds Romans to punch

9 Comments

  • dancondonjones January 22, 2018 at 2:33 pm

    Another excellent book. In my ready through I’ve rated this (and Asterix the Gaul) 4.5/5.

    One thing really clear is that even this early on, Underzo is giving each character their own body language. You could look at line drawings of Surplus Dairiprodus, Clovogarlix and Navishtrix and know instantly which one was which.

    Now when I get home I’ll have to check Surplus Dairiprodus’s hair. I’m pretty sure he’s blonde all the way through my one.

    Reply
    • Augie January 22, 2018 at 2:49 pm

      In the 2004 editions, they just forgot to color his hair in the last few pages. It’s weird that they missed that. (Maybe it was on a layer that got dropped in Photoshop, who knows?) I love Uderzo’s gestures and body language. The way characters act always impresses me. It’s not just a stock set of ten poses he’s constantly reusing.

      Reply
      • dancondonjones January 22, 2018 at 3:58 pm

        I just checked. He’s actually white haired throughout the book.

        Reply
        • dancondonjones January 23, 2018 at 3:59 am

          Oh and I can’t believe I never spotted that the event Getafix needs his sickle for is the same one he goes to in this book. I blame the completely random numbering the old edidtions of the books hadnwhic IIRC had Asterix and Cleopatra as the second book.

          A bit odd that the whole event only seems to last about half an hour though.

          Reply
  • Colin Taylor January 23, 2018 at 3:25 am

    Well read this as well last night to get up to steam and so I’ll join in now.

    Firstly having seen Dan’s (I think it is apologies if not) scoring I’ve decided to do my own, slightly wonky scale. See I want to make sure I give enough room to show the different quality of the Asterix books, but not under scoring the ones I don’t like as much as others. So I’m going for the –

    Asterix factored 0 – 10 scale:

    So all books are marked 0-10 (obvious hey) BUT its unlikely you will see an Asterix book (certainly the Goscinny one score below 5. The apparently redundant 0-4 on the scale are to acknowledge the 80% or so other comics I read and enjoy that just aren’t as good as any Asterix book. Hence all Asterix books get the respect they deserve, but I have room to show appreciation of different levels of the various Asterix books.

    So Asterix the Gaul gets a 7/10. Mainly because I forgot just how snigger out loud funny it is, while still having a way to go in terms of how fantastic some of the later comics are.

    Golden Sickle therefore gets a 6/10

    Why? Well its good and I like the fact that the plot becomes far more involved than ‘The Gaul’. Its not as funny and there are still some significant develops to come. I tried to review volumes on their own merit without anticipating how much will evolve… I failed so all of these reviews are based on the fact that I’ve read all these books so many times, even if not recently.

    Both story and art aren’t quite there yet. Both have clearly developed and there are hints of whats to come. I think the art speaks for itself so I’ll focus on story. As this one is quite plot heavy the jokes don’t quite as quick as ‘The Gaul’. The story starts to lay the building block, a couple of things stand out to me. Firstly there are more moments of ‘dark’ commentary and some of the characters hint at the almost sinister undertows that will come. I adore Surplus Dairiprodus (he has my favourite name), but he’s a prototype of future villains. Secondly the relationship between Asterix and Obelix is developing nice, I was particularly fond of their squabble in the forest. Its just not the nose to nose blow out I look forward to.

    One thing I admire about these early books is how Goscinny effortlessly develops ‘safe’ jeopardy. There’s a sense that there is risk, there is challenge, there is danger… but not too much. Asterix selects when to get captured and when not. Nothing is scary, but it retains a sense of excitement all the same.

    This is great story, given its score better than 85% of the comics I read, its just not classic Asterix, but its showing clear and present signs of what will come.

    On a side note a BIG thank you to Augie (and Dan – if that is your name) for inspiring me to do this. I set aside my re-read of Blueberry and 2000ad to read the first two Asterix volumes last night and had such a blast doing so. The comments here are also making me think much more about these books than before. They’ve previously just been bedrocks of how I define good fun comics, I’m not given them the time and consideration they deserve. Hats off to you folks….now if only the kids would take the hint and follow my led, I think its time for another go at getting them to love Asterix beyond the films…

    Reply
    • dancondonjones January 23, 2018 at 3:56 am

      My name is indeed Dan.

      I have to admit, Asterix the Gaul and Asterix and the Golden Sickle are two of my favourites. There will be plenty of lower scores coming up from me. With Asterix the Gaul it is largely the humour, but also seeing Asterix and Getafix’s intelligence on display. Asterix and the Golden Sickle is just a great old fashioned detective story. I wish Asterix had more of those.

      Reply
    • Augie January 30, 2018 at 2:26 pm

      Thanks, Colin, for adding all your thoughts to this discussion. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun comparing notes as we go along here. You’re right about the safe jeopardy — the Magic Potion almost always mitigates real harm, and the violence is always that cartoon violence that’s played for laughs. Nobody ever gets hurt physically. You only defeat people (so far in the first three books) by outwitting them or shaming them or exposing them. Hmm, this might be worth discussing in a future review. Thanks, I’m making a note of it now .;-)

      As for villains — yeah, there’s deeper ones yet to come, and I’m sure I’ll miss some of it, given how much of it later on is based on French politics at the time. But we’ll fill in those gaps as we go. It’s going to be fun.

      Now, if only there was a way to see an English-captioned version of the Asterix films. sigh. (I really want to see the most recent CGI one, in particular. The trailer of it looks good.)

      Reply
  • JC Lebourdais January 23, 2018 at 8:58 am

    These are the early days of Asterix when Goscinny was still getting his plot ideas from actual historical elements (druids use sicles), Very soon he would move away from that, into a more character-driven storytelling. Compare that to other history-based series like the Bluecoats in which all the way Cauvin still finds real-life nuggets to fuel his plots.
    The format: Indeed PILOTE’s original format was oversized compared to the albums, hence the half-and-half structure of original pages of art, considering half page ads were often placed at the top or the bottom of the strips (Asterix was very quickly the most popular series of the magazine, so it had more ads there than most). The weekly layout had to be flexible for all anyway. I will see if I can dig up from my original Omnibus PILOTE collection to show you an example of this. Very similar to the way silver age American comics were designed until the late 70s (early 80s?) where the original page format went smaller.
    Here is an example:
    https://www.ebay.fr/itm/Pilote-reliure-editeur-n-1-1959-1960-BE/302118038360?hash=item4657a36b58:g:XzYAAOSwB09YD3ed

    Reply
    • Augie January 30, 2018 at 9:21 am

      Funny enough, some of my favorite “Lucky Luke” books are the ones based on historical incidents (like the Oklahoma land rush) or people (like Freud or Judge Bean). But Goscinny didn’t always do that with Luke, either.

      Thanks for the eBay link with the scans from Pilote. I’ve only been going by some original art scans I can find on ComicArtFans.com, so that’s where I got the half-page thing from. That makes a lot of sense now.

      Reply

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