Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad return for their fourth outing together as the stewards of Asterix’s adventures. This time, they’re reaching into Gallic history, mixing in some tried and true Asterix tropes, and making a funny book set in the Village and on the high seas.
Most of all, it’s time to meet Vercingetorix’s daughter!
(Oh, and those guesses I made earlier in the year about what the plot might be? None of that came true.)
Credits with a Moustache
Translator: Alexandra Hunter
Published by: Orion/Hachette
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 2019
What’s Going On?
Some old friends of Chief Vitalstatistix arrive at the Village on an important matter: They have to keep Vercingetorix’s daughter safe. The Romans are looking for her.
They need to head over to London to secure her path to safety. Can Chief Vitalstatistix watch over her while they do that?
That daughter, now a teenager, displays many similar traits to what we saw from the teenager in the “Asterix and the Normans” book, Justforkix. She doesn’t like to deal with authority figures. She’s her own person.
She also has a natural charisma and leadership quality underneath all of that that, no doubt, comes from her father.
Most of all, she’s a teenager the adults of the Village will find very disagreeable.
The Romans know she’s in the Village, she’s planning to escape the Village, and everyone winds up fighting each other over her on the high seas.
Yes, that means everyone’s favorite Pirates show up, too!
It’s a Silly, Comedic Romp
This is not a book jam-packed with cultural references and puns at the expense of a certain subset of people. Sure, there are moments with those, but this is more of a Village story.
It’s not a book like “Obelix and Co“, which is a commentary on society or political systems.
It’s more like “Asterix the Legionary” or “Asterix at the Olympic Games.” It’s a series of crazy gags and funny jokes. It’s Ferri and Conrad letting loose with those skills. The book is successful in the way it handles telling those jokes — both in the characters they come from, and in their execution.
To me, the highlight of this book is seeing how expertly they handle the execution of the gags. It’s the way the joke is told, and then an extra panel is added to give you a second punchline that’s just as funny, if not funnier.
It’s the way things build up. It’s the way running gags continue from the series, overall, and from elsewhere in the same book.
It’s unrelenting, too. Flip casually through the book and glance at each page. There’s a lot of stuff happening. Characters are fighting, there’s lots of urgent running around, and when characters aren’t physically engaged, you can see the large lettering as they yell at each other and have animated discussions.
That’s exactly what I love about this book. Once it gets started, it doesn’t let up. The second half of the book, in particular, is one long rollicking chase sequence with lots of great moments.
(Warning: The next paragraph might be considered Spoilers. If you’re particularly sensitive to those, please skip to the next.)
It all comes together because Ferri sets the stage with various groups of people who are at odds with various other factions in interesting ways. Yes, Caesar wants the girl for his own, but his Roman soldiers closest to the Village don’t want any action with the drinkers of the Magic Potion and do everything they can to avoid them. The pirates on the high seas don’t want to go near the Gauls, either, for much the same reason, but then they find something of a kindred spirit in Adrenalin, who fights them to take her. Then the Roman boat shows up and the fights break out in every direction.
It’s absolute chaos, and the results are hilarious.
Ferri sets all of this action up in little ways in the first half of the book to make it all pay off in the second. The story feels out of control in the best possible way — it’s everybody heading in different directions on their own agendas that often seem counter-intuitive.
That’s the strength of this book — it’s plotted in such a way to build up to this wonderful stream of clashes. That’s something that feels straight out of Rene Goscinny’s writer’s manual.
The History of Ancient Gaul
Or: “Previously in Asterix…”
Only a drunk man in jail dares to speak Vercingetorix’s name at full volume. Frequently.
And the location of Alesia is not discussed, as if it never happened. (See “Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield.”)
There are big gaps in the historical record when it comes to Vercingetorix. (I covered some of what we do know about Vercingetorix previously.) In this book, there’s even a caption that admits the appearance of his daughter here is not necessarily historical fact.
That’s OK. And we’ll try not to think about this too much. We know the Romans wants to capture her so they can convert her into a Roman of their own. It’s a thing they did at the time.
Why Asterix and Obelix don’t gather up Adrenalin and head over to Rome to find her father, who’d be locked in a prison somewhere, awaiting his eventual execution a few years later, is beyond me.
