Asterix v23 Obelix and Co cover detail by Albert Uderzo
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Asterix v23: “Obelix and Co”

Writer: Rene Goscinny
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Translators: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion (Hachette)
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1976

Welcome to Economics 101 with Professor Rene Goscinny.  His assistant today is Albert Uderzo, we think.  I mean, it mostly looks like him…

 

Caesar Has a New Plan

Obelix gets Romans for his birthday

It’s Obelix’s birthday.  What better gift to give him than a fresh camp of Roman soldiers to beat up?

Caesar knows that no amount of troops will be enough to stop the last remaining free village in Gaul.  Instead, he accepts an idea from his economist to so sow descent from inside it.  And we all know how quickly fights can erupt in the Village.

Done right, this should be super simple.  Just divide the village and conquer.

It almost works, except neither Caesar nor his economist thought the plan all the way through.  There are consequences for every action, and sometimes you need to think four or five steps ahead to realize what trouble that first step could land you in.

This isn’t just capitalism, by the way.  This is true of every system.  As I’m fond of saying, no game can’t be gamed.  You can change the rules but the players will just find new ways around them. Close one loophole and they’ll find two more that opens.  This is my Whack-a-Mole Theory of Life. (TM) and (C) 2018 Augie De Blieck Jr.

This isn’t a book where Asterix has to plot and scheme and work his way around people in clever ways. Asterix’s plan, ultimately, is one of passivity.  He’s the ultimate laissez-faire actor in this book.  I don’t think he quite grasps how this scheme will ultimately fail, but he’s smart enough to know it will.  He’s wise enough to step to the side and let it run its course.

 

Capitalism Run Amok

This isn’t the first time Caesar has decided to break his Gaulish enemies in ways other than a direct frontal assault.  He tried it once before with “Mansions of the Gods,” where he planned to build high rise apartment buildings just outside Asterix’s village to make them miserable.  (No forests means no boars, after all.  And those buildings are eyesores.  NIMBY!)

Economics played into that book, as well.  The village became a tourist mecca for the new inhabitants of the Mansions of the Gods, and the villagers were ready to ditch their small businesses selling useful goods to server the new neighbors who wanted things more touristy.

Rene Goscinny dips back into that economics well for this book, in spectacular fashion.

Goscinny takes the craziest parts of capitalism and throws them into one big stew for this book.  He pushes every angle as far as he can, using every dimwit in the village to support it, and then letting a great more macro-economic event take care of evening things out.  Things go crazy enough that you know everything is going to collapse eventually. Whether you see elements of the Great Tulip Craze or pet rocks or the 2008 lending crisis, there’s elements at play in this book that can be applied to just about any economic undoing.

Preposterus suggests marketing tactics to Julius Caesar

It’s fun to watch Caesar’s economist, Caius Preposterus, try to keep one step ahead of his own plan.  The best move is when he returns to Rome with all the menhirs and has to then play the other end of the financial deal in much the same ruinous way as he played the front half. How does he get rid of all those menhirs that are useless and worthless, but that he paid so much for?  Marketing!  Sell menhirs is hard, after all!

Of course, as demand grows, then you need to create an umbrella to capture the market at all price points, which Rome fails to do.  That leads to open competition, commoditizations of prices, and ultimately the unravelling of the whole menhir market.

It reminds me a little of the story we get every year with the hot Christmas toy of the season.  Supply is constrained by production and distribution issues, then demand sags just as those problems get saved, and the natural market price drops, and the producer of the hottest toy of Christmas suddenly ends up bankrupt or selling themselves to a larger toy company to save themselves.

This book is deep, if you look at it from the right perspectives.

And then the labor union goes on strike by blocking off the Appian Way, which is how every labor strike in Paris always starts.

 

Goscinny Still Brings the Funny

Goscinny doesn’t just run a bunch of economic theory past Obelix.

We get lots of absurdist jokes, alongside ones that land so well because we’re familiar with the characters by now.

