Asterix in Corsica cover detail by Albert Uderzo

Asterix v20: “Asterix in Corsica”

“Asterix in Corsica” sends Asterix back out on the road!  Corsica seems like an interesting place. It’s an island filled with character. And bushes. And little pocket knife thingies.

“Asterix in Corsica” sends Asterix back out on the road!  Corsica seems like an interesting place. It’s an island filled with character. And bushes. And little pocket knife thingies.

Corsican Credits

Asterix in Corsica cover by Albert Uderzo
Writer: Rene Goscinny
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Translators: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion (Hachette)
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1973

What’s Going On?

A Corsican captured by the Romans is being held in the Roman fortress outside of Asterix’s village.  This happens to be the anniversary of the battle at Gergovia, and the Gauls celebrate that by attacking the local Roman camps for fun.  This time, they get more than they were counting on when they find the Corsican hostage.  (Most of the Romans fled “on maneuvers” knowing what was about to happen.)

They liberate the prisoner and bring him back to the village for a meal and some chit chat.  In the end, Asterix and Obelix head to Corsica with him to observe how the Corsicans deal with Romans.  This is Asterix the Diplomat, with a final cultural exchange that benefits all Gauls.

The Corsicans line up to show Asterix and Obelix how they deal with Romans

Of course, it never goes so simply.  Asterix and Obelix get caught up in a rivalry between two Corsican factions, brawl with the Romans, and trek through the overgrown forests of the island.

They’ll need to make peace, make war, and find their way across rugged terrains (in that order) to learn what they came for before heading home in safety.

Who Are the Corsicans?

Obelix would make a great Corsican

Like so many Asterix books, the quality of the new characters is often what drives the book.  It’s Asterix and Obelix reacting to this new culture that drives a lot of laughs.  And for those of us on the other side of the Atlantic, these are new cultures for the readers, too.

But even if you did know about the general place and people, it’s the lead protagonists of the books that bring a specific  direction to the story.  That drives Asterix and Obelix into action in different ways, depending on the circumstances.

This isn’t merely a story about lazy people.  It’s also about the 50 BC-equivalent of the mafia. That’s what the Corsicans remind me of the most, with those big almost Roman noses, the slicked back black hair, and the family vendettas. This all makes sense when you dig into the island’s history.  It’s closer, geographically, to Italy than France, and was ruled by the Roman empire after the Punic Wars.  Seneca was exiled there, for goodness’ sake, before he was eventually killed for allegedly conspiring against Nero.  (I happen to be listening to the “History of Rome” podcast right now at the time Seneca was a character in the greatest soap opera of the world…)

I love the Corsicans as the caricature presented in this book.

This entire book depends on the stereotype of the Corsican people.  I’m not sure there’s a direct parallel to an American group that I cold draw here.  Overall, the Corsicans in this book look like the laziest mafia organization you could imagine.  Honor and family above all else, but the daily siesta is a must, and being laid back and — dare I say it? — lazy is a must.  They’re also very proud of their island and their culture and will protect it at all costs.  They might make fun of themselves, but don’t you dare.

Corsica is famously Napoleon Bonaparte’s place of birth.  That gets referenced in the book, of course:

The Corsican who stands like a Napoleon

But, First, An Asterix Reunion

It's a line up of old friends greeting Asterix

It is the anniversary of the Battle at Gergovia.  That’s the closest to victory the Gauls ever came again Julius Caesar. It would be followed up by the disastrous Battle at Alesia, when the Gauls would fatefully fall.  (Fare the well, Vercingetorix.)

No specific date is given for what year this is and which anniversary.  The battle was fought in September of 52 B.C., though.  A few volumes ago, “Asterix in Spain” gives the date as March 17, 45 BC.   Caesar was assassinated ops March 15, 44 BC, nearly one year later to the day, so it couldn’t have been the tenth anniversary.

Come to think of it, if the stories are in chronological order, there’s only a one year span of time for all the adventures of Asterix after the “Spain” book.

Stop thinking about continuity.  You’ll only hurt your head.  Enjoy the funny stuff, instead.

It's an Asterix reunion with characters from previous volumes
I include this panel because everyone on the internet enjoys a little political humor…

The village has invited anyone who’s ever sparred against the Romans to come join in the festivities. It’s an all star cast with a lot of reunions from previous Asterix stories.  You’ll recognize them as they appear, but they include Huevos y Bacon and his son from “Asterix in Spain“, Anticlimax and Dipsomaniax from “Asterix in Britain“, Winesanspirix from “Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield“, and at least three characters from “Asterix and the Banquet“.

