Asterix and Obelix go shopping for a Golden Sickle, but need to get past bandits, Romans, and crooks to get one.
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Lettering: Bryony Newhouse
Translator: Anthea Bell, Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion Books (a division of Hachette)
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1961
Original Title: “La serpe d’or”
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.
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!
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
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:
And, then, the Smurf Village:
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”:
(Or you can visit a Smurf theme park…)
Best Names of the Book
Clovogarlix wins! That’s no contest.
In any other book, the local Prefect, Surplus Dairiprodus, might have taken the crown. He is modeled after the actor, Charles Laughton.
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.
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.
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. 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
In The Next Book!
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.