On the outlandish side, we have the worries about slaves losing their jobs.  Here, let me just show you one whole gag.  I laughed out loud:

Caesar argues over the rights of slaves to have work.
(Click for a larger size.)

Describing business and economics gets messy, so Preposterus starts simplifying his language to Obelix to something he can understand:

Preposterus has to constrain his vocabulary to get through to Obelix

I love how this one becomes a running gag, with Goscinny getting to play both ends.  He can write the high-falootin’ economics fanciness, but also the simplification of that wordplay.  Then he gets a third side out when, a few panels later, Obelix tries to repeat the fancy talk without understanding a word of it:

Obelix doesn't have a clue what he's talking about

The bulk of the book is about Preposterus working Obelix into an economic frenzy.  This preys on Obelix’s feelings that he’s always the second fiddle, and never respected for his own ideas.  Preposterus feeds into that easily, and Obelix becomes an unwitting pawn.  The money from the menhir sales go to his head quickly. He quickly learns one of the first rules of business, though: As you grow, you have to learn to delegate jobs, and as you do you’ll naturally grow up the food chain and —

Oh, heck, I might just write a separate article someday showing how this book illustrates the growth of the solopreneuer into an eventual CEO

The visual metaphor in this book is Obelix’s clothes.  As his wealth increases and he rises in his station, he suddenly has need for new fancy clothes to set himself apart from everyone else. And, yes, they’re as laughably garish as you might guess.

 

 

No, Really, Who Drew This?

This book still looks great, but it’s not the same. Whether it’s the shift to album-first publication or something else, I don’t know. But the last three books have been different beasts, artistically, from the first 20. I’d love to hear from Uderzo what was going on around this time. Was he consciously doing something different?  Was drawing the same old thing for 1000 pages getting boring to him, so he started to alter things bit by bit?

Marcel Uderzo, Albert’s brother, inked this book, as well as the books surrounding it.  So we could chalk up some of the differences in the look of this book to the inker experimenting with things.  That wouldn’t explain how some character proportions have started to change, but that happens with any artist drawing the same character over a long period of time.  Just look at Jim Davis’ original Garfield design, for an obvious example. Things change over time until they hit their peak and then, sadly, they usually falter a bit, or quite a bit.

Someone needs to put Obelix on a diet, as his face is slowly sinking into his chest.  Asterix is looking a little taller all of a sudden again. Asterix, in particular, is turning into an animated character more and more.  He’s particularly wild in his gestures and his body movements, in comparison to the albums in the teens of the series.

At some point this summer, I’m going to put together some comparisons to show you just how much the characters have shifted over the years. That’s a natural progression, but something here feels like there’s more going on.  I can’t get past that.

It looks like Marcel was studying either Neal Adams or Milton Caniff when he was drawing this book. I can almost see elements of both in here. Geriatrix’s wife in this panel looks to get the classic newspaper strip treatment:

Mrs. Geriatrix looks like Todd McFarlane or Michael Golden drew her.

And doesn’t her hair reminds you of Michael Golden or Todd McFarlane, too?

Take a look at the up shot at Centurion Ignoramus, here:

That’s a Neal Adams (of Tac Au Tac fame) angle that again takes us further away from the traditional big nose art style of the series.

Caesar looks like something borrowed from a 60s Marvel comic, or perhaps an earlier melodramatic romance comic.  He starts to look a lot less like himself:

Caesar is all up in your grill, like a Neal Adams drawing by Albert and Marcel Uderzo

We’re getting close to someone needing to tap those Uderzo boys on the shoulders to remind them that this is more of a big nose funny comic than a Jean Van Hamme-penned book.

 

The Animation Impact?

While I’ve been comparing Uderzo’s art in this book mostly to illustrators, there’s one other possibility that comes to mind.  This book feels very animated.  Uderzo’s characters have never been shy about gesturing, but there are a lot of extreme poses in this book.  I’d say there’s more here than in any other Asterix book.