The beginning of this book feels almost like a victory lap of Asterix’s success that way.  This is the last book to be serialized in Pilote Magazine, so some people like to think it was a celebration of that.  Maybe it’s just entertaining filler until we get to the Corsicans.  Maybe Uderzo just felt like drawing a few old friends instead of designing more new people for the book.  I don’t know, but it’s certainly a lot of fun for those of us following the series from book to book.

It’s not like we learn anything new about the characters.  It’s a little reunion, but not a follow-up of “What are they up to now?” proportions.  It’s just fun to see them.  There’s so little continuity in Asterix, which is for the best, but it would be fun to see old friends once in a while as the series progresses.

Uderzo Draws Great Crowd Shots

Uderzo continues to impress with his establishing shots and architectural drawings with this book. It feels like there are more of those in recent books, but I haven’t gone back to count or anything.

I love the busy crowd shots.  This one featuring a line-up of Roman soldiers, in particular, wowed me:

A line of Roman soldiers looking for a fight in Corsica

Uderzo does so many little things right here.  I like the low angle he chooses, and then I love the way the Romans are walking up a hill past where the point of view would be.

The characters are all individuals.  The Roman fighting force trained together and, like most armies, learn how to work as a group and not be individuals anymore.  It’s how they stay alive.  But here, every soldier looks different and every one has slightly different body language.  Some stride forward, looking for war. Others are looking the other way.  Their legs aren’t all in lockstep.  They’re at different heights.

Their shields are in the right positions given their strides, but they’re also all tilted in different ways.  They almost form a wave going from front to back.

Their leader’s front foot breaks the panel border, and it works because he is the closest thing in the panel.  Uderzo can get away with that.

I even just noticed how the mountains and tree lines in the background are shaped to mimic the line of the soldiers.  It’s a triangle that points down towards the back of the line.

Uderzo Also Draws Environments and Cities

There are environmental landscapes throughout the book, too, including one page that tells a story entirely from word balloons poking up out of the forested area Asterix and friends are traversing.

I love the Corsican architecture:

Uderzo draws the streets of Corsica with the stone buildings and dirt roads

And then there’s the lush green environments of the island, which features a mountain chain dominating the bulk of the island:

Uderzo draws a landscape shot in Corsica, complete with a relaxing Druid

There’s a lot going on in this panel, so I made sure to include it at a larger size.

First of all, that’s Lethargix the Druid.  That’s kind of the joke with the Corsicans — they’re all lazy.

Second, I love how Uderzo draws the reader into the scene.  It’s a little odd that it works right to left, but your eye is first caught by the white robes of the Druid, and then naturally moves up and to the left to follow each character along the way, as they move deeper and deeper into the scene.   Everyone is facing the same way, so your eye naturally keeps looking in that direction, even though the word balloon order goes the other way.

Maybe you read this panel by the balloons, in which case it works better.  You follow the balloons which follow the people, which carries your eye from back to front.  It’s better that way, and shows what strong power a good lettering job adds to a piece of sequential art.

Third, Uderzo also adds extreme close-up and extreme distant items in the show. Here, you get the bushes in the lower left corner and the tree roots in the lower right to come up closest to the reader.  Each character (including the donkey) occupies their own plane going back to the distance. Your eye continues past the Corsican to the back hills and out all the way to where the ocean meets the sky.

Uderzo fills every layer of the panel.

All the detail is up front, and that detail gets hazier as you go further back.  That’s how it works in real life, too.  The trees get silhouetted about halfway back, and the in mountains further back you can barely just make out vague outlines of their outer edges here and there.

I love this panel.  It’s a single illustration that shows how strong Uderzo’s game was.

Best Name in the Book

This book is in overdrive when it comes to the names.  Picture a list of all the names made up by Goscinny, Bell, and Hockridge over the course of the first ten volumes.  Double it.  That’s about how many you get in this book.

This is a gathering of the tribe chieftains of Corsica, for example:

The Corsican chieftains have similar yet crazy names

Admit it — you suddenly want some tomato sauce and a big plate of pasta, don’t you?

Even more impressive than that, though, the first page of this book is a map of Corsica, with a listing of all the town names and all the Roman fortified camps.  It’s — intense.