OK, that’s unfair. This is a light-hearted all-ages comedy/adventure book. Rescuing Vercingetorix would be tampering with history perhaps too much, and going after him might be a little too serious a storyline to consider.
Perhaps everyone just assumes he’s dead already and it would be a fool’s mission. (It’s easy enough to envision a storyline where someone comes to the Village with news of Vercingetorix’s survival, though.)
(One more parenthetical: This is where I’ll once more advocate for the idea of a one shot by a strong creator or creative team to handle such a story in whatever style they choose, much like we see happening with “Spirou” or “Lucky Luke” or “Valerian” these days.)
Back to “Chieftain’s Daughter,” though. The big gag of this book is that nobody dares speak Vercingetorix’s name at full voice. It must always be whispered. This leads to some funny situations, such as the one in which Vitalstatistix’s wife wakes him up with news:
His name must always be spoken in hushed tones.
The Art of Didier Conrad
Let me stake this opportunity to talk about Didier Conrad’s art for a moment: It’s wonderful. You can see it in that panel above. He has the character models down about as good as you can without being Albert Uderzo, himself. He draws them with lots of emotion and action.
He can punctuate a gag with a subtle glance from a character or a wild gesture that sends their body up into the air with motion lines surrounding them.
He’s saved from having to draw a million horses in this book (like he did on “Asterix and the Chariot Race“), but he’s still putting in an enormous amount of work, and it all shows on the page.
His usual art style is very different. What I’ve seen of it is inker, looser, and a little more simplified. I have no doubt he’s working harder to keep up this style. Even with a two year cycle, it feels like an awful lot of work to put together a book this detailed. There’s not a panel wasted or an image cheated in this tight 44 page story.
They make special editions of these books in France that often include the black and white art or the original pencils or a big sketchbook section. Unfortunately, they’re all limited editions with price tags that can cause even Artist’s Edition fans to faint — and that’s before the shipping from France.
It can be so frustrating being on this side of the Atlantic sometimes…
We’ve had other gags in recent outings that rely on modern day knowledge. There was a great email attachment gag in “Missing Scroll,” for example, and a Twitter reference in “Asterix and the Chariot Race.”
With the announcement that Papercutz is doing all new translations of the Asterix series to better appeal to American audiences, I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of cultural references the series does, or should do.
Should “Asterix” be a series always set during its heyday in the 1960s?
Don Rosa’s Duck stories are always set during Carl Barks’ prime period. Should the same be done with “Asterix”?
The classic Warner Bros. animated shorts made plenty of references to people and media of their day that people today have never heard of. (Hello, Wendell Wilkie and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”) Nobody since has tried to keep those characters in the 1940s. Tiny Toon Adventures went far in the opposite direction with all its references.
I don’t think even Albert Uderzo has attempted to hold Asterix back to the 1960s or even the 1970s. He’s made more modern references in the course of the series, most notably in his last effort, “Asterix and the Falling Sky.”
Even then, Uderzo was long past his twenties when he was doing Asterix stories in the 80s and 90s. If his references were set in the series’ prime era, that might just be because his own cultural references were similarly stuck in that time.
I could write a story today with all of its cultural references set to 1980s movies and sit-coms. Normally, I’d say that would stake me as an old fuddy-duddy, but then we also have runaway hits like “Stranger Things” doing the same. (“Wonder Woman 84” is coming…)
That being said, Goscinny and Uderzo made references to people and events in their own time in the series. There’s no reason why a modern creator shouldn’t do the same. It might feel a bit weird, but it makes sense. We need to adjust to that. The trick is not to make the references instantly dated or groan-worthy for their attempts to sound “hip.”
In this book’s case, we have the teenagers bumping fists and speaking in modern slang, like with a “Don’t even” line of dialogue. It’s not overwhelming, but it does recur often enough to let you keep in mind that, yes, these are the kids. It’s obvious that they speak with an affectation compared to the rest of the adults.
The best part of having the kids around, though, is in seeing how they relate to the adults. Obviously, there’s the rebellion against authority bit, but there are two adult Villagers that they have softer feelings towards.
The first is the adult outcast in the Village, Cacofonix. The comparisons are obvious, but I like the last balloon here:
Is it possible that his music is so bad, traditionally, that it’s good to the upstart youth culture? Or is this more a commentary from the authors on how awful young people’s music is? I could read it either way, and it would still work.
