Asterix and the Actress cover detail by Albert Uderzo
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Asterix v31: “Asterix and the Actress”

Much like the prior volume, “Asterix and the Actress” isn’t offensive, but it is missing a lot of the wit that Goscinny brought to the table.

The commentary on society is completely missing, and instead we get a story that, while filled with plenty of good laughs, takes some very strange turns, mires itself in continuity, and then gets that continuity and the history of Rome wrong.

Oh, and one more thing: You know the phrase “jumping the shark“?

This book gives us the Asterix version of that: “Riding the dolphin.”

Asterix and the Actress cover by Albert Uderzo
Writer: Albert Uderzo
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Inker: Frederic Mebarki
Colorist: Thierry Mebarki
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion/Hachette
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 2001
Original Title: “Asterix et Latraviata”

What’s It All About?

Asterix and Obelix share a birthday.  Did you know that?  So why didn’t they celebrate Asterix’s birthday, also, when they celebrated Obelix’s in “Obelix and Co.“?

Continuity implant!

Their mothers come to the Village to celebrate with them.  Meanwhile, their fathers send along a sword and not-magic helmet (sorry, Elmer Fudd) as birthday gifts until they can get there the next day.  But Pompey wants those things back and has the two fathers thrown in jail while he makes plans to retrieve the items.

The fathers of Asterix and Obelix are local merchants for the tourist trade.

(They run an antiques shop that’s named “Modernities and Collectables,” which cracks me up.)

Knowing how powerful Obelix and Asterix are, he knows brute force is not the answer. Instead, he’s going to send in an actress made up to look exactly like Panacea (who’s living in Paris at the time).  She’ll use her feminine wiles to get the sword and helmet back without Obelix and Asterix ever knowing what happened.

At first, the plot concerned me.  Was this to be a repeat of “Asterix and the Secret Weapon“, where a women is introduced into the Village to create chaos and destroy all men?  No, not really.  

We remember from the great “Asterix the Legionary” that Obelix had a crush on Panacea.  So his reactions to her are set up properly.  Asterix goes a little further than expected, but to be fair, he had just been punched out by an overly-aggressive Obelix.  He wasn’t in his right mind.

The rest is a satisfying sit-com mash-up of scenarios.  The trick is to keep Panacea from returning to the Village from Paris, while the actress portraying her fools the two boys long enough to get the items from them as gifts, and then rushing out of town before she gets caught.  It’s about keeping the fathers locked up long enough not to give away the plan.  It’s about Asterix and Obelix falling for the act.  Wait, that last part is the easiest.

Everything else is pushing characters around the board without just enough logic that the whole thing doesn’t fall apart.

The ending is satsifying, as all the plots come crashing together.  There are a lot of funny moments along the way, and I kind of like the ending and how the Villagers treat the actress after the plot has been uncovered.

It’s not perfect, but I can appreciate the plot mechanics, once again.

Parental Units

I guess the first and most important revelation from this book is that Asterix and Obelix have parents!

OK, so maybe that isn’t a revelation.  They’re humans.  They obviously have biological parents.  But this is the first we’re seeing them.

Or maybe not.  We’ve seen them before in a short story that will be included in the next book, “Asterix and the Class Act.” For the purpose of this review and in keeping everything straight in my head, let’s just go with this being their debut.

Asterix's mother just wants him to settle down, marry a nice woman, have some kids...

Asterix’s mother probably fits a few stereotypes of the doting Jewish mother. (Maybe Goscinny did create her!) She just wants her boy to find a nice girl to settle down with, make a family, etc.  Asterix is not so much into it.  While he has shown an interest in girls — even in Panacea here — it’s not like he has a lot to choose from while being effectively locked up in his own Village. 

He also claims that he’s not ready yet for the responsibility of marriage.  (None of us are, little Gallic buddy.  That never stops us when the right woman comes along.)

That’s not going to stop his mother from trying, though.  She goes so far as to wash Asterix’s hair and invite some nice girls with their mothers over to his house for a spot of tea, er, goat’s milk.  Asterix did accidentally help invent tea back in “Asterix in Britain,” you may remember, but it hasn’t caught on yet back in France.

Meanwhile, Obelix’s mother is making him a dinner of something other than boar.  Who wouldn’t like some nice homemade soup? And wouldn’t it be better to settle down with some nice woman who could cook him “healthy, well-balanced” things?