“Obelix and Co.” came out in 1976, the same year that the animated movie, “The Twelve Tasks,” hit theaters in France.  That movie was written and directed by Goscinny and Uderzo, amongst others. It was their second outing, having directed “Asterix and Cleopatra” in 1968.  “Twelve Tasks” was a brand new story written expressly for the movies. (Marcel Uderzo did the comic book adaptation, which has never been fully reprinted in English, and is long out of print.)

Did working with animators on that movie rub off on Uderzo, perhaps?  Are we starting to see those effects here on the posing, if not the finished lines, where Marcel clearly is exerting greater control?

I don’t know.  Likely, I’ll never know.  Possibly, I’m a crank looking far too closely at these things.

 

Best Name in the Book

I really do like Monosyllabix and Polysyllabix.  I love the way their introduction is SHOUTED while they stand inert, with that dumb look on their face.  All of those contrasts really work.

Introducing Polysyllabix and Monosyllabix in Obelix and Co

Centurion Ignoramus is a great name, mostly because “Ignoramus” is comedy gold.

But, at the same rate and as obvious as it might be, I still love Caius Preposterus as the guy who’s explaining the capitalist system. His name describes his role in the book very well.

Julius Caesar introduces Cauis Preposterus in Obelix and Co

Speaking of Preposterus, I should point out that he’s based on Jacques Chirac, who was then the prime minister of France, and would later go on to be its president.

The Big M

The 1000th page of Asterix by Goscinny and Uderzo

Down at the bottom of page 36 in the album (the 32nd page of story), Goscinny and Uderzo sign the art.  Why?

That “M” is the key.  This is the 1000th page of Asterix the two have done together.

Yes, those of you who’ve been reading along with me have now also read over 1000 pages of “Asterix” comics in one year.  And there’s still a dozen books to go or so.

(There’s also a Latin/French pun under the “M” that I couldn’t begin to explain, so I”ll leave it up to Everything Asterix.)

 

 

Self-Caricature

On page two, a pair of Roman soldiers carry a friend on top of his shield:

Uderzo draws Albert Uderzo and Rene Goscinny as Roman soldiers

The two are Rene Goscinny (right) and Albert Uderzo (left).

Here’s the part that made me sad: I didn’t recognize Uderzo, but I did see Goscinny there.  The reason why is very simple: Goscinny is frozen in time.  He died in 1977, only a year or two after Uderzo drew this page.  All the pictures you see of Goscinny are of him in the 1960s and early 1970s.  That’s him.  That’s how he’s forever stuck in our minds.

When I picture Uderzo, I more likely see him doing press junkets and interviews from the last 20 years.  I barely recognize him from any time period earlier than the late 1980s

 

 

Recommended?

Asterix v23 Obelix and Co cover by Albert Uderzo

Yes, absolutely and entirely. This works as a classic piece of satire, and shows off Goscinny’s bright mind as well as Uderzo’s dynamic pen and ink.  And while I’m fascinated and curious about the shifting art style, I still like it a lot.

I regret only that I don’t want to bore all of you by covering every funny moment in this book.  Fill in the blanks in the comments with the things that I cut out.  We can all laugh again together.

— 2018.068 —

A Quick Programming Note

Up next is “Asterix in Belgium.”  It is Rene Goscinny’s final Asterix script.  As a matter of fact, “Obelix and Co” was the last book he was alive to see published.

All of that has nothing to do with this: I’ll be on something of a vacation next week, and won’t be pounding away on the keyboard all week.  I might get some extra reading done, though, so that’s a good thing.

My review of “Asterix in Belgium” will appear later on the week of July 23rd.   You might see a new Asterix Agenda article next week, but it won’t be an album review.

 

Buy It Now

Buy a physical copy today:
 

[Yes, those are Amazon links, and a tiny percent will kick back to this site if you buy them through those links.  Thanks for your support.]

