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