The pair can only plead to the gods — Toutatis would be convenient — that their fathers will be up soon so save them.

Asterix and Obelix greet their lookalike mothers.

Yes, as you might have guessed, their parents do bear a striking resemblance to Asterix and Obelix, from the body shape and facial features right down to the color combination choices in their clothes.  I like that.  It makes sense biologically, but then helps keep the parents visually differentiated and obviously belonging to one or the other child.  Going so far as to keep the color schemes similar might take it over the top a bit, but since we’re in the Saturday morning cartoon style era of “Asterix,” it works.

Dogmatix, as it turns out, is the one in this book to have the most success with the ladies.  Watch him carefully….

The History Lesson

Pompey rants to Prefect Bogus Genius in "Asterix and the Actress"

I fell in love with Roman history while writing this series this year.  Seeing Pompey in this book is a particular delight.

Except

It makes no sense.

Asterix explains the history of Pompey and Caesar and it's not quite right

Asterix spends a jam-packed panel carefully explaining the history of Caesar’s Triumvirate in the most general of terms.  And he gets it wrong.  Let’s recap the real history.

We’ll start with what Asterix gets right: Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus did make up a legendary Triumvirate.  It worked well, but it was never going to last forever.

After Crassus’ death, things went south in a hurry.  Caesar was out in Gaul having his little war.  Pompey was back in Rome.  Pompey set things up so he could arrest Caesar when he returned to Rome after the war.

Alea Jacta Est” and all that — Caesar crossed the Rubicon, marched straight to Rome, and destroyed Pompey.

Then Pompey did something dumb, and Egypt’s leader did something dumber.  Pompey thought he could escape to Egypt, combine forces with the Egyptian leader there, and create a stronger force to take on Caesar.  

But Ptolemy, the Egyptian leader, wanted to curry Caesar’s favor.  He killed Pompey.

This, by the way, did not make Caesar happy.  He didn’t want Pompey killed.  He wanted to pull one of those moves he liked to pull where he’d extend the hand of friendship to one who had opposed him. It would be a huge public relations coup to make that move, but Ptolemy robbed him of that.

Pompey died in September of 48 BC.  This book, if the series chronology is linear, takes place at least three years after that.

(Ptolemy, by the way, died a few months later, after Caesar paired with Cleopatra (literally and politically) and forced him out.  Ptolemy drowned trying to swim across the Nile in January of 47 BC.)

Or, as the wonderful “Alea Jacta Est” website summed up the situation:

Pompey returns from Asterix the Legionary. Which he isn’t in. Though his African campaign is. Though that hasn’t happened yet. Because he’s sent there at the end of this book. Which takes place after Asterix the Legionary. Because Panacea and Tragicomix are already married. Oh yeah, and if the books are sequential then Pompey’s dead by now in any case. Confused? You will be…

Yup, that’s about right.  I suppose we can invoke “Artistic License” here, but if you know any of the history before you read the book, you might hurt your head.

About That Dolphin

This is where “Asterix” officially ceased to be a clever and witty commentary on humanity and became a Saturday morning cartoon.

It is the most memorable part of the book for all the wrong reasons.  It’s so bad that I’m going to spoil the plot point, because I just don’t care.

Obelix accidentally knocks out Asterix in a moment of jealous rage.  Getafix gives Asterix a magic potion to wake him up.  Unfortunately, rather than waking him up and/or making him super strong, it makes Asterix super-loopy. He bounces around like a powerful drunk, until he finally crash lands on a rock in the middle of the ocean and passes out.

He wakes up as the tide rolls up on him.  Suddenly, without any Magic Potion to give him strength and without anyone knowing where he is, he’s caught in the rising tide too far away to swim home — whichever direction that might be in. He is stranded, with nowhere to go and no way to get there.

Thankfully, a dolphin swings by to give him a ride to shore.

Asterix. Rides. A Dolphin.

Asterix is saved from a horrible oceanic fate by a passing dolphin who gives him a ride back to shore. Sure, why not?

My favorite description of this moment comes, again, from the “Alea Jacta Est” blog:  Dolphin Ex Machina.

I shook my head while reading this sequence, because it goes on for three pages and, of course, includes the prerequisite pirates cameo.  The new magic potion side effect was one crazy and dumb thing, but this part where the fantasy dolphin appears out of nowhere to save the day made me groan.

It’s another case of Uderzo turning this into a kiddy book without rhyme or reason.

