Asterix and the Great Divide cover detail by Albert Uderzo
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Asterix v25: “Asterix and the Great Divide”

Writer: Albert Uderzo
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Translator: Anthea Bell, Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion/Hachette
Number of Pages: 54
Original Publication: 1980

Albert Uderzo takes full control of Asterix with “Asterix and the Great Divide.”  And it’s…. not bad.

I Admit It

I went into this book expecting the worst, but keeping an open mind.  Nobody can replace Rene Goscinny, who died during the production of the previous volume, “Asterix in Belgium.”

Albert Uderzo decided to continue the series on his own, acting as his own writer.

I’m instantly reminded of the old saying about lawyers representing themselves having a fool for a client…

But that’s not fair. There are plenty of amazing cartoonists who can handle both the story and the art.

Still, I had to set my reviewer’s mind up in reading this book not to try to read too much into the creative change, and not to attribute every failing to the lack of Goscinny.  You don’t want to be one of those people who complains that everything Apple does now would set Steve Jobs spinning in his grave.  “Steve wouldn’t do that!”

“Rene wouldn’t do that!”

Unfortunately, we’ll never know what he would have done.

Maybe he would have, though.  It’s certainly possible that Uderzo created this story from leftover ideas from previous conversations with Goscinny. Who knows?  Uderzo is a private man who doesn’t speak much of the past in such detail.  He seems to stick to the tried and true stories he’s been telling for decades.

My goal, in the end, is to write this review treating the book on its own merits, and not whatever perceptions I may have from the change in creators.

And what does it all really matter?  Aside from the historians and the curious, what purpose would it serve? In the end, the work is the work and that is what should be judged.

So, Is It Good?

“Asterix and the Great Divide” is a good “Asterix” album, but it isn’t great.   It does make Asterix an active participant in the story, which is good.  But then it requires him and Getafix, both, to do stupid things to keep the plot moving.

There’s lots of word play humor in the book, a fight in the village, Magic Potion, and Romans to be punched. All the elements of “Asterix” are here, but they feel pieced together.  They don’t come up as naturally as they did in other stories.

The village fight serves no purpose and feels forced.  I supposed you could make the argument that Uderzo is showing that all villages fight and there’s a parallel between Asterix’s and the new one we meet in this book that’s just taking it to an extreme.  Maybe?  I think he just wanted to draw a fish-slapping/fish-throwing fight for a couple of pages

I thought Goscinny revved up his wordplay to its maximum in the previous book, but Uderzo goes three steps further in this book.  It’s intense and unrelenting, though some of it isn’t quite clever enough to make me laugh out loud.  It almost feels like the default scripting technique on every panel: When in doubt, do a pun or use a themed homophone to keep the reader entertained.

The Politics of Asterix

This book starts off with the potential to be one of the most political of all Asterix books.

A ditch splits a quaint Gaulish village down the middle, physically dividing the tribe into two. The ditch ends at the front gate of the village. You can easily get to the other side just by walking out front. I consider this part of the charm of the story that the village is so divided that nobody wants to build a bridge or bother walking out front to come back around to the other side. They’ve chosen their teams and they only want to win, not come back together.

This story could easily be spun as an allegory for politics in general in America today, or the politics of Brexit in England. It’s on the nose. The village is divided politically, into two halves that are directly referred to as The Left and The Right. Their two Chiefs are stubborn to the max and refuse to compromise. They should just work together to lead everyone, but they’re both too stubborn or stupid to realize it.

The tribes, when they meet outside the village in the open field, acknowledge each other only by sticking out their tongues.

Yes, this is exactly the state of politics today. This Asterix book is practically Twitter.

But, in reality, it was made in 1980, and so was more relevant to the Berlin Wall.  It’s an inversion — instead of a wall, Uderzo makes up a ditch.

Perhaps this teaches us that all things in life are cyclical, and that those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it.  Or that political allegories are timeless and that people never change.

Something like that.