The other comparison is more one-sided. Obelix thinks he’s one of them. After all, teenagers have simple minds, too!
He thinks he can blend in with them because they’re so much alike. And, truth be told, there’s a case to be made there. It’s adorable and sad, all at the same time.
The kids aren’t just an extension of the Village. They help give us new angles on our old favorites in the Village. That’s worth putting up with the occasional backwards baseball cap or fist bump.
The question is, does that level of modernization work for the series? Will we only see more of that in the future as “Asterix” remains a living and viable property into the future? Does it have to include that to avoid being a purely nostalgic play that’s stuck in the past?
To some degree, it probably will have to change.
I’m drawing the line at rewriting classic volumes to be more modern, though. I’m looking at you, Papercutz…
What I Didn’t Like: The Accent
I must be missing a cultural reference here. This might actually be something that the Papercutz translation could fix for me.
I don’t get the accents on the Averni. It reads partially like Sean Connery, and partially like someone with a speech impediment. The “S” sound becomes a “SH” unless it’s a plural “S” in which case it’s a “J” sound. Except for the times it isn’t. Sometimes, the plural “S” becomes “SJ” and the possessive “S” becomes “J”.
It’s a chore to read. It’s not a funny accent, like how the font would change for the Normans. It’s not the kind of thing that sounds funny in your head as you read it, like one of the accents Dave Sim would do so well in the prime era of “Cerebus.”
The biggest sin is that the book starts of with that accent and there’s a lot of talking heads at the top to set the book up. I had to wade through a lot of this annoying text to get to the other side.
The British Are Coming!
Obviously, news of Papercutz retranslating these books for an American audience is still at the top of my mind. I can’t help but look at this translation more closely than usual.
Adriana Hunter does a good job, overall, but I have some quibbles.
For starters, this book felt very British to me. There’s always a little nit-pick here and there to remind me that this book is translated for a British audience. There are a couple more jarring moments than usual from that direction in this book, though.
The biggest one happens in this panel:
We don’t use “pants” like that in America. I’m enough of an Anglophile to get it it, but I’m sure there are more Americans who don’t and will find it very strange, indeed.
Best Name of the Book
I liked Binjwatchflix a bunch. When I first read it, it felt a little weird because it’s so modern. But like I said earlier, I’m leaning into the modern references more. I’m accepting them, so long as they don’t go too far or take over completely.
And with other names like Monolithix and Sidekix for the two dads, and Adrenalin—
Hey, wait, why does her name end in “-in” and not a “-ix”? I like the name because it can be very descriptive of a teenager, in general, but it doesn’t seem to fit the suffix rules for her people.
At least she doesn’t talk with a bad accent…
The other modern name in the book that jumped out at me was Selfipix.
Other new names in the book include Snoexcuses, Ludwikamadeus, and Backtobasix.
The problem with most of these names, though, is that they have nothing to do with he personality attached to them. They don’t set up a gag of their own, like a witty line of dialogue that incorporates the name in a secondarily punny name. I like “Binjwatchflix”, but his role in this book has nothing to do with the mass consumption of media. I guess you can make the argument that as a spy, he was watching Vercingetorix’s people very carefully?
That’s half the cleverness of Hockridge and Bell’s names, though: They meant something. Dogmatix, Getafix, and Cacofonix give you hints of the characters based on their names alone. Some other more obscure names get incorporated into dialogue in a way that pays them off as a joke.
The names in this book don’t do that often enough.
Another close runner up in the naming department would be Binjwatchflix’s horse, Nosferatus, who I guess is white like a vampire?
Bonus: It looks like Binjwatchflix and Nosferatus are being attacked by the Avengers in this panel, with the shield and hammer being thrown at them. That can’t entirely be a coincidence, can it?
Yes! While it’s not as strong a book as “Asterix and the Missing Scroll,” I think it’s stronger than the other two books from Ferri and Conrad. I like the humorous feel of the book, like it’s coming from two creators with enough experience to know how to lay out and properly pace a gag. They surprised me a number of times in the book with little jokes, and it all adds up.
The story isn’t terribly deep. There’s a point to be made about “the next generation” in the Village, and it does go in a different direction from what we saw in “Asterix and the Normans.” It’s a similar theme with different results, and I can appreciate that.
— 2019.053 —