“Asterix and the Class Act” is an Asterix clips show!
No, it’s better than that. These are clips you’ve likely never seen before, unless you maintained your “Pilote” subscription throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Clip Show Credits
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion/Hachette
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 2003
What’s It All About?
Published in 2003, “Asterix and the Class Act” strings together a series of short Asterix stories, most of which come from Pilote Magazine in the 1960s, where Asterix was originally serialized. There are additional stories from other times and places, and even a brand new story directly for this book. (You had to draw in the super collectors with something, I suppose.)
The book is a nice glimpse into some aspects of Asterix’s publishing history that I’ll cover as we go along, with a few stand out moments and stories. Most of it is, indeed, just filler for a couple of pages when necessary. It’s not bad, but two pages is hardly enough time to get something going that will be too terribly funny.
This is a book likely appreciated more by an Asterix scholar than by an average fan. From that point of view, it’s a pretty good book. It helps solidify a couple of opinions/theories I’ve had, plus shows how good the characters and series can be, even in short bursts.
The first page of the book is recycled from an introductory or promotional page done for “Asterix and the Big Fight.” It’s Chief Vital Statistix holding a press conference. He sits up on a dais behind a covered table, a bank of microphones in front of him. He answers questions from the press in a perfect politician’s voice. As it turns out, this is meant to be a riff off of France’s then-president, Charles De Gaulle. No doubt, he was a plane talker.
(Yes, I just went for a Goscinny/Bell-level pun there with De Gaulle, whom they named an airport after.)
(If you have to explain the joke, it isn’t funny.)
It is weird to see an Asterix character in front of a piece of technology that was still 1800 or 1900 years away… But it’s still fun!
“Asterix and the Class Act” – 2 pages – 1966
It’s the first day of school and none of the kids in the Village want to go back. So Asterix and Obelix run around collecting them. In the end, there’s a cute turnaround where Obelix shows his lack of knowledge and has to go back to school.
It’s fun to see Uderzo drawing the kids this early in his Asterix run. We didn’t see much of them in the main stories until later in the book’s run, it feels like. I think Uderzo liked drawing them, too, because he used them more in his own books.
We first saw the children in school in “Asterix the Gaul,” where the Bard was teaching math. He used a stone tablet to write on in front of the class, though.
Here, their teacher, Getafix, is writing on something that looks more like a black chalkboard. Oh, how times have changed. Asterix has gotten positively modern.
I bet if Uderzo had just drawn another two books, Getafix would be teaching off a whiteboard. (I’m not holding my breath for a “smart board.”)
“The Birth of Asterix” – 4 pages – 1994
This one puts some continuity pieces together. It’s set in the year 35 Before Caesar in honor of Asterix’s 35th anniversary. I guess that makes it about 85 or 87 B.C. (BCE), depending on how you measure “before Caesar.”
Again, it’s Uderzo writing more kids for himself to draw. This time, it’s our standard cast of characters as kids. It’s Asterix and Obelix’s birthday, which we learned in “Asterix and the Actress” was the same day and time. In that book, it must have been about their fortieth, in which case they’re aging very well. The Magic Potion is an elixir towards smoothing out those wrinkles!
Here we meet their parents again, but also see Vitalstatistix, Getafix, Fulliautomatix, and the Bard as kids. From this, we learn that Asterix and Obelix are younger than most of the rest of the usual cast.
Geriatrix doesn’t look much different. He’s just always been old.
As it turns out, all the kids look exactly like their parents in Asterix’s world.
The story does get a few good laughs in, though, as we get the Village’s first ever fish fight. Kids will be kids and say such hurtful things, and those will funnel up to the parents whose apples didn’t fall far from their own trees and — well, this is a village of fighters. It is funny to see Asterix and Obelix’s fathers running around with fish in their hands.
If you’re going to run with this idea that the two leads in the series were born at the same time, this isn’t a bad story to tell. It’s cute and it has a few laughs. I like it.
“In 50 B.C.” – 3 pages – May 1977
This is a try-out that Goscinny and Uderzo put together to try to sell Asterix to North America via National Geographic. It retells the origin of the series, basically, in comic strip form. There’s a gag at the end of every two or three panel strip. Goscinny does a good job, in particular, at poking fun of the French in the two tiers I’ll reprint here:
For what it’s meant to be, it’s not too bad. But part of the fun of Asterix is watching things steamroll. Seeing the puns flow across panels, and the gags build upon themselves is where things get really funny. Cutting out after every third panel to start a new joke from scratch is just not as satisfying.