The map of Corsica from Asterix v20

That’s just the southern tip of the island. The whole thing is close to three times that size, with a total of 50 different names dotted around the landscape.

At some point, the cuteness of these names starts to wear off, but there are still some humdingers in this book that are worth pointing out.

I like the Latin-named town, “Quoderatdemonstrandum” which used “Quod erat demonstrandum” or, as we better know it, “Q.E.D.”, as its base.

But the winner for the Best Name of the Book this week goes to the lead character, for a change.  Boneywasawarriorwayayix is just a ridiculous name. His original French name is another winner, Ocatarinetabellachitchix. That names comes from a famous song by a Corsican I would never know anything about.

That’s why it sounds like an utter nonsense word to my American ears, because there’s zero chance I’d ever had heard that song before. Bell and Hockridge subbed in a name that comes from a sea shanty about Napoleon, “Boney Was a Warrior.”  Again, that’s far too obscure for my American ears to ever “get.”

In the end, it’s silly to have such a long name and that’s what I found humorous.

Special Mention goes to Courtingdisastus, though.

Banquets Galore

This book has no less than three banquets in it.

It starts with the anniversary celebration of the Battle of Gergovia, where the Gauls had their last success against Caesar before the fateful battle at Alesia.

At the end of the adventure in Corsica, the Corsicans throw a banquet for Asterix and Obelix.

And then, on the very last page, there is the traditional end-of-book banquet back in the village.

Please pass the boar.

The Alternate Text Page Introduction

The digital version available on Izneo right now includes a text page introduction signed by “The Authors.” It’s not in the English print edition, unfortunately, probably for pagination reasons. (The print editions stick religiously to the 48 page count.)

I’m not quite sure what to make of it.  Did they get some blowback from Corsicans for making them look lazy?  Were they trying to head that off at the pass?   Did they just think the text page would be funny?  Because it is.  It’s hilarious.

I could probably reprint the whole thing here under Fair Use, but it still feels weird.  So here’s what I’ll do.

First, I’ll describe the text page as an open letter to Asterix fans extolling the virtues of the great island of Corsica. Famous singers come from there, chestnuts, and strong personalities.  It’s a beautiful world.

And, second, I’ll deliver the punchline:

Asterix and the Corsicans text preamble

That last line made me laugh out loud.  Feels like a Steven Martin punchline.  Or maybe Rowan Atkinson.

For More on Corsica

One Last Cute Thing

The kids of the village play pretend Asterix and Obelix

The book opens with the kids of the village, who we don’t see that often, playing pretend Asterix and Obelix.  It’s super cute.

No, Wait, One More One Last Thing

A quick quote from Wikipedia, because it’s an interesting bit of trivia:

The stereotypes of Corsicans seen in the album (pride, vendetta, feuds, old men sitting and commenting, grim glares) are thought to apply also to the Cretans; Greek publishers Mamouthcomix released a special translation of the album in Cretan Greek.

Ain’t that something?

“Asterix in Corsica”: Recommended?

Asterix in Corsica cover by Albert Uderzo

Yes, I love the Corsicans.  There’s something wonderfully snippy about them.  They work against Obelix perfectly. Uderzo’s art will catch your eye multiples times in this book, including all the line-ups of Roman warriors he drew on panel.  Getting to see old friends from previous books in the beginning of the book was a real treat, too.

I can’t complain too much here.

— 2018.055 —

Buy It Now

And available digitally in Europe here:

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

23 Comments

  1. I’d forgotten how much I loved those moaning legionnaries when I was kid. “Join the army, they said … See the world, they said”.
    Interestingly, there is historical precedent for this. Tacitus records a moment when the legionnaries are in rebellious mood because they have to spend all their time building those bloody roads that we all love much today.
    Your Asterix posts are wonderful, Augie. They’re a highlight of my week.

    1. Thanks, Alastair, glad you’re enjoying them. I hope they continue to be as entertaining and we enter the post-Goscinny years in a few weeks and I fear what I might have to write about. 😉

  2. One of the most underrated books in the series, I rarely hear it discussed, but it’s one of the best for sure.

    My favorite bit of the book that you don’t mention is how you better not mess with his sister if you know what’s good for you.

    I have to admit I didn’t care much for the anniversary visitors, it’s a neat touch, but it would hav been cool if they had a more important role to play besides beating up romans; having a whole story involving them in a significant way would be more rewarding as a reader. As it is, to me it just highlights how there really are not any recurring characters at all, except for Julius Ceasar and those poor pirates.

