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Asterix v13: “Asterix and the Cauldron”

Entrusted with a cauldron of coins, its disappearance brings shame upon Asterix, who is banished from his village until the money can be restored.

Asterix and the Cauldron cover by Albert Uderzo
Writer: Rene Goscinny
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion (Hachette)
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1969
Original Title: “Astérix et le Chaudron”

Best Name of the Month

Close runner-ups in this volume are a pair of actors named Laurensolivius and Alecguinus. (He was an actor before “Star Wars,” you know…)

The battle for this title was long over by the time they appeared on the page, though.

The winner is right there on the first panel of the first page.  It has all the qualities in it that I like. It’s ridiculously long — so long that it doesn’t fit comfortably into that word balloon. It makes sense on first reading it.  And it accurately describes the character.

And so I give you:

Chief  Whosemoralsarelastix!

He’s come to Asterix’s village to ask them to hide his money until the Roman tax collectors leave. This way, his village won’t lose any of it.

First, a quick step back into history….

This Week’s Quick History Lesson

Caesar was bad with money.  He was not a frugal man.  He was the Elton John of his day.  When he threw a party, it included everything plus the kitchen sink.  When he campaigned for political office, he spared no expense in buying votes and bribing people and whatever else was necessary. He worked the system well.

Did I mention the elephants he brought into his celebrations?

Part of the reason he fought the Gallic Wars (and wrote about them extensively) in the first place was to pay off the money he owed to other people.  He was deeply in debt, and the resources he could get from conquering Gaul would pay that all off, quite handsomely.

Caesar is in financial difficulty.

In “Asterix and the Cauldron,” word has come down that Caesar needs more money to straighten out his financial difficulties again, and that’s what kicks off this plot.  It’s a small sliver of actual history that Goscinny uses to spark this entire album.  I love that part.

We Have a Plot!  A Quest, Even!

Asterix places the cauldron filled with sestertii in his own house and stands guard outside.  In the morning, the money is gone!  Disappeared!  Stolen in the middle of the night, somehow!

This dishonors the village, and Chief Vitalstatistix is forced to kick Asterix out until he can repay the lost money.  Obelix and Dogmatix, of course, join him to help out.

They give one weak attempt at reclaiming the missing coins by walking into the local Roman camp and accusing them of having the money. They don’t find it there, but they do manage to bring chaos accidentally to the camp.

After that, Asterix and Obelix begin looking for ways to make money to refill the cauldron.  The problem is, they’re a little naive to the way the world works from being inside their Village all this time. They try a lot of different things to make money, and fail spectacularly at all of them.  They fail to understand simple rules of supply and demand.  Politics in a big city confuses them. Gambling baffles them.  They act first, and think later.

Asterix the Pitiful?

Honestly, this is not their best look, though it is interesting to see them looking so lost and confused. We’ve had plenty of books where they’ve just steamrolled over anyone with ultimate confidence and the plot never felt challenging.  In this book, it’s possible Goscinny strays a little too far in the opposite direction. Asterix and Obelix look pathetic, at times, like lost little school boys who have no hope.

Yet, it’s funny to see how they undermine people and places unknowingly.  By selling boar below market levels, they cripple the market.  (Problem is, that’s not really how things would work, but why split hairs?)  They take part in a stage play and the entire production gets arrested.  They stop for a meal and wind up, though miscommunications, destroying the place.

It’s just not their finest moment, but it is terribly funny.

In the end, and not at all surprisingly, Asterix catches on to what Chief Whosemoralsarelastix is up to, and things wrap up quite nicely. Goscinny set up the ending right from the beginning, covering up the clue in a bunch of jokes.  It’s great story craftsmanship.

Uderzo Shifts It Into Another Gear

Uderzo’s art is also particularly strong in this book.  As much as he’s had to draw in previous books, I think he draws even more of everything in this one  There’s not a single shortcut taken in this entire book. He has to draw plenty of crowd scenes, and each one is jam packed.  Every secondary and tertiary character is “acting” from the background.  It’s never just people standing around, filling space.

The foreground characters are gesturing beautifully, and always in three dimensional space.  This isn’t an artist who relies on simpler profile shots and straight-on drawings.  Uderzo makes everything look three dimensional with his better angles and layers in all panels.

It’s relentless and it’s more work and more characters per page than I think I’ve ever seen in any comic.  Even Peyo didn’t draw this many Smurfs on a page, on average!