It’s just the wrong format for the series. It was worth a try, but it was not meant to be. They were better off not concentrating on it. Of course, Goscinny died not long afterwards, so it wouldn’t have mattered…
“Chanticleerix the Gaulish Cockerel” – 5 pages – 2003
This is the original story Uderzo wrote and drew for this book.
I’ve said before that it’s obvious he loves to draw animals, and this is the perfect expression of that. When given the chance to do any kind of short story he’d want to do, he drew a book about a rooster.
And it’s not a bad little story. It was inspired by an idea for a Dogmatix spin-off animated movie Uderzo and Goscinny had had in the 70s, which helps explain why Dogmatix gets involved in it. Dogmatix talks! (We’ll see if he talks in his upcoming television series. I’ll bet he does. All modern animation is insanely talkative, because it’s cheaper to animate lips than whole bodies.)
There’s a cute twist at the end for how well Obelix understands Dogmatix that I’m sure some people won’t like. I have no problem with it, maybe because a short like this almost feels so easy to ignore, or because the whole story is so different from the norm that this feels like an alternative take on the Asterix world. It’s cute and the animals have great attitudes.
In television terms, this short story is the back door pilot for a Dogmatix series. Ten years later, that’s finally happening…
It’s fun to see Dogmatix drawn larger than an eighth of an inch on the page, too.
“For Gaul Lang Syne” – 2 pages – 1967
This story is all about the mistletoe. Obelix has the bright idea to use the “kiss under the mistletoe” tradition to grab a smooch with Panacea. Things don’t quite go as planned, but Obelix kisses a series of all the wrong people instead: Getafix, Scarlatina (who?!?), and even a Roman soldier.
The final tier is super cute and funny, as Panacea finally smooches — Dogmatix. Awwwww…
I liked it. It feels like classic Asterix material, and they made it at a time when one might argue Goscinny and Uderzo were just getting into the swing of the series.
“Mini Midi Maxi” – 2 pages – 1971
This one made me laugh out loud. It’s the first story in the book that did so. There are a couple of things going on at the same time here that make it work so well. The conceit of the story is that the narrator is explaining to a modern audience (in “Elle” magazine, where this was published) how Gaul’s women dressed back in the day. (Think of those old Disney shorts where the narrator would explain what Goofy is doing, disastrously.)
Mrs. Geriatrix is in the center of every panel, posing for the reader and showing them everything the narrator is talking about, from the length of her skirt and tunic to the cut of her bodice.
That’s layer one.
The second layer is all the craziness that’s actually happening on the panel. Impedimenta — Chief Vitalstatistix’s wife — is upset that she wasn’t chosen for this job. The two husbands then come onto the scene to try to sort things out, but they have short tempers and bad communication skills. Things get worse.
Unhygienix gets called in and the fish start flying until it’s an all-Village fight, with Getafix rushing to the melee to try to stop it, as a fish hangs in mid-air aimed straight at him.
I love this one. It’s two pages, moves fast, builds things up fast, and does funny stuff in fine Asterix tradition.
“Asterix as you’d have never seen him before…” – 3 pages – 1969
This is a funny play on styles for Uderzo who both wrote and drew this one. It’s Asterix done in five different ways, as reactions to reader suggestions for what style the stories should be done in. Done wrong, this might look horribly defensive. I think Uderzo did this one right, casually poking fun at the suggestions by rewriting them to be over the top, while showing off his skills in cartooning.
The first image is actually a painting. To me, it looks like a Jack Davis/Harvey Kurtzman piece. It feels like it’s going for the MAD Magazine style, borne of people that Rene Goscinny once worked with in America. I saw one normally reliable resource on-line say Uderzo drew it in a “Disney style,” likely because there’s a Mickey Mouse reference in the fake letter from a reader. If anything, given the appearance of dynamite and bombs and bullets in the piece, I’d say it was more a Warner Bros. style, a la Wile E. Coyote.
But I still think this is MAD-style here.
“The Lutetia Olympics” – 4 pages – 1986
Paris made a bid for the 1992 Olympics in 1986. As part of that, Albert Uderzo drew a poster and a four page story.