    1. Yeah, I’m not a fan of the visitors either. That gets really bad in some of the post-Goscinny books.

    2. From a pure storytelling point of view, yes, the visitors are absolutely pointless. He did it in “Switzerland”, too, which starts with a couple pages of Vitalstatistix shield gags COMPLETELY unrelated to the main story. But, then, I “Switzerland” wasn’t one of my favorite books, either. I think I give Goscinny a little more leeway here just out of sheer nostalgia and a celebration of 20 books. Otherwise, the randomness would offend my critical sensibilities. 😉

  3. This one gets a solid 3.5/5 for me (which still makes it better than non-Asterix 3.5/5 books).

    I love Boneywasawarriorwayayix and all of the Corsicans. The “you like my sister” bit was hilarious. That said, the plot was a bit weak.

    Name-wise Boneywasawarriorwayayix clearly wins. I actually have an album with Boney Was a Warrior on – but I still don’t know what the “wayayix” bit is supposed to sound like. Other favourites for me: Tedium, Humdrum, Chewingum, Hum and Courtingdisastus.

    Not a bad book, but it does feel that the later we get, the bigger the difference in quality is between the travelling books and the village ones.

    1. I’ve already read “Caesar’s Gift.” It’s still a village book, but — oh, boy. I’m beginning to think the decline has begun…. But we’ll talk about that in detail next week. I’m still working out some things on that review.

      1. Ouch. That’s one of my favourites. That said I haven’t read it in 20+ years, so I’ll see how I feel in a day or two.

  4. “Not a bad book, but it does feel that the later we get, the bigger the difference in quality is between the travelling books and the village ones.”

    Can’t help but agree with Dan here and I think that’s why I’m not as big a fan of Corsica as I feel I should be – though in IAMFear7 I’ve always had the impression this one is very well regarded? Either way it certainly deserves a good reputation… its just as I’ve said before when things are this good its the little subjective things that determine how well I regard a book.

    Why should I regard it so highly, well it offers so much. Its funny, its sharp and much like Switzerland its setting offers so much for Uderzo to get his teeth into. His depiction of Corsica could have come right out of the Corsican tourists boards guide – it looks so stunning, open and fresh. Beautiful. On top of that as ever characters are realised so well and the acting is just perfect. I love the way that Uderzo uses silent, static panels to hold a moment on a few occasion, to build the tension of folks nose to nose with those emotional Corsicans, just brilliant. The story is fun, plays nicely with the Romans again and makes some superb use of the pirates. Everything about this story should scream favourite…

    … so why isn’t it… dunno to be honest… well maybe I do. As Augie says the real stars of the travel books are the folks that Asterix and Obelix meet and that is probably true here more than ever before. To be honest Asterix and Obelix feel like passengers. This shouldn’t really be a problem as I think I should like it as it offers great new story opportunities and if I’m honest that is exploited here. Alas I’m not sure its what I’m after, not when you consider the way Goscinny plays with the Gauls in the village set stories. We know those characters so well now introducing and closing a story with a new cast as here makes things feel a little slight. Also Asterix’s moving speech to pull the warring tribes together feels a little lightweight.

    Still it is great and deserves its place in the golden age… just at the lower end there of. It has to rank below Legionary and sits well with Spain so it gets

    9.5

    Names, oh the names, as said so many great ones I’m particularly fond of Opossum – one of the forts on the map, for no other reason that its so random. I have to say I’ve never been a big fan of Bonywasawarrio… whatever as its always felt a bit cumbersome. So for me the clear winner in this volume is Courtingdisastus, he’s a great character too. Reminds me very much of Oleaginus in Normans.

    1. “To be honest Asterix and Obelix feel like passengers.” And that’s the problem right there. I can’t believe I didn’t express this better in the review. I hinted at it when I talked about the Corsicans being so interesting, but — Asterix and Obelix are the protagonists who don’t drive the story. Aside from Asterix jumping in at the last minute to calm the uprising between families and bring peace to the island, he and Obelix don’t do anything. They follow along and learn. This isn’t drama; this is a travelogue. When your main character is only reacting to events and never being pro-active, that’s when the drama gets sucked right out of a story.

      In other books, they have a mission that they’re going on, whether it’s a race around France to collect food, or a trip to Switzerland to get a flower to save someone’s life, or a trip to Spain to return a kid to his family and save them from the Romans, or a trip to Italy to save the life of a villager’s fiancee.