We also get a return to form for Asterix in that there’s another labor strike.  You might remember in “Obelix and Co.” that the slaves went on strike because they didn’t have enough work to do.  In this book, the Romans go on strike, holding signs and walking in circles to protest their lack of slaves.  They shouldn’t be expected to do all their own work, after all.

Completely reversed positions, yet the same actions.

The Right and Left

Uderzo really goes to town with the division, milking it for every gag he can.  Most of them come in the form of puns and wordplay.  There are a lot of right/left references in the book.

But he also uses the ditch for some physical and visual humor.  There’s the resident who refuses to choose sides, so his house is split in half by the ditch — and he keeps forgetting that and falling in when walking through the house.  There’s the children stealing apples from the tree of their neighbor, whose house (and the trunk of the tree) is out of reach on the other side.

The biggest play on everything is the star-crossed lovers of Melodrama and Histrionix.  They are the children of chiefs from the opposite side of the ditch and they’re in love. The split town and the divide between their fathers, politically, makes it impossible to live their love for each other.  They are the rational ones in a village filled with crazy self-centered warring leaders.  They also enlist Asterix’s help to get the job done.

They’re the ones on the cover.  And, yes, it’s Romeo and Juliet, though surprisingly without a lot of Shakespearean references.  Uderzo must have forgotten them while writing in all the “left” and “right” gags…

Uderzo’s Stylistic Soup

Suddenly, it’s a Prince Valiant comic?

For whatever reason, Uderzo likes drawing “normal” human beings mixed in with the big nose Marcinelle School style characters we’ve grown to know and love from the Village.  (Geriatrix’s wife is the one exception there.)

He does it again in this book, and the two chiefs’ children are depicted as standard human being proportions, idyllic in their beauty.  But they always look weird standing next to all the Big Nose characters.  It makes the cast of Asterix look like funny talking animals in their own book. The humans tower over the Gauls.

That always bothers me.

And then there’s Codfix, who’s a toady in every sense of the word, including appearance.  He’s the lackey of Chief Majestix. Well, he may look more like a fish than a toad.  His armored shirt looks more like they’re made of scales.  I saw some scans of very early printings of this book where they colored him in with normal flesh tones to minimize that, I guess.  In the latter editions, though, he’s turned green to emphasize what an alien little creature he is.  Why Uderzo goes for this level of fantasy in the book, I don’t know.  I thought the Magic Potion was as far as the series ever needed to go.

Uderzo Aims for a Plot

Give Uderzo credit here: He went for a story. He didn’t rely on a series of gags to pad out 48 pages. He created an honest-to-goodness plot with some twists and some thought put into it.

You have the drama of two halves of a village fighting each other in a Cold War kind of situation.  One side is guided a bit too much by a self-interested party who brings the Romans in.  The star-crossed lovers engage Asterix and Obelix to help save their people and fend off the Romans.  Then, something needs to be done to re-unify the village, ending up in a fight outside the walls. (We’ve seen the fight to determine the leader before, in “Asterix and the Big Fight.”)

Unfortunately, the plot relies on two horrible mistakes on the part of its stars to keep the story moving. First, Getafix has to forget his flask of potion on the ground for Codfix to later find and use. Second, Asterix, in the dead of the night, has to be so busy staring at the stars that he doesn’t hear Codfix sneak up behind him to knock him out with a bat to the head.

Those are the two characters in the series least likely to make those silly mistakes.

There’s also a key moment in the story where Codfix has to act stupidly. He has to assume that his Chief will have no problem with turning the other chief’s clan into slaves. That’s a bit of a jump in logic, and immediately proves his downfall. It does keep the story going for another 20 pages, though, so I suppose it did its job.

All of this leads to a grand finale where the Romans take a bad combination of potions and turn into rejects from Willy Wonka. This is established out of thin air a couple panels before it happens.  What a well-timed coincidence!  It also robs everyone else in the book of the chance to be the one to finish the job of defeating the Romans.  The Gauls beat the Romans through no action of their own.  It feels like a cheat.