Not Quite a Cliffhanger

The final scene on the cliffs where Chief Whosemoralsarelastix’s village is, looks great.  I love the overall design of the city on the hill.  The Chief’s house looks awesome.  And Uderzo stages the fight scene beautifully, from Asterix’s all-too-rare sword fight against the chief to the set-up and storytelling of Obelix’s joyous crushing of all the village’s citizens without breaking a sweat.  This panel, in particular, cracked me up:

Obelix prepares to knock out an entire village running uphill.

It reminds me of something Gary “The Far Side” Larsen liked to say: To get maximum comedic impact, don’t show the action.  Show something just before or just after the action.  That’s where the humor is.  It’s the anticipation of Obelix finally getting the fight he’s been itching for here and in seeing how it’s going to go where the humor comes from.

It’s the juxtaposition of the mad rush of all the villagers against Obelix’s almost bored-looking raised fist.  Obelix isn’t rearing back.  He isn’t spreading his feet open to get a better push into the punch.  He’s not even looking angry.

I think this is, artistically speaking, my favorite book of the series so far.  It’s Uderzo’s strongest effort. He even gets points for some complicated architecture and lots of animals of all shapes and sizes.  It’s slightly mind-blowing that he drew this on a weekly serialized basis for an anthology magazine and didn’t need a break either before or after.  He just kept drawing, like an endless machine.
 

The Word Play Is Relentless

Along those same lines, Goscinny’s wordplay (or Bell and Hockridge’s) in this book is wonderfully overloaded.  It comes so fast at you that you almost don’t notice it. That word that you think is a typo is actually a gag.  That misunderstanding is really just a pun.  The funny words show up in every balloon in every panel at times.

It is, as I said above, relentless.  I loved it.

The Village on Google Maps?

The opening overhead view of the village in Asterix and the Cauldron

Did Uderzo have a map of the village worked out?  I recognize Chief Vitalstatistix’s house on the first page.  The other houses fit right in with the style, but I’m not sure if it’s the same huts that were surrounding his house in previous volumes.

I’m not getting nit-picky about continuity here.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  I’m just jealous about the process and the thinking.  It would be neat if there’s a map somewhere with everything laid out and all the architecture identified.

Is this also the first volume we see Asterix’s home in? Probably, though we only ever see the outside.

Other Bits and Pieces

Some random gags I loved that don’t fit in anywhere else:

Asterix and Obelix attack the tax man, who talks in forms.  I laughed out loud.  Such a great visual gag that uses lettering to tell a story.

The Tax Man in Asterix and the Cauldron speaks in forms

Goscinny and Uderzo are self-referential twice in the book. First, there’s this funny moment, that works for me because Obelix’s title suggestion adds an extra dimension to the joke:

Obelix the Gaul would make fantastic reading

Second, they’re seen at the stage performance. That’s Goscinny off to the right making everyone laugh, and the handsome devil talking to the Roman is Uderzo.

Uderzo and Goscinny cameo in the crowd scene of the stage play scene

This empty location for the chariot race scene looks identical to the chariot race location from the movie, “Asterix at the Olympic Games.”  Let’s say the movie borrowed this set rather than they both used the same reference for the set.  I like to give comics as much credit as possible. 😉

One last point that’s interesting to note: The 2010 remastered edition kept closer to the original colors than any book I’ve run the comparison against so far.  There are differences and the overall tone of the book is brighter and more saturated, but the overall difference is not as huge as you might expect.  The original coloring of this volume feels a little different than immediately preceding books. It feels like there was already a more painterly feel for this book back in the day.  You can see it in some of the textures and shadow work.

Reading the Book Half a Page at a Time

I read this book over three sittings.  It’s just the way I had to move around my schedule this week.  I fit it in where I could.

The remarkable thing is how easily it reads that way. Since the book was originally serialized half a page at a time, there are natural breaks in the story at every half page.  If you need to put the book down and come back to it later, just read to the middle or bottom of the page and it’ll be easy to pick up where you left off.

It’s almost like reading a collection of comic strips that way.  Everything is self-contained, but reading things in groups can show you a bigger scope and a larger story.

Recommended?

Asterix and the Cauldron cover by Albert Uderzo

Yes!  It has a good story, lots of funny situations, and absolutely incredible art packing every panel by Albert Uderzo.  It almost feels like a short story collection, in the way that each attempt to make money becomes its own sub-adventure. The ending is a short but sweet action piece drawn with flair and great comedic timing.

I really, really like this one.

— 2018.037 —

Buy It Now

Amazon Print Books:

Next Book!