The book is available digitally in Europe here:

Click here to buy digital BD comics albums through Izneo.com

 

Navigation

Asterix and the Great Crossing cover detail by Albert Uderzoq

Previously: “Asterix and the Great Crossing”

Asterix in Belgium cover detail by Albert Uderzo

Next: “Asterix in Belgium”

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

25 Comments

  1. It also has one of the best covers in the series IMHO, along with ‘The Great Crossing’ and ‘The Mansions of the Gods’. It packs so much of the story in there, and it’s beautifully drawn and coloured.
    I wonder which cover you think is the best Augie, with your professional eye.

    1. I forgot to include more about the cover, but I really liked the logo on this one. I’m not a huge fan of a lot of the typographic work on the covers, in general. Most of it dates to the 60s/70s too much. Yes, I know that’s when the books were made, but it’s just not my favorite style. So I loved the big bubbly “OBELIX” on the cover.

      I’m slightly mixed on the art. I like the layout. I like the way it tells the story with all the characters on it. But Obelix looks a little short to me with too large a head, while Asterix looks a little off somehow, too — that might just be the unusual angle he’s drawn at. We don’t see him with his back turned looking back over his shoulder all that often.

      The other interesting thing about the cover is that it’s shot from the original pencil work. It’s not inked. That gives it a little softer look. Don’t look too closely at it or it looks incomplete. 😉

      I should go back and review the covers someday. It’s an interesting mix. I’m not a big fan of the Laurel Wreath cover, with the two characters floating in space and a weird Caesar bust thrown next to them.

      I love Mansions of the Gods and Roman Agent. I like “Belgium,” though as a cover it might actually fail — it’s too busy, there’s nothing to grab your attention at a distance, etc. But I like that bit of story.

      1. I have to say that I am very impressed by your analysis of the art on this one. Especially the parallels with Neal Adams and McFarlane, they are very insightful and very different from anything I’ve read on the subject before. Sure we’ll never claim enough how much of a genius artist Uderzo is, but there is definitely a part of the story, happening behind the scenes, that has not been told yet, and that we may not hear about before he dies.

      2. The cover is inked in the edition I have – which if I understand the small print correctly is a 1993 printing of the 1989 edition. IMO these are the ugliest editions where they got rid of the stripes across the top of most of the books and stuck a numbering (in this case Book 22) in a white box at the top left. This would probably have bothered me less if they’d numbered them in the correct order rather than the order of the English translations – so e.g. Asterix and the Golden Sickle is numbered 15.

  2. Quick rectification: The Roman is Based on an young Jacques Chirac, with a C. He was social affairs secretary then Finance secretary in the late sixties then prime minister for a couple of years between 74 and 76 then had a long stint as the mayor of Paris and chief of the opposition before becoming prime minister again 86 to 88 , THEN President for 12 years from 95 to 2007. Whew! During that time, France faced the most serious economy crisis, from 74 when oil prices exploded, straight up to 2008 when American Casino players, I mean speculation banks ruined the whole world. So the theme of this book is smack dab our life for the past 40+ years, during which, unemployment kept rising, hence the funny Union-based gags throughtout the story like the one you present there.
    Btw the third guy, the one on the shield is Pierre Tchernia, you’ll mention him again since he officially co-plotted the Great Divide (and also was a co-producer and narrator on The Twelve Labours.

    1. I’m completely blaming autocorrect on the Jacques Chirac misspelling. I knew that. How did that one slip by? Ack, thanks. I’ve fixed it now.

      Even as an American, Chirac’s name is one that I knew growing up. Now I see why — he was ALWAYS involved in something politically for my entire life, at the highest levels.

      And thanks on the Tchernia info. I saw him mentioned on one of the Asterix annotation sites, but didn’t include it here because, well, I had so much other stuff to talk about. But I’ll be sure to tie that in when we get there. I think one of the sites mentioned that Uderzo had drawn him into other books before this, too. I’m not going back to look, though. =)

      1. On your side of the Atlantic he’s probably best known for very vocally opposing Bush & Britain against being involved in the Iraq war. Otherwise, he was a fairly bland politician, essentially famous around here for betrayals and low-level corruption.