On the bright side, when the Romans are shrunk down, we finally get to see Dogmatix drawn larger on the page than an eighth of an inch.  That’s fun…

Best Name of the Book

It’s in this panel:

Alcaponix has the best name in the book for me this time.  Thou Altruistix is really close.

No, not Codfix. Not Chief Majestix.  (That that one is good.)  Not his daughter, Melodrama.  (Though she’s definitely a close second.)  And the previous Chief, Altruistix, came very close for me, too.

This week, I give the award to Alcaponix, who had some tax issues.  Of course.

I don’t normally like too much of the pop culture mixed in with these names, but that one hit me pretty good.

I have a very strong feeling that your mileage will vary on this one.  Let’s not forget Schizophrenix, especially…

Recommended?

Asterix and the Great Divide cover by Albert Uderzo

Well, there are at least 23 other better Asterix books. But if you’ve read them all and need more Asterix in your life, you can read this one, too.  It is not a bad comic, though.  It has a couple faults that I can attribute directly to the script — in both plot and dialogue — but it’s still very entertaining.

If this is the worst of Asterix, then it’s still amongst the best in comics.

— 2018.072 —

Buy It Now

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

19 Comments

  1. I actually really like this book. It does feel a bit different, but I actually prefer it to some of the lesser Goscinny books. 4/5 for me. I’d have been quite happy if the Uderzo books had kept up this standard.

    I absolutely agree with you about Codfix though. Up till now, the fantasy side of the book has been pretty much limited to the different magic portions we’ve seen. Having a walking talking fish-person just doesn’t fit.

    Am I missing something with Apcaponix? I’m just seeing Al Capone with a random “ix”stuck on the end. My favourite name is Infectius Virus (I always like two-part names), but also live Schizophrenix, Melodrama, Cleverdix and Altruistix.

    One minor gripe – my edition has a rogue apostrophe in the line “Right, call our warrior’s together”. Very slack.

    1. Yes, I admit it — my choice of Alcaponix is nearly indefensible. But it’s the one time in the book I laughed out loud from a surprise in the book. It just seemed so far outside what I should expect that it got me. If I was being a more serious critic, Schizophrenix would have won, mostly for how well it describes his situation of being on both sides of the divide.

  2. As a wee French-Canadian kid, I learned to read from my older siblings before even going to school by reading Astérix and Tintin and Lucky Luke books that we would borrow from the public library. And I also loved the animated movies from these characters. I guess I was too young to understand the concept of publishing schedules or anything like that, all these wonderful books just existed!

    So it was quite a thrill when Le Grand Fossé came out. We saw it at the store (I believe it was a sidewalk sale or something, as I seem to recall being outside at that moment) and it was a brand new book that I had never seen before, and my parents bought it! Which was a bit of an event in itself since we didn’t own too many bandes dessinées of our own, so they would be the kind of non-toy gifts we’d get for christmas ($6.95 for a book was a lot of money in the 80s -now it’s more like $18 haha- but we did have a lot of translated comics at least).

    At that age I really couldn’t tell much of a difference from the rest of the series; as with all euro-series back then, the art looked the same so in my feeble young mind it didn’t matter who wrote it (ie: Hergé did Tintin, Morris did Luke, Peyo did Schtroumpfs, etc, I believe Spirou was the first I saw where the change in creative team was jarring).

    Well it didn’t matter… until I got older and realized he really wasn’t a very good writer at all. The next three were good, but after that each new one was worse than the previous one, and in retrospect Le Grand Fossé was pretty damn bad. To his credit, Uderzo tried hard to come up with different kind of stories, but that would also be a growing problem as they didn’t feel like the “real” Astérix anymore. (spoilers: if the “level of fantasy” seen here is bothering you, you better brace yourself…)

    Anyway…
    All the sociopolitical metaphores -except the Romeo & Juliette bit- went wayyyyyy over my head as a kid.

    Fun fact: in French, Histrionix and Melodrama are named Comix and Fanzine!

    And I still like that fish-smelling guy (Acidenitrix in French) because he is just so ridicilous.

  3. Its hard not to go into this comic a little nervous and to resist those preconceptions that threaten to roll over an open and honest reading.