      Here, the only reason they really go to Corsica is to observe. That’s not going to drive a story. The comedy is still funny, but there’s not that driving force behind it. There’s not even a ticking time bomb that they’re racing to stop before it blows up, like the time they had to get the Laurel Wreath before the Chief was scheduled to have dinner with his brother-in-law.

      I may copy-and-paste this into the review now. Thanks for the spark.

  5. This is a darn near perfect review so I have almost nothing to add 😉

    You got it in a nutshell, to characterize the corsicans to an american audience, Lazy Mafia is spot on. For the purpose of the translation, B&H went full-on on the italian puns and analogies, which is not necessarily in the original, but for international readers, it’s close enough so they get a pass from me on that.
    Fun fact: they are famous for blowing stuff up that they don’t like (such as continentals’ vacation houses) which still happens today, once in a while. Hence the joke about the explosive cheese.
    I’d never seen this additional intro page about corsicans, it’s the most hilarious PC statement I’ve ever seen. Very soon you’ll see giant warnings for asian stereotypes in Lucky Luke.

    In the original french intro page to each volume, the story is set to take place in 50 BC, so that would make it just a handful of years after that battle we won and that other one we do not name, fresh in the characters’ minds that it’s being mentioned over and over again. Shades of pas glory.

    This reunion of sorts with previous protagonists showing up in this volume is the first attempt at continuity in an Asterix book so far. I’d never thought of it as a swan song for Pilote readers but you might be right in seeing it that way, who knows. There is a very famous Uderzo piece of art called the Family Album where he portrays almost everyone major posing for a big group portrait:
    rue-des-puzzles.com/ravensburger-puzzle-1000-pieces-asterix-et-obelix–photo-de-famille.40062.html

    It was turned into everything from posters to jigsaw puzzles to a whopping 13-box figurine display:
    pixifolies.com/Pixi/31110/pixi-uderzo-50eme-anniversaire-asterix-la-photo-de-famille

    Re: the song, watch is here on youtube, remove the blanks (let’s see if I can get away with multiple links by being sneaky). Tino Rossi was our Frank Sinatra, sort of. 1930s women were as crazy about him as the Bobbysoxers. this video is from some movie where it was featured, as they used to do back then.
    youtube.com/watch?v=ECror0Ub3wg

    Also, if you want to buy some traditional corsican cutlery, here is where you go:
    atelierlopignais.com/couteau-corse.html

    For me this is one of the best books in the series, easily in my top 3, not sure why some would see it as underrated (Hi Colin), but Corsica is so ingrained in French culture that maybe it loses a bit from the translation.

    1. Quick meta note: Your first submission of this comment went to moderation because it has multiple URLs. I don’t have a clue why it published cleanly the second time, though. That’s weird.

        1. Ah, I see now why your comment went through the second time: Without the http in front of each URL, the filter didn’t recognize them as weblinks and passed them through as plaintext. I went back in and converted them back to links now, so everything is good. =)

    2. I need to buy that puzzle just so I can make it, glue it down in place, frame it, and hang it on my wall. I love that image! Or maybe I’ll just track down a poster….

      Thanks for the Tino Rossi link. I got through the first half, and just woke up now… 😉

      And those are some serious looking Corsican blades on there. Wouldn’t want to meet anyone in a dark alley holding one of them!

      1. Hehe yes he tended to have that effect on people, well into his sixties, that’s some serious sugar, man 😀

  6. FYI, I remember the French version also having the preface about the Corsicans. Not to be PC, but because it’s in keeping with the recurring joke in the book about how sensitive they are. I think this book is hilarious. And I don’t really care whether A and B have a more active or passive role, it’s the comedy and the characters that make it for me, as with any other story.

  7. Boneywasawarriorwayayix is a caricature of Paul Giannoli a Corsican journalist whom Goscinny and Uderzo knew from Pilote magazine and Dargaud publishing.

  8. Eagerly reading all the reviews in the Asterix Agenda. Here I can add something – I read Asterix in German, mostly in the 70s and 80s when they were published first in Germany. My father used to bring them home and the whole Family read them. Anyways, the “PC” preface also was in the German edition.

    1. Hi Hans – thanks for stopping by! Glad you found the reviews and are enjoying them. And good to know that preface was universal. We should all have the same great Asterix experience. 😉