          1. Oh yes that’s true he did that too, I forgot. He’s still alive today but he has an advanced case of Alzheimer’s so he doesn’t appear in public any more. As is often the case, people only remember the good stuff, so he’s fairly beloved by most, since the ones who followed him at the presidency turned out worse.

    2. As I was reading I spotted Uderzo and Goscinny carrying their colleague and my thought process went…

      “Oh I wonder who that is… that can’t be coincidence”
      “I could try to look it up…”
      “Or I could wait to read the comments after I’d read this and I bet JC has answered my question…”

      low and behold. Don’t let me ever take you for granted JC!

  3. Oh I forgot to talk about the M: EverythingAsterix only explains half the joke. Notamba is the contraction of Note En Bas (literally “Note at the bottom”); so there.

  4. I originally gave this one 4.5/5,but I think I’ll have to bump it up to 5/5. Pretty much every single Asterix has wound up being much shorter than i remember, but it is glorious while it lasts.

    I don’t know if I’m in the minority on this, but I love the evolution of the art, and for me, this is the best looking book yet.

    My favourite pun names are Monosyllabix and Polysyllabix.

    1. I totally agree with you about the art, Dan. Free from the constraints of weekly prepublication, Uderzo’s art blossoms. For me too, every BD album (not just Asterix) feels too short, unless it’s written by Edgar P. Jacobs, in which case it’s exactly the right length (lol).

  5. Oh this one caught me by surprise. I was going to read it today, but wasn’t expecting the review to out until later in the week!

    The comic however offers no surprises. It was a classic when I first read it (I actually think I have a first English language printing and do so for the next few books as I recall), was a classic when I re-read it and remains the last of the stone cold classics today. Just such a clever joy. Is there anyone who can make a story about the destructive power of modern economics and consumerism such a delight to a child. I was 6 when I first got this story and I loved it then almost as much as I do now.

    Its always felt the most 2000ad of the Asterix volumes. By which I mean it feels the most openly satirical and anti-establishment of the series and so was perfectly timed for me as a reader.

    As ever Augie’s review leaves so little left to say, so perfectly it encaptulates what we’ve all just read. I have a few thoughts but by and large “What he said” really.

    While Asterix is by and passive, he’s still very smartly shown as providing the first push that brings the whole scheme crashing down. By encouraging the rest of the village to compete with Obelix he starts the flood of the market that will eventually bring the whole thing to its knees. Its takes just two pages, it doesn’t de-rail the fun, but it sets Asterix up as the hero, smarter than everyone else and in control. Just great.

    As for the art, the rougher edge continues to develop and the inking certainly stands out in the volume. For me though the big change is the one that Augie highlights, its all more dramatic. The panels on p.31 that Augie uses are great examples. Its as if Uderzo has borrowed a copy of Buscema’s ‘How to draw comics the Marvel way’…. mind however good John Buscema was he couldn’t really teach Uderzo anything!

    The panel that really demonstrates the change best however is p.9 of my edition, when Ignoramus addresses the troops on top the platform. Its so dramatic and cinematic. Before similar panels would have focused on the troops and made them individual characters. Here however they are uniform and consistent. Yes in part to emphasise these are all still a highly trained efficent unit, but also as it prevents detraction from the scale that Uderzo presents. The soldiers in the forground and the perspective provided by those at the side making it all seem so sweeping and grand. Interesting that the tents at the back are clearly off scale when you (over) analyase the panel. Again adding to scale and scope. This panel is not about the individuals rather the grand scale. So perfectly fitting and executed. The sharp, detailed, almost Terry Austinesque inking is also left to standout. It just feels different to what’s gone before.