    Its not bad… it might even be better than the worse of the Goscinny volumes, but it does make two basic errors. Both of which Augie alludes to, all be it one more directly than the other.

    Firstly the plot while nicely centred and feeling like a village focused story, just set outside the village is winner – except for the fact that as said its chance, not guile that leads to our heroes trimuphing… which is SOOOOoooo frustrating as very little would need to have changed to make the victory one of clever planing and allowing the faults of others to lead to their own downfall… which would have nicely echoed back to the very first story.

    Alas not so.

    Secondly we get the opening of the door to the more fantastic elements that Uderzo seems to rely in more and more and increasingly let the stories down. Now of course its fair to say that the central premise in Asterix is the stuff of fantasy, that the Gauls remain indomintable due to a magic potion. Beyond that though the stories by and large boundary the fantastical there and play with that in more down to earth environments and allow character to rule. All be it fantastic characters. There are of course the odd exception, but these are played for laughs and don’t really impact on the plot. I’m thinking ‘Big Fight’ in particular. How I’m sure some smart alec will pop along with a perfectly reasonable example of how I’m wrong here, but as a rule I think this ideas carries.

    Here its not just the mixing of potions having quite dramatic effects, but also Codfix who pushes caricature beyond the pale. He would be a fun character if drawn a little less forced. The problem is not too pronounced in this story but its one that going to grow and grow from here as I recall.

    The other problem is the script does feel like an artist pushing things a little too hard and showing their inexperience. Just look at how much dialogue there is. How the odd panel looks cluttered. Its something you see time and again when artists start to write – and I guess from writers starting out. The puns and play on words are pushed a little too far and the quantity of the words is also an issue.

    To be fair though this is still a very good story. The simple commentry on politics is done really well and I like it more than the worse (Banquet) of the Goscinny stories and therefore more than a heck of a lot of comics so I’m happy to give this 6.5 / 10.

    One thing that really does shine in this story is the names. There are some beauts. Personally I’m going to cheat and go with Histrionix and Melodrama as I think they word so well as a pair.

    I’m really looking forward to next time and Black Gold (though I’m not reading it tonight as I think you’re skipping a week aren’t you Augie…) as I remember this one very fondly and its by far by favourite of the post-Goscinny story… lets see if that holds on this re-read!

    1. The plan is to get “Black Gold” out this week, and then take next week off. If the review doesn’t go up by Saturday morning, then I guess I’m taking two weeks off. 😉

      Yes, drawing Codfix as a regular human who’s just a beat “weasely” would have been good enough. Turning him into a mutant was just too far. It feels a bit like the Saturday Morning Cartoon-ification of “Asterix.” (In the 80s, cartoon series started getting weirder or more outlandish characters just because they could. A Jetsons revival in the 80s included a rainbow-colored alien, as I recall, for one example. “Orbitty”! That’s his name! A Happy Days cartoon had a girl from the future with a time machine. Laverne and Shirley were in the army with a pig for a sergeant. etc. etc.)

      It feels like Asterix went in that same direction, following the trend, maybe?

      And you, like everyone else, has a better choice in names for this book. Histrionix, these days, couldn’t be used, because people would point to its negative connotations for women. (Even though Histrionix is a man in this book…)

  4. I tried to research whose idea it was to color Acidenitrix green but I couldn’t find any explanation. In earlier editions (and later collectible statues for example) he was flesh-toned like anyone else. Sure he looked weird and that’s already a stretch (compare that to the Roman Agent or to the Soothsayer, who had a villainous quality but looked human nonetheless, which made them even more sinister. The snake aspect is very much on the nose, for no good reason.
    https://www.ebay.fr/itm/Statuette-resine-Asterix-Caius-Detritus-Acidenitrix-Leblon-Delienne-/111714298477?hash=item1a02b0ea6d

    In Latin, histrio is just a comedian, a mime, but sure, the word took a negative connotation in both French and English to designate someone who is ridiculously overacting. I have not seen that gender bias mentioned anywhere.