That’s giving kiddy books a bad name, though.  They’re usually better reasoned than this….

The Art of Uderzo and Mebarki

Once again, this Frederic Mebarki inks this book. He worked for Les Editions Albert-Rene on licensed material at the time.  He was the house artist who drew all the stuff that wasn’t the comic.  Then he got promoted to inking Uderzo in the last few albums.

After that, he climbed to the top of the corporate latter:  They named him to be the artist to follow Uderzo on the book series, proper.  He couldn’t take the pressure and withdrew from the project, though, and that’s how we ended up with Didier Conrad in the post-Uderzo books.

They printed a special edition of this book that showed the “sketches” that led up to the final black and white inked pages.  I’d love to see those pages to compare and contrast and see how much work did over Mebarki.  How tight were Uderzo’s pencils?  Was Mebarki strictly “inking,” or was he “finishing”?

The Village

I love this “drone” shot of the Village:

An overhead shot of the Village

It’s a great piece of draftsmanship.

I don’t know, nor do I care, if it matches perfectly up with every drawing from every panel ever made in the series.  It would be cool, if it did.  And if it doesn’t, we just credit Caesar for rebuilding the Village differently from its original set-up. 😉
 

Best Name of the Book

This might be the best book of the post-Goscinny run for this.  They’re not all great names, but there are certainly a lot of names to choose from.

Latraviata, the actress the book is named after in France

Honestly, the one that made me giggle was the actress’ name, “Latraviata.”  It feels classic and in tune with the naming conventions of the series.  It is, indeed, incorporated into the French title of the book, “Asterix et Latraviata.”  We English-speaking folks don’t know much about opera, so they spared us that title.

Uderzo draws an Oscar award that’s sculpted like Julius Caesar. Julius names it after himself, the “ME Award.”  If you say the letters separately, it sounds like “Emmy,” so it kind of fits. It’s a long way to that joke, though.  Maybe it worked better in the original French?

Asterix’s father’s name is Astronomix, which I also liked.  (I liked Obelix’s father’s name less: Obeliscoidix.)

The Roman Prefect, Bogus Genius, is a little on the nose, but I appreciated the brutal honesty.  Made me chuckle a little.

Special credit goes to “Fastandfurious”, who was given his name the same year as the popular movie franchise started.  Coincidence?  Maybe.

Recommended?

Asterix and the Actress cover by Albert Uderzo

Have you read the first 28 books in the series?  Then, yes, I’d recommend this one.  It’s about all you’d have left, anyway.

Or, maybe you just want to read this one for the dolphin pages.  It’s a very good neck exercise, because you’ll find yourself shaking your head as you read it.

Next time: The 32nd volume is a clips show!  It’s “Asterix and the Class Act,” featuring the return of Rene Goscinny! It’s a collection of short stories, all of which Uderzo illustrated, and many of which (from the 1960s) that Goscinny wrote.

I’m trying not to get my hopes up too high here…

— 2018.092 —

Bonus Panel

There’s a Twitter account that does nothing but post random Hellboy panels, without commentary.  Some days, I think it would be fun to do something like the with “Asterix.”  But I can’t help but feel that’s a total DMCA letter waiting to happen.

If I did do it, though, I’d lead with this panel:

"Panacea" wants to see Asterix's magnificent sword

Asterix’s Magnificent Sword is the name of my new punk rock band…

Bonus Panel: The Final Ending

Because I can’t let that damned dolphin go…

The dolphin drops Asterix off on land and waves goodbye. So long and thanks for all the fish? From "Asterix and the Actress"

So long and thanks for all the fish?

Next Book!

Albert Uderzo draws Asterix and Obelix like Charles Schulz's "Peanuts"

Asterix and the Class Act” rounds up some short stories that haven’t been collected up until that point, plus a lot of other shorts and oddball things that belong together. Including a look as Asterix if Charles Schulz drew the book.

And no dolphins!