    I also think this comic has more belly laughs than any before. So its much to my surprise, perfect piece of craft that it clearly is that I don’t quite enjoy it as much as the very, very best. Its just a little too sharp and clinical. I means its top 5, but not number one and again that’s down to those indefinible personal tastes that get in the way of clear headed reviewing. So this one is a

    11.5 / 10

    Favourite pun name. There are so many already named, but for me there’s one that stands out, even if a little wonky and broken. Woolix is a reference to Woolworths or Woolies as it was known. A general stuff found on all UK high streets at the time. Its seems fitting that the change in the market place save Woolies being one of the first high street giants to fall on its sword. Just seems so perfect for this tale!

    1. Hey Colin, I couldn’t agree more. What you write makes me wonder what Goscinny could have done on the Justice system (à la Dredd) after seeing what he does here on the economy or on the Public service Administration in The 12 Labours (my favourite). We can always dream. When I realise that I am now one year older than he was when he died, I feel really sad of so much wasted potential. That’s one of the things I really like about British Comics, they never shied away from the big subjects, especially during the Thatcher years, when I was introduced to some of 2000AD’s strips, Warrior’s and consorts. We could never get that in Franco-Belgian BD at the time, and even today it’s more SJW nonsense than real satire.

    2. ‘The wonder of Woolies’, referenced on Woolix’s cart, was of course Woolworth’s slogan at the time (get your flared jeans here! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XvzYm5LRwjA ). As a Briton born in the 1970s I find it nostalgic that Anthea Bell’s translations pack in so many now-half-forgotten British 1970s references – bits of slang, companies such as Woolies*, TV shows like Steptoe and Son, old army talk that you’d see on Dad’s Army. But I guess for the international reader in 2018, these obscure references distance you further from the text – on top of the distance we already had due to the translation from the original French 1960s/70s references. I recall the debate about the meaning of ‘blackleg’ in Mansions of the Gods. Any British reader in the 70s would know this was slang for a worker who carried on working during a strike. But for obvious reasons the word has largely disappeared in Britain and seems unknown elsewhere.
      *Yes, I know F W Woolworth was originally an American company, but still…

      1. There are also some obsolete references in the French versions of the books, like the Antar guy that Augie was puzzled about in a previous volume. Ultimately, a pun name ends up being just a name, even at the time, not everyone was getting the references on first reading. That’s the beauty of Asterix, it has layers, making it worth your while for every generation.

        1. And that is a lot fun with Asterix — learning all about the cultural references I would never otherwise get. I find many of them in the various reference sites, but they don’t get them all.

          There’s no way to make anything that’s completely “out of time.” While the stories of Asterix are all frozen in time — 50 BC — there’s still a lot of fun anachronistic humor in it. Sometimes, those are overdone and I want to cringe a bit at how obvious they are, and something they’re so subtle I didn’t realize they were there until JC explains then to me.

  6. As others have said, I think one of the great strengths of Augie’s reviews is his analysis of Uderzo’s art and the comparisons with other comic artists. Commenters might agree or disagree on what they like or dislike but the review sets up the artistic points to debate and puts in some background information. It’s great to see Uderzo’s work (which was surely among the very best comic/BD art) getting the detailed analysis it deserves. You’ve certainly made me appreciate it all the more, and encouraged me to think more about these issues.

    1. Seconded, wholeheartedly.
      Aside from the trip down memory lane, which I delightedly enjoy, Augie has a very unique perspective that makes his reviews insightful on a very unique level.
      French people, as a culture, come from a literary background of Writers First, even though this might be shifting a bit in recent years. So seeing someone who can appreciate and analyze art the way he does is certainly thought-provoking for someone like myself.

      1. “French people, as a culture, come from a literary background of Writers First”

        Interesting. I always thought the opposite was true – mainly because I often see European (maybe not French – not sure) albums which list the artist’s name before the writer’s, which is something you pretty much never see in American comics.

    2. Thanks, Jim, for the kind words. I think we all come at the material from our different points of view as comic readers, and everyone in these comments has added something unique. I never expected this to be as informative as it has become through these months. I’m really excited that it’s worked out this well.

      I just get the easy job of going first and not having anyone take my points first. 😉