  5. My intention was to withdraw from commenting on further adventures of Astérix, since after this volume I pretty much disengaged myself from the series and went from avid reader to casual (at best) and moved on to more adult series. But your insights are so interesting that they prompted me to reread the book and I came out with, I wouldn’t say a newfound appreciation, but at least a different perspective.

    First of all, Uderzo’s decision to go it alone can be seen as either bold or foolish. I can remember some interviews he did at the time where basically he had two arguments. One, preserving the “integrity” of the characters by not outsourcing the property (Georges Dargaud famously tried to buy him out like he did with Greg on Achille Talon, which ultimately led to a long court battle and Uderzo leaving to found the Albert-René structure to host the IP and all the moneymaking that goes with it); second, he said that he “owed” it to the fans to continue making albums. Now, we have to remember that Uderzo was/is a famous Ferrari collector, so… to keep an expensive habit you need a regular stream of income. In that decision to continue alone, you have to factor his ego, he stated at some point that working closely with Goscinny all these years he pretty much knew how it was done, and indeed in this book you can see him hitting all the beats one by one, like the fish fight for example, but it feels like one of those japanese kids playing violin, it’s technically competent, but the depth and soul is gone.

    This being said, upon rereading, I found something that I initially missed, that is the political context. Sure, you drew the obvious parallel to the Berlin Wall, but I’m going one step further when it dawned on me that this story not only borrows somewhat from Romeo & Juliet, but also from the French political context of the early 80s. It’s so obvious, yet I never noticed it before, until you pointed out the Left-Right schism. You see, France had just enjoyed 20-odd years of uninterrupted government from Right-wing party (our equivalent of the Republicans) until 1980 when a Socialist/Communist coalition formed and won the 1981 presidential election, therefore ensuring a 14-year period of power for the Left. That cannot possibly come from a leftover plot from Goscinny since in 1977 there was no real sign that this would happen; so we are left with the question, was Uderzo an incredible visionary, sensing that the French people would be so divided at this point or is it just an incredible coincidence that helped make the album successful?

    Acidenitrix (nitrous acid) is Uderzo’s first real departure from (relative) realism into fantasy. The character design is weird, and as someone pointed out, he was not colored green in the first printing.

    Interestingly, at the same time as Uderzo departs from series classicism this way, he also does a return to basics with the character of Comix, who is very similar to Tragicomix from Legionary, but also a dead ringer for Belloy, a character he created with Jean-Michel Charlier in the Late 50s. You see, very early in his career, he was already mixing semi-realistic characters and big-nose ones, seamlessly.

    I found a sample page of that series here, to give you an idea:
    https://comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=1236451

    I can understand that you might find that coexistence jarring, since American comics have such a clear divide between realistic and cartoony, but for us, it’s been there the whole time so it didn’t bother us one bit. OF course, not every artist has the maestria of Uderzo to pull it off. Jeff Smith’s Bone comes to mind, as a good comparison.

    I also spent a moment this morning trying to find more references to the part that Pierre Tchernia played in the genesis of this book. He was a truly extraordinary man, pioneer of television in France and staple of our screens for 50+ years, he was one of the closest friend of the duo, helping them set up their studio and launch their foray into animation. He also lent a hand for Lucky Luke films Daisy Town and the Daltons Ballad.

    There are a few group photos here, including one with Goscinny & Morris probably working on Daisy Town and one with Walt Disney, with whom he had a longtime collaboration.
    https://bdgest.com/forum/pierre-tchernia-1928-2016-t75713.html

    1. JC – Thanks for the info about Tchernia. I knew he was a close friend of Goscinny and Uderzo, and about his involvement in the Asterix animations, but I hadn’t heard anything about him contributing to any of the post-Goscinny books. I would love to know more about this. I see there is some debate on the BDgest thread in your link, but it seems to be speculation rather than fact – nobody seems to be entirely sure about what Tchernia contributed to which book(s).
      Re Codfix/Acidenitrix: I have a first English edition from 1981 and he is certainly coloured yellow/green there.