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

11 Comments

  1. So the critical narrative is that Goscinny died, Uderzo took over and the series was never as great because Goscinny was a comic genius and an amazing writer. But what if it’s not entirely true?
    Uderzo took over the authorial duties, and anyone can see that he has kept up the puns and other comic elements of the series. Right from the beginning, he was also an amazing narrative storyteller through his art.
    So could it be the case that the golden years of Asterix came about because Goscinny and Uderzo worked together on the jokes, the plot and the general storylines? That is to say, Uderzo deserves plenty of credit for the storylines in the earlier volumes too, and should not be seen as someone who just draws up Goscinny’s scripts? Then the perceived fall off happened because Uderzo alone couldn’t quite make up the magic that came from him and Goscinny working together?
    I don’t know anything about how they wrote the original books nor whether there are scripts around that show how each book was written and who did what so that is why I raise these questions. There are certainly hints in things like ‘The Obelix Family Tree’ in ‘Asterix and the Class Act’ that Goscinny and Uderzo were working very very closely together in thinking up the adventures.

    1. You’re absolutely right: there is a strong case to be made not that Uderzo is a complete failure, but that Uderzo alone is missing that — forgive me for the buzzword here — “synergy” that working with Goscinny brought to the project.

      Goscinny gets as much credit as he does because you can compare what he did with Asterix to the kind of work he did with Lucky Luke and Iznogoud and see the connective tissues there. It gave you an idea of what he’s capable of. Uderzo never really did anything else after Asterix started. His earlier work was far too early in his career to judge him by, though people seem to have a soft spot for the Native American character he did.

      Unfortunately, I don’t know if there’s any way to know how the two worked together. Even discounting for the idea that magic happens in mysterious ways that show up on the page, Goscinny didn’t live long enough to get to the point where the fan press would have interviewed him a million times to ask all the good probing questions. And Uderzo seems fairly reticent to talk about it all. I wish there was a tell-all interview somewhere with him, and one with Goscinny, as well. So much of that stuff is so far in the past now, also, that Uderzo would not necessarily be a reliable narrator anymore.

      It’s also just possible that Uderzo, as he got older, wasn’t as much into it — working solo on a book with such a spotlight on it and such high expectations is a different thing from working on a weekly serial with a buddy that just happens to have a book made later that sells well. My theory — and I plan on writing something up about this at the end of The Asterix Agenda — is just that Uderzo felt a lot of that pressure of doing the book by himself and it caused him to second guess himself and some of his natural instincts. And there was nobody around him to tell him no. He’s friggin’ Uderzo. You don’t question The Master!

      And maybe Uderzo really just wanted to draw fantasy tales about small children and animals, but gave into the pressure to keep making Asterix, instead, so he jammed that stuff in where he could, while throwing in all the other things “the fans” would want in the book, whether they made sense or were useful or not.

      I’m just getting started here. It’s something I’m intensely curious about, but I’m not sure we’ll ever get any resolution on. There are likely Asterix scholars in French who know far better than I….

  2. So And the Actress is a clear step up on the last two but it still has significent problems, all be it not as offensive as those two, not even close thank Toutatis. Still big problems, which is a shame as the general idea is good. I like expanding Asterix and Obelix’s family it offers new areas to explore. I like the potential generated by Astronomix and Obeliscoidix being emprisoned. That should surely generate some tension. That’s a tricky situation … except its not… that tension that story drive is never properly realised as Asterix and Obelix remain oblivious to their father’s fates until right at the end.

    But hey its a village book and they’re always the best… except its a village book that doesn’t really make good use of the villagers. They feel under used and superflous. There’s not even a brawl damnit…

    Okay, okay but we have some nice use of the Romans in lots of different scenarios… except we don’t. Fun is had but here they fall flatly into the sterotype of pantermine villians.

    Ultimately the problem with this story is emphatically found in the dolphin scene and not for the reason Augie quite rightly identifies. I mean it is a bit weird. I mean I like a dolphin as much as the next man (well unless the next man is Uderzo it would seem) but really why? The whole at sea bit could have been tacked on just to get the pirates in there… now hold on if you have the pirates in there does that provide a better solution than the random aquatic mammal. Why not have the pirates so terrified by seeing Asterix that they pick him up and do his bidding and take him safely home … that works doesn’t it… more than a cameo by Flipper at least?

    but hold on I’m getting distracted. I’m rambling on at tangents to the point I was trying to make… I’m drifting into unnecessary sideshows …

    and that gets to the nub of the matter.

    The whole Asterix bouncing takes six, count um SIX pages. SIX, three of which are at sea. This is followed by over a page of heavy mail gags. Now don’t get me wrong there’s good material there BUT not a pages worth. Then after all that we get one panel. ONE BLOOMIN’ PANEL of

    “I finally managed to make off with the sword while Asterix and his mother were out!”

