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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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…
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.
Alea Jacta Est!
I don’t think my wife would have appreciated it if this is how I started teaching our daughter the alphabet…
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.“