      1. Could it be just for english-language editions that he was colored green? That would be an odd choice, artistically speaking. And who would make that decision?

        For reasons probably linked to his character, Uderzo has always been extremely secretive about what was really going on in the Asterix engine room after Goscinny died. Most of the journalistic pieces one can find are mostly superficial and praise-filled, never was there an insider’s report on whether he had “helpers” over the years, either for the scripting part or the art. Even the feud between his own daughter Sylvie, her husband (Bernard, I think it is) about how the brand and the money are managed took many many years to see the light of day in a comprehensive fashion. There was also a contentious relationship with Anne Goscinny, René’s daughter (who is also a semi-famous novelist) that none of them really addressed publicly other than through innuendo. It would be very interesting at this point if someone were able to do an in-depth report about the behind-the-scenes Asterix story, in the same vein that there are numerous books about Hergé, who was doing what in his studio, his first wife, his second wife and her new husband who now runs Moulinsart, the host of Tintin properties. For some reason, the Belgians were way more open and shameless than the french still are. Uderzo’s not going to be alive forever so if someone manages that, it should be sooner than later.

  6. Its interesting that the cover and initial story does seem to suggest that there will be illusions to Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet specifically. In reality the romantic elements are played as strongly as I’d hoped to add an extra layer to things.

  7. Surely that wouldn’t be the first time, since there was the Tragicomix/Panacea situation in Legionary, then the Obelix/Coriza attempt in The Gift, yet Asterix isn’t the series I would spontaneously turn to for Romance. Then again, I was 15 in 1980, so that still kind of works, for us introverted shy types 😉 I got better luckily. Uderzo will hit the gas pedal later with Falbala.

  8. Since everyone seems to be wondering, in the original French edition Acidenitrix/Codfix is indeed colored with yellow-ish skin (more yellow than green for sure), making him definitely weird, moreso since everyone keeps referring to bad fish smells whenever he is around. I wish I had the book at home to take a pic or scan of it.

  9. Interesting. Thanks for checking on that for us. The other thing this all brings to mind: One of the things I didn’t like about “Asterix and the Picts” was that the bad guy looked more like a green-skinned demon than a human. I prefer Asterix stick to the “real world”, after accounting for the Magic Potion, of course.

  10. Yeah, there’s a difference between “caricatured” or “cartooned” and “drawn like a weird demon or animal creature.” The only thing he was missing was a hiss to his speech.

    The “hysteria” gender bias thing is something that gets thrown around a lot on social media in recent years whenever someone uses the word in any way. Whether relevant or not, those looking for outrage find it where they can….

  11. Friday Night 8/10 Update: Wait, it’s Saturday morning already, my time.

    I didn’t make it. “Asterix and the Black Gold” will have to wait until after vacation. I do have two other reviews in the hopper that will go live during the week while I’m away — I wrote them a long time ago and held onto them for vacation filler. =)

    Thanks for your patience. We’re getting there. We only have another, what, ten books to go? We’re in the home stretch!

  12. Have a great holiday. Black Gold will be a good one to come back to… before those final 10… as I’m away this week as well…

  13. Not much to say on this – funny thing, in the German version “Majestix” is the Name given to Vitalstatistix, so I had a WTF Moment. And yes, the fishman really looks out of place.

    1. The other weird thing to tie this all together is that Chief Vitalstatistix is referred to as being “majestic” in that page before the story starts with the character descriptions. I guess translators take their naming cues from different parts of Goscinny’s scripts…

  14. Way late, but I wanted to point out that “histrionic” isn’t an offensive word in any way (you’re thinking of “hysterical,” which does have sexist connotations when applied to women, though everyone’s mileage will vary on whether it’s that bad). “Histrionic” just means “overacting.”

    I… think I started reading this one and gave up on it. The pretty couple were boring, and I really disliked how inhuman and exaggerated the bad guy looked. I can tell that Uderzo was going for a slimy, evil advisor like Gríma Wormtongue from “Lord of the Rings”, but making him look like an actual amphibian interacting with normal humans was not the way to go.

    Love all your Asterix reviews, by the way!