It’s a cute little story. I like the names in this story, specifically Partipolitix and his assistant, Civilservix. There’s a good gag with Vitalstatistix falling off his shield (again), Caesar barking orders, and Asterix and Obelix saving the day in Paris. Uderzo’s art is solid, and he throws in some good wordplay that doesn’t overdo it or play things too obviously.
Paris didn’t wind get the games that year, but it wasn’t Asterix’s fault.
“Springtime in Gaul” – 2 pages – 1966
Uderzo gave Goscinny the issue off and wrote this one, himself. So, of course, the story starts with a small magical man frozen in the snow, who eventually is revived to fight off another flying magical man intent to do harm.
Yup, that’s Uderzo writing his fantasy stories again.
The art is OK, but I’m still not a fan of Asterix fantasy stories. It feels like some of those latter Smurfs television episodes where they started to include all sorts of fantasy characters to keep the show going. (Not that little blue creatures in white hats aren’t fantasy, themselves, but the writers still needed to look outside them and go even MORE fantastical to keep things going.)
“The Mascot” – 4 pages – 1968
The Romans kidnap Dogmatix because they want a mascot. It would be good for morale. They didn’t realize whose dog this was, and that turns out to be their ultimate undoing.
Goscinny’s script packs a lot of story in these four pages, and carefully picks which things to show and which to explain in the caption boxes to keep things moving in a story with a constrained page count. Plus, there are Romans to beat up, and that happens a lot…
An idea like this could easily be expanded and turned into an entire album, but Goscinny did well in keeping things focused and direct. I like the story, and it’s always good to see Dogmatix in action, even if it’s still at his standard eighth of an inch of space at the bottom of the panel.
“Latinomania” – 1 page – 1973
A simple one page gag, but a solid one. I laughed out loud. If you’re a word nerd, you’ll love it, too. Goscinny sought to show the silliness of people complaining about English words invading French by showing Roman words showing up in French in Asterix’s day. I don’t want to give anything away, but the whole page is great.
Interestingly, the introduction to this story points out that all the stories in this book dating back to the 1960s have not only been re-colored (and were likely recolored again a few year later in the remastered editions), but also re-inked. I’m not sure if that was to help bring them up to modern style guides, or just to cover up for bad negatives they might have had to republish the stories from. I’d be curious to find out, though….
“The Authors Take the Stage” -1 page – 1962-1963
Albert Uderzo once did a painting of himself and Rene Goscinny as Obelix and Asterix, respectively. That’s what this page is all about. That, and I guess it’s setting up the next two stories:
“The Obelix Family Tree” – 5 pages – 1963
Keep in mind that this story doesn’t have a point or an ending or anything like that. It’s still entertaining for five pages. In it, Goscinny and Uderzo meet a descendant of Obelix’s. They take him to Paris with them to meet the staff of Pilote magazine. The descendant, of course, brings his menhir with him and wreaks havoc all over the place.
It’s clearly done in the early days of Asterix, because Obelix’s proportions are still much squatter, but it’s well drawn and funny even if it’s pointless. There’s a family tree for Obelix’s clan that takes up a whole page with some funny examples throughout history. If you’re better versed in European history, it might appeal to you even more than me.
It’s an enjoyable short story, and it’s fun to see Uderzo draw himself and Goscinny again.
“The Birth of an Idea” – 1 page – 1962
Wasn’t there a “Valerian and Laureline” book where Pierre Christin and Jean-Claude Mezieres are seen plotting a “Valerian and Laureline” story? I can’t find it right now, but I’m pretty sure it exists. And if it does, this is the Asterix edition of that gag, but funnier. Of course.
In this super short story, Goscinny and Uderzo crack each other up while plotting a story outside a French bistro, much to the bemusement and concern of on-lookers. It’s told mostly in pictographs and sound effects and almost no no clear dialogue. When Goscinny whispers something to Uderzo, it’s written out as “rhubarbrhubarbrhubarb”.
It’s a fun and silly three-quarters of a page gag. It’s very early in Asterix’s run, but should be just as things are starting to take off. It feels like such an innocent and fun-loving little story, that I love it all the more.
Yes, if you’re already an Asterix fan. It’s a great collection of material from across the ages that would best be appreciated by someone who’s long followed the Gauls in their Village.
It’s a typical anthology book in that there’s a mix of quality to the pieces. I don’t think there are any terrible pieces, but some are better than others. Even Uderzo working solo hits a couple of high points in this book.
— 2018.094 —
I had to include this somewhere. Schulz à la Uderzo: