Asterix v34 "Asterix and Obelix's Birthday the Golden Book" cover detail by Albert Uderzo or his studio.
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Asterix v34: “Asterix and Obelix’s Birthday: The Golden Book”

In celebration of Asterix’s 50th anniversary, Albert Uderzo proudly presented “Asterix and Obelix’s Birthday: The Golden Book” in 2009.

You know all those ideas you left in old notebooks?  They’re the bits and pieces that didn’t fit into previous stories.  They’re random and can’t be used immediately, so you store them for later use.

Uderzo finally found a home for those ideas.

That’s this book, only there’s kinda sorta an attempt to make something coherent out of the bits.  It doesn’t work, but they try.

Why don’t I just be charitable and call this book a “victory lap” kind of thing.  Uderzo, at this point, was done with the series and thought it was over.  So he threw a bunch of stuff against the wall to see if anything would stick.

This did not:

Yes, that says, “These Romans are crazy!”

Obelix tagging a wall just — no.

Let’s just get to the credits:

The Final Credits

Albert Uderzo gets the blame credit for most of this book, though Rene Goscinny did write one section of it.

Uderzo gives special thanks at the end of the book to Frederic and Thierry Mebarki, who are his inker and colorist from his studios.  Also, he names Regis Grebent, who is the head of Studio 56, which is the team that puts together Asterix-related material, including these books.

What I’m trying to say here is, this is a studio production. Uderzo has never been one to officially give anyone else any credit, not even his brother when he was inking and coloring the darn thing. How much of this book did Uderzo do?  For the parts which are panel to panel storytelling, I would guess he did some layouts.

What Is This Mish Mash?

This is what happens when Asterix stops being a character in an inventive series of stories, and turns into “The Franchise.”  This is the moment you can put your finger on directly and say, “This is when Uderzo gave up retired and let his co-creation fly.”

Now, this isn’t a new thing.  Asterix had been huge in Europe for thirty years before this book was published in 2009.  He had a satellite named after him and a series of movies, both animated and live action.  Asterix was already everywhere.

Asterix and friends attend one of their own movies.
There’s a movie sequence in the book, as well.

But there was still this facade that he was the star of a classic series of books with a singular vision.

This book is just a collection of random gags and moments and homages in which Asterix and Obelix happen to star. This is Uderzo using Asterix as a prop for 48 pages.  There are guest stars galore, panels lifted from many of the previous volumes for various reasons to be used in this one.

This is likely a style guide from an animated movie, but I really like it, so I’m glad they included it:

Pencil layout sketches showing what Asterix does when he takes his magic potion.

The book is so random that I’m having a tough time deciding how to review it.

If I wanted to be generous, I would title this “Asterix’s Victory Lap.”  It’s like the hard work is over, and now let’s bring everyone back on stage for a moment and tie it together as weakly as possible.

50 Years Later…

While reading the Asterix books this year, my modern mind occasionally would wonder what the “sequel” would look like. What would happen to the Gauls if we skipped ahead by 25 or even fifty years?  What would they look like, what would their roles be, and how is the next generation carrying on the proud traditions for Free Gaul?

Or are they doing any of those things at all?  Maybe, eventually, they gave in and gave up. (See “Maybe Asterix Should Just Surrender to Caesar“, one of my more “popular” essays.)

This book starts 50 years after the series, round about the year 0 or 1.  For the most part, everyone’s kid has taken over their role, and Geriatrix is still the old man of a village filled with old men and women now. 

Asterix has moved out to the country with his family.  Today, he’s babysitting his multiple grandkids that his lookalike son left him with.  They all go to cheer up the kids’ great uncle Obelix.

Poor Obelix isn’t enjoying life.  Menhirs don’t bring him joy.  The forests are victims of Roman development, so boar are less easy to hunt.

What’s the point in life?

Yeah, this book gets dark fast.

Asterix and Obelix are 50 years older and sad

That’s when Albert Uderzo appears on the scene — an Uderzo who’s about 30 years younger than the real life one at the time — and switches the whole set-up back to 50 B.C.

While it’s nice to get a glimpse at what Asterix and Obelix’s futures might hold, it’s kind of depressing and then it’s undone in an instant and we’re told it’s basically a dream sequence so never mind.  

Uderzo deserved the thumping Obelix gives him.

It reminds me a bit of things like the whole Azrael story of the 1990s.  For those who don’t remember that one, when Batman’s back was broken, Azrael replaced him. Azrael didn’t have the restraint that Bruce Wayne had.   Denny O’Neil said that this whole storyline was meant to show the people who wished Batman was more punishing that they were wrong.  Give them what they want and watch as they want to go back to the tried and true.