    Hold on, HOLD ON – that’s it. We get six pages of bouncing and dolphins and ONE PANEL of wrapping up the whole point of the bloomin’ story up to that point. All that time and effort and it’s tossed anyway with – oh the sword thing I knicked it when they’re backs were turned.

    Damnit the timing and pacing of this story are so off, not just here but that’s the worst example.

    It also reveals the biggest fundamental problem that the Uderzo scripted booked have, certainly the latter ones. They pack so much in, throw so many ideas at the story, some work, some don’t BUT ultimately they don’t hang together in the way the wonderfully crafted Goscinny stories do. They lurch from one thing to the next and often don’t gell – well Black Gold aside – Worse this can pull you out the story. I stopped reading when Latraviata pulled her sword snatch and checked back to see what I’d missed… turns out nothing… but I got pulled out the story. That’s happened before.

    Anyway overall this story has its moments but I have to say I also found any number of the jokes misfired and at times I found it a little dull. Its an average comic elevated by good art and so gets 4 out 10.

    Best name .Well I have to give it to Astronomix, especially after Augie made me realise the whole Asterix is the star gag… after all this time!

  3. Better than Asterix and the Magic Carpet and Asterix and Obelix All at Sea, but not as good as Asterix and the Secret Weapon. This one gets 2.5/5 from me.

    Giving them the same birthdays is just naff – and as Augie pointed out, inconsistent with Obelix and Co. I didn’t really care for their parents. That kind of thing can work, but it has to be done really well. Asterix losing his mind was a pale shadow of Getafix in Asterix and the Big Fight. The scene with the dolphin was terrible.

    The book had one excellent page in it, that was worthy of Goscinny. That was the one where the impossible task was being handed down through the chain of command. Very nicely done.

    Good pun names in Fastandfurius, Astronomix and Bogus Genius, but my favourite is Gymnasticapparatus.

  4. Re speculation on how Goscinny and Uderzo worked together, my understanding is that Goscinny wrote out a full script and then passed it on to Uderzo to illustrate.
    The recent exhibition on Goscinny at the London Jewish Museum included a page of Goscinny’s typewritten script for a Lucky Luke story. This was very much like a screenplay: each frame set out individually with two columns – description of the visuals on the left and dialogue on the right. Taken at face value, this script is so precise that it leaves little room for the illustrator to have much input on story development or dialogue. But I assume Goscinny and Uderzo didn’t work in isolation from each other, they must have discussed upcoming stories, so I guess Uderzo could have had some input into the stories and jokes before the script got finalised.

    1. And then Uderzo doubles down on the birthday thing in “Asterix and the Class Act,” which I’ll be posting a review of in the next day or two. I wonder how far Uderzo ever strayed from Goscinny’s layouts. I bet he took liberties where he felt he needed to, or that things loosened up as they went along.

      Even solo, Uderzo has never had troubles telling a story from panel to panel. It’s always been in the story he’s telling that there have been weak spots.

  5. As for Asterix And The Actress, I haven’t got much to add. It’s not one of the worst Uderzo-solo books, and it has some nice bits and good artwork. But the story and pacing are not quite right in places. Too much space devoted to sequences that aren’t funny/interesting enough to justify it (eg the whole Asterix jumping/dolphin rescue stuff), then rushing some of the story exposition.
    The characterisation is lacking in places too. In the birthday banquet near the start, Obelix overreacts and gets very angry twice for no real reason.

    1. Agreed on all points. You’re right on the pacing, now that you mention it. I hadn’t thought in those terms, but it does explain a certain unease I had while reading the book. (I had attributed that to trying to figure out who really drew the book, but that’s another hunt for another day….)

  6. The Actress Latravia is a caricature of Austrian German French Actress Romy Schneider who was nominated for the Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a Drama Motion Picture for the 1963 Otto Preminger film The Cardinal.

    1. Which won 2 Golden Globe awards for Best Drama Motion Picture of 1963 and for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for John Huston. And was nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Best Director for Otto Preminger, and Best Supporting Actor for John Huston.

      1. Also Romy Schneider was the 1st Actress to win the Cesar Award for Best Actress at the 1st ever Cesar Awards in 1976 and won 3 years later in 1979 and got 5 Cesar Award nominations in her career. And the Cesar Awards are the French version of the Oscars in the US, and the BAFTA’s in the UK.