Damien insults Chief Vitalstatistix, which makes Obelix crack up.
He’s right, you know…

Asterix in Spain” is a pretty good description for volume 14. Asterix and Obelix head to the Iberian peninsula to return a particularly annoying boy back his village in Spain that’s holding out against Caesar’s forces. Also, we meet Unhygienix! Bring your fish to this one!

What do YOU think? (First time commenters' posts may be held for moderation.)

9 Comments

  1. I should mention that in 1960 our then-currency, the Franc was reevaluated and all of a sudden the value of things was divided by 100. That was the “New” Franc. For a very long time after that there was a genuine confusion in the population, especially regarding the price of very cheap products (like groceries) and very expensive ones (cars , houses). By the time I was old enough to get an allowance, in the mid-seventies, I remember my grandparents still being confused about how much to give me and my siblings for our birthdays or Christmas and a couple of times giving us 10 times more than they originally intended. Heck there are still elderly people today, almost 18 years after we switched again (to the Euro this time) who are doing a double conversion in their heads (and sometimes with pen and paper) back to the “ancient” Franc to make sure they’re not overpaying for something. So when you see our heroes confused about the market value of some items in this book, that was a very authentic concern in most of the French population at the time.
    I’d add that it’s very refreshing to see heroes (and really popular ones by that time) who are not definitely perfect.

  2. This is one of the good ones. I gave it 4.25, but it’s only that low to give some space for the upcoming books. I love how out of their depth Asterix and Obelix are.

    And I absolutely agree on the best name. Chief Whosemoralsarelastix is awesome. I like Confidencetrix too, but I think this is about the third character to use trix/tricks in a name.

    1. A couple of things I forgot to mention.

      1 – The pacing in this book was much improved. Where some of the earlier volumes have pulled out a solution in the last couple of pages and then bombed it through to the banquet, this one gave itself time so that Asterix could smell the coins and then go and have a proper confrontation with the real villain of the story. The book benefited greatly from that.

      2 – It was really nice to see some usually unlucky characters for once get a happy ending on the last page. Much like with the final panel in Asterix at the Olympic Games, I like it when the writer throws a bone to the villains.

  3. I absolutely love this one. For me this adds one of the final elements of the comics that hasn’t been seen yet, or certainly not in the way it is here. There are some really nasty villians, just plain nasty and even some of the other characters add a level of sinister appeal. I remember as a kid that the actors (to whom I will return) really kinda scared me. But Whosemoralsarelastix, the tax collector with his gloriously inhumanity, emphasised so wonderfully as Augie points out by the formal word ballons, even the various folks who play on Asterix and Obelix’s naivity all look really nasty. This has been done before in Goths, the theft in Banquet and a few others but not to this degree I would say. This book adds a subtle dark edge to the mix.

    This really adds to the heightened sense of peril and challenge in the book. The fact that our heroes are so out their depth again as covered in the main article, the real country bumpkins makes the story the most exciting to date. This gets underlined in the final scene where Asterix is forced to fight without the guarantee of magic potion.

    I get the impression that Goscinny really plays with this in the bank scene. All that effort, all that planning and yet they still end up just swigging potion and storming the castle, so to speak. Of course here the genius is the fact that it doesn’t advance their course at all. As Asterix says ‘…even the magic potion won’t help us’…. well actually it kinda does in the end, but lets just skip that huh!

    Again there is just so much packed in, it runs the danger of becoming like Banquet, a string of events hung together to support a loose theme. Except here the central story is so strong everything ties together really well and it feels entirely conhesive. Another point already covered is how much is packed into the art, which really struck home to me on the top panel page 14, the line of romans awaiting their pay. Each one looks like a perfectly designed character in their own right. Absolutely no short cuts.

    Again there is so much else that’s either been covered by Augie or I’ve whittered on too much to be worth fitting it. Lets see how the conversation develops.

    I have to be honest I can’t give my favourite favourite name to Whosemoralsarelastix as the ‘ix’ just feels tacked on (unless the last’ix’ as I have always read it is meant to be elastics… which only struck me on this read!) so I give to it Laurensolivius and Alacguinus, though I am tempted by Confidenstrix, but its a little obvious.

    Anyway this is the book that finally breaks my scoring model, which I’ve known is on its last legs for a while and its my favourite to date and gets a very healthy

    11 out of 10

    1. I always read it as “elastic” – so technically the “s” bit of the “x” doesn’t belong, but I’m fine with that.

    1. Don’t worry. I just finished Asterix in Spain and I think I got less than half of the pun names in that.

        1. It IS a good one. =)

          Working on my review. Should be up on Tuesday or Wednesday. At this point, I’d guess Wednesday just to play it safe.