“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.
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Translators: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion (Hachette)
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1973
Original Title: “Astérix en Corse”
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.
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?
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; 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:
But, First, An Asterix Reunion
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.
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:
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:
And then there’s the lush green environments of the island, which features a mountain chain dominating the bulk of the island:
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.
Best Name in the Book
This is a gathering of the tribe chieftains of Corsica, for example:
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.
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.
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:
That last line made me laugh out loud. Feels like a Steven Martin punchline. Or maybe Rowan Atkinson.
One Last Cute Thing
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?
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.
For more on Corsica, check out this France24 video report. (Also, subscribe to the channel, because they have lots of great videos about the country and its culture.)
— 2018.055 —
Volume 21 is “Asterix and Caesar’s Gift“, in which Caesar plays the real estate game again. This time, he gifts the deed to the land the village sits on to a Roman citizen and sends him off to his new home. His family doesn’t take very kindly to not being so warmly welcomed, though, and push him into running for Chief of the village.
While you might think that’s a crazy idea, it’s also a crazy village. Once again, the village erupts into a near Civil War. That’s when the Romans show up with their catapults…