I just had that feeling with a 50 years older Asterix.

Everything Else

From there, the book goes on to be a series of random gags in search of a story. A cavalcade of characters from past books show up again in cameo appearances.

Obelix goes back to school to learn to read — which even Groo had figured out how to do by 2009. That plot is quickly dropped, and I’m afraid I don’t even get the final gag.   

Then there’s the gossip around the Village about how Asterix and Obelix are confirmed bachelors and will never get married at the rate they’re going.  The woman of the Village want to help, and —

–well, that doesn’t go anywhere either.

In the far flung future, Obelix must lose weight to get in shape.

This is in contrast to “Asterix and Son,” when the gossip was all bout Asterix’s illegitimate child.

We do, however, get a mock tourism packet to tell us how great Armorica is to visit.  This is the odd part of the book.  It’s actually written by Rene Goscinny.  The text was originally published in Pilote Journal.

It’s clever, but it goes on a little too long. It’s illustrated mostly by panels pulled from various Asterix books where they fit well, even if it starts to feel like a clips show.

There are also gags that I’ve already read in other stories.  I’m not sure of the timelines on those gags — it’s possible Goscinny used them here first and reused them in the comics later.

But as a historical artifact, I appreciate its inclusion, much like I did the entire “Asterix and the Class Act” book.

The book also includes a last minute attempt to add a Julius Caesar story. Caesar sends a jug of poisoned wine to the Village as a gift.  It’s a dumb plan and it falls apart immediately and predictability.

However, I like Julius Caesar and want to give him his due.  So here he is in a panel looking regal:

Julius Caesar rallies his Roman troops

There are some cute paintings redone with Asterix in mind.  There’s some alternate panels to recent books done in pencil.  You even get a theme park gag to celebrate Parc Asterix. Sadly, it includes a panel of Asterix and Obelix riding a dolphin, which I know is an actual attraction at the park, but which still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth from the comics. (Update: The dolphin show at Parc Asterix closed in 2021.)

The gags — much like this review — are all over the place.  How about a random album cover parody?  OK:

Cacofonix "Chiller" album cover parodies the Michael Jackson "Thriller" cover layout perfectly.

I could be generous and say that they were looking to take note of all the major phases of Asterix’s life in one book.  That’s why they bring in the theme part stuff and Uderzo’s appearance, and why setting the book at any other time than 50 BC would be a bad idea.

I’m not sure I buy that, though.

The grand finale is a two page spread with dozens of characters in a circle wishing Asterix and Obelix a happy birthday, including a laughing menhir. It’s a nice final page to Uderzo’s career, whoever actually drew it…

Recommended?

Asterix v34 "Asterix and Obelix's Birthday the Golden Book" cover by Albert Uderzo or his studio.

For completists, yes.  For everyone else — read the other 34 books first.

I don’t want to be mean here.  The book is what it is.  There’s some cute stuff in it, but the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  It tries to be all things to all people and fails miserably from that.

For those of you who are good with math: Yes, if this book celebrated the series’ 50th anniversary in 2009, then that means we’re hitting the 60th anniversary in 2019.  Good news: They’re working on a book to celebrate that, too.  This time, it’s a smorgasbord of current BD creators chipping in.  I’ve seen pieces of contributions from Alessandro Barbucci and Nob show up on Instagram already, with plenty more to come.  I’m very excited for that book…

— 2018.100

(🎉 Yes, this is the 100th new review for the year.  🎉)

This Is Not The End

There was a time when I thought this was the official end of the line for Asterix book reviews.

I was wrong.

Just this past weekend, I picked up a copy of “How Obelix Fell Into the Magic Potion When He Was a Little Boy.”  So I do, indeed, have one more book to cover. (Update: Here’s my review.)

Not that that’s the official end of me talking about Asterix, either.  I have a lot more to say. The official story of “Reviewing Every Book Uderzo Drew” will end there, though.

Stay tuned…

Alea Jacta Est!

Bonus Panel

I don’t think my wife would have appreciated it if this is how I started teaching our daughter the alphabet…

Next Book!

Macaroon quotes from Loch Lomond and he'll take the high road, thanks

Sure, why not? Let’s keep going.

It’s Asterix and the Picts, the first book in the series by the new creative team of Didier Conrad and Jean-Yves Ferri. It’s time for a trip north to Scotland, complete with caber tossing and mysterious lake monsters. Let’s talk about “Asterix and the Picts.

