Asterix and Cleopatra, volume 6, cover detail by Albert Uderzo
|

Asterix v6: “Asterix and Cleopatra”

Cleopatra promises Caesar that Egyptians can still build amazing things.  Cleopatra’s architect enlists some help from Gaul.  Guess who?

Asterix v6 Asterix and the Cleopatra cover by Albert Uderzo
Writer: Rene Goscinny
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Colorist: Marcel Uderzo
Lettering: Bryony Newhouse
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1965
Original Title: “Astérix et Cléopâtre”

Cleopatra

Cleopatra would make a great Kardashian

She has a beautiful nose.  She’s a bit of a drama queen. Everything is super dramatic and over-the-top.  She’s the Kardashian of the Asterix family.

She doesn’t ever say, “What, this old thing?” when someone compliments her dress,  but that’s what you’d expect.

Cleopatra has a beautiful nose, you know

Did I mention her nose yet?  It’s very pointy, and everyone from Caesar to Getafix is in awe of it.

International Rivalry Leads to International Construction

Caesar is insulting the Egyptians, claiming they’re not good at anything except being workers/slaves for the Roman Empire. Cleopatra rises to the bait, promising that her people can build an impressive structure in three months’ time.  She enlists Edifis to design the thing, and threatens him with the crocodile pit if he fails.

Asterix and Obelix take a road trip with Getafix to Egypt
(Pardon the yellow coloring error on Getafix here…)

Edifis is old friends with a Druid named Getafix, though, and calls on his friend to help.  Asterix and Obelix go for the ride.  With the help of their Magic Potion, putting this impressive new building together in such a short time space should be a relatively quick project.

Except — the Romans don’t want to see this happen, nor does Edifis’ heated rival, Artifis.  He’ll stop at nothing to kill this project, including bribing the suppliers to dump their goods into the Nile, trapping the Gauls deep in the heart of a pyramid, and even poisoning Cleopatra.

Jokes Aplenty

It’s a non-stop race to the finish for “Asterix and Cleopatra.” There’s no time for a lull in the action. This book is jam packed.  This is Asterix on overdrive.  Rene Goscinny did his research for this book and cracks as many jokes as is humanly possible in one 42 page story.  And, more impressively, he does it while constantly moving the plot forward.

You also get many returns to old favorite jokes in here. We’ll talk about the jail gag a little later, but you’re also getting a trip to a foreign nation to crack jokes at their expense.  You get the pirates at sea.  You get several variations on “These Romans are crazy!”  You get Obelix complaining that Asterix is bossy.  (See below, also.) Fulliautomatix beats on Cacofonix before he can sing.  Roman soldiers get punched right out of their sandals.

Obelix also wants more Magic Potion.  He tries to sneak it in several times during the book, and then almost doesn’t believe it when Getafix finally offers it to him.  It’s a cute moment in the book, but I don’t get why it was necessary.  Did he really need it to break down that door?  There was not other need for it, and no fall out for Getafix giving Obelix those drops.  It’s almost the only part of the book that felt like filler.

The Druid Getafix gives Obelix some Magic Potion to help escape from inside an Egyptian pyramid.

But, then, you also get Sphinx jokes (which seem tired by now, but in 1963 were probably new-ish), jokes about tourism in Egypt, puns on the Nile, Egyptians who speak only in hieroglyphics that are almost possible to decipher, Egyptian traffic visual gags, and so much more.

It’s a good mix that brings back old favorites without feeling like one big retread.

Obelix: Overlooked?

Asterix can be a little know it all sometimes, perhaps because he knows more of it than Obelix.

Something I don’t think I’ve mentioned before, but has shown up two or three times is Obelix’s jealousy of Asterix.

They’re best friends, but he’s annoyed that Asterix is always the hero of every story.  Everyone assumes Asterix knows all the answers and will be the leader.  Why doesn’t anyone ever give Obelix that chance?  That comes up as a larger part of the story in “Asterix and the Chariot Race.”

Usually, Asterix is able to defuse it quickly, or something else happens to distract them and we all move on. But it still shows up at different times in the books. The level of severity wavers.  Sometimes, it’s just an off-handed mention, while there are other times when it explodes in full bold lettering and shouting back and forth. In the end, Obelix always falls back in line.

Asterix is a better strategist.  Obelix just want to punch his way out of every situation.  It makes sense that Asterix should lead, but there are times when I feel badly for Obelix, who probably just isn’t feeling completely appreciated.

Asterix’s Get Out of Jail Free Card

Asterix Obelix and Getafix break out of an Egyptian prison

In my review of “Asterix and the Banquet“, I griped that Asterix and Obelix being “trapped” in jail and getting out easily is becoming repetitive and, perhaps, less funny over time.

After this book, I think I may take that back.  At this point, Goscinny is so committed to the gag that I’m beginning to appreciate the way he makes sure to include it in every book.  Part of me wants to start a Tumblr for all the panels of Obelix breaking down the door of a jail.

While I groaned when I saw the trio back in a jail cell in Egypt, something snapped inside of me this week and I learned to just go along with the running gag and laugh at how easily they take the situation in stride.

At this point, I half expect the next book to feature Asterix in jail, rolling his eyes, shrugging his shoulder, facing the readers and breaking the fourth wall with some kind of comment like, “Oh, this old thing?” while throwing a thumb at the door.