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

9 Comments

  1. Oh WOW! You sound grumpier than me tonight! I kinda like the harsher you lol. Spunky!
    Sure this isn’t a good book, it feels like the Rolling stones today playing their greatest hits from ages ago, it feels like those TV reunion specials when the original series ended 30 years ago and everyone in the cast let themselves go, it feels like watching the new season of Murphy Brown, it feels like trying a little bit, but sad at the same time.
    Now I’m wondering why they are calling this book “Birthday” in English, I mean even an idiot knows that should be “Anniversary” (those two are the same word in French, but still).
    And by the way, a donkey in French is “Ane”; why they went with Ass is really weird. Is it a B&H translation? Can’t be.

    1. I learned it from watching you! I wish I had kept the first draft of this review, which was so snarky that I hated myself even more than the book.

      Birthday vs. Anniversary: It’s a hand-waving thing. By setting the first book 50 years into the future, maybe you don’t notice that it’s not their 50th birthday, but the number sticks in your mind and you don’t question it. Misdirection! Also, the final double page spread doesn’t have the flowers in the center of the all the characters translated. So it says Happy Anniversary in French on those pages, too.

      This translation is credited to B&H. And “ass” is acceptable enough for a donkey if you were living in the late 1800 or so, I’d guess. Too bad Uderzo never drew and aardvark or an anteater in the series. They could have copied-and-pasted that onto that page and kept the book “cleaner.”

      And I never made it past the first episode of the new Murphy Brown revival. I just didn’t care. I had other things to watch.

      1. You’re sweet but I can’t take that much credit, it’s just the French spirit rubbing on you after all hehe.
        I had not idea Ass was a real word to designate an animal, who said comics can’t be educational 🙂
        Yeah the new Murphy Brown is really not good, half the jokes are about how old they all are now and Candice Bergen’s two fake hips, it’s kind of tragic compared to the Roseanne/Conners and Will & Grace returns that have really sharp writing. I guess people remember the Dan Quayle controversy and mistake that for political commentary. Sad!
        I’ll second Colin’s remarks, since I haven’t read the most recent Asterix books, I look forward to your take to see if the new team of creators are worth tracking down or not. The current Lucky Luke is terrible so I’m not keeping my hopes up.

        1. Owing to the classical nature of Augie’s blog, it’s worth mentioning that the most common usage of ‘ass’ in modern English is the translated title of Apuleius’s ‘The Golden Ass’.

  2. Those strikethrough words really make my day 🙂
    Good thing you got the Obelix fell into the magic potion so the Asterix Agenda might end on a better note

    1. I’m just happy I finally found a good use of the strikethrough. The option has been there in my editor for years, but I never had much use for it. This review also contains my first ever emoji usage. =)

  3. Oh man where to start with this one… where oh where…. its just so … there. Its hard to hate it, as to hate it you’d have to engage with it on some level and I just found that so hard to do. I found it a real struggle to read, it was so… just there.

    To be honest I think the biggest mistake it makes is trying to put a narrative spine through it which just feels dishonest. It simply doesn’t work and stops the comic being what it really is, a series of sight and slight gags. There are probably some gems in here but read as it is its so hard to stay involved or interested I’d have missed them … even if they are there.

    Damnit there’s not even a pun name worth mentioning. The guest star appearances just seem random and out of context, anyone and everyone visits regardless of their relationship with our hero. …

    As Augie says its really difficult to review as I just didn’t care. Is that the worse crime an Asterix comic can commit… well maybe but it didn’t make me angry which ‘Secret Weapon’ did so it better than that… but at least ‘Falling Sky’ held a story, however bad… so this one has to get an awkward 1.25 out of 10 so it can fit between the two. All I’ve learnt is that I wished I’d scored ‘Secret Weapon’ a 0!

    In good news I’m chuffed you’re carrying on your sterling work Augie and I have the next lined up. Hope this spares you on to cover the Ferri and Conrad books as it will be interesting to revisit these in the context of having read the tales to date.

    1. Hi Colin — Funny you should mention the Ferri/Conrad books: what you suggest is on my list to write in the next couple-ish weeks. It might just be one post taking a fresh look at all three now, but we’ll see how much I have to say.

      I agree with you on the narrative part. If this was just a series of black-out gags or short stories or random bits with text introductions (again, like “Class Act”), I would have liked it more. I’m not sure the Uderzo-as-deus-ex-machina can be completely saved, though….

  4. Sorry I’m late. It took me two weeks to force myself to read this book.

    This book is really bad. 1/5 for me. None of the jokes land at all, and the art feels completely off. The Mona Lisa pic was particularly creepy.

    The only redeeming feature in the entire book is the homage to the cover of the classic One Step Beyond album by Madness.