The Movies

One of the Gerard Depardieu-helmed live-action “Asterix” movies adapted “Asterix and Cleopatra” in 2002.  I’ve not seen it, and there’s no English language edition of it (see “The Complete Asterix and Obelix Streaming Guide” for details), so I likely never will. I am, however, curious about it just because they cast Monica Bellucci as Cleopatra. The movie can’t be all bad, if only for that…

And, of course, the relationship of this book to the classic Elizabeth Tailor movie can’t be ignored. That “Cleopatra” movie came out in 1963.  This book was serialized in 1963 in “Pilote”, with the first collected edition printed in 1965. (You can find the exact issues in “Asterix: The Pilote Publication Guide.”)

Asterix and Cleopatra's cover next to the Cleopatra movie poster of similar vintage

The cover shows two obvious influences.  Check out the similarity in font between the two titles, and then the obvious homage in the character positioning. It’s not exact, but it’s close enough.

Whose Buddy Hackett Is It, Anyway?

Buddy Hackett provides inspiration for Albert Uderzo

Upper Left: Buddy Hackett, legendary Hollywood funny man.

Upper Right: Scuttle, a dinglehoffer-collecting character from “The Little Mermaid” that he voiced, and who looks a lot like him.

On the bottom left is Cleopatra’s food taster.

On the bottom right is Exlibris, the Egyptian scribe who works for Edifis.

Did Uderzo really use the same actor as inspiration for two characters in the same book?  Or am I just reading too much into things here?

(Update: Fittingly, the character of Exlibris, the scribe, is actually being played by Rene Goscinny here.  Thanks, JC, in the comments below. You are all reading the comments, right? We’ve got a full scale book club going on there.)

Best Names of “Asterix and Cleopatra”

No doubt the two winners are the Egyptian architects at the center of this book, the perfectly named Artifis and Edifis.  I love both names even if I need to look them up whenever I’m writing about one or the other because I confuse their names so easily.  The connection between their names and their jobs is too perfect.

A close second place goes to Rome’s own, Superfluous.  His appearance is brief and he is quickly knocked out, but I love that name.

Recommended?

The Asterix Agenda v6: "Asterix and Cleopatra"

Very much so!

This book is a big step up from the previous one.  There’s a solid plot happening here, with multiple twists and turns along the way.  Ultimately, the good guys out-think the bad guys, with a dash of help from some Magic Potion power, of course.  Even when overwhelmed, Asterix and Obelix find a way out. (Thanks, Dogmatix!)

The book is chock o block packed with gags, both verbal and visual. It’s like a Best Of book for all the previous jokes in the series, with a helpful scoop of brand new, Egypt-themed gags.  It’s arguably the best book in the series so far.  Now that most of the recurring gags are establishing, it feels like Goscinny and Uderzo are firing on all cylinders, at a breakneck speed.  (As albums, this book and “Asterix and the Banquet” were released in the same year.)

— 2018.020 —

Next Book!

Tradition dictates the chiefs of competing Gaulish villages will fight for control of both villages

Asterix and the Big Fight” is next, as we return to the village. The Druid has amnesia, they’re out of Magic Potion, and things go from bad to crazy.

Also, I have to ask the question, “Just how much of this book is written by its translators?” It’s time to raise that important question…

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

30 Comments

  1. Excellent volume. 4.5/5 for me.

    My copy is close to (but not quite) this one: https://goo.gl/images/SV78Xn

    Which is even closer to the Elizabeth Taylor poster. It also brags heavily about the art in the book – and yes, it is a big leap up from the previous ones. That said, I think the art continuted to improve in later volumes. Notably, Fulliautomatix still doesn’t look quite right.

    1. Yes the bottom text was a clever way to spoof the hype of the movie that some called the first true american blockbuster. Too bad they dropped it from the most recent edition and replaced it with those ugly pink hues.

  2. There is so much to say about this volume. It’s full of subtext about post-colonization France/Europe and the Israel-egypt situation after the 6-day war.
    There was a controversy about historical appropriation of egyptian artifacts at the Louvre as well, so that is hinted at subtly.
    So many things happening at the time find their way into this book, it’s the perfect storm.
    Oh btw the “Nose” thing is a famous quote from Blaise Pascal, I’m sure you knew that.
    No wonder they chose this to be the second animated movie (and I believe the most popular) and also the first live-action one years later. Monica Belluci and Alain Delon are spot-on as Cleo and Cesar.
    My all-time favourites in the series come a bit later but this is pretty close.

    1. They also poke fun at the iconic Blake and Mortimer tale, The Mystery of the Great Pyramid, when they are lost inside and Idefix saves the day with the bone gag.

    2. I didn’t know about that quote – and hadn’t heard of Blaise Pascal. I thought it was all Goscinny

      1. Pascal is the greatest philosopher of the Siècle des Lumières and also a precursor in the field of sciences, He is the inventor of the first automatic calculator. We learn about him in school.

        1. Ah. The British government doesn’t like its children to think, so we don’t learn about Philosophy until we’re 16 – and even then, only if we choose Philosophy A-Levels.

          1. Hehe I know, I lived in the UK for a few years. You guys have Geordie Shore and Joey Essex, which are just as good to ponder the void of human existence.

    3. Yup, there’s no way I’d have ever read the Israel/Egypt commentary into this story. And, yes, I’d heard of Pascal’s quote on Cleopatra (something about the change in history if her nose had been shorter), but I didn’t put two and two together until you just mentioned it.

      I’d want see the live action movie just for Monica Belluci. 😉

      1. Pascal’s quote about Cleopatra is kinda similar to that proverb from whence Alan Davis got the germ of the idea for “Justice League: The Nail.” “All for wont of a nail..” and all.

        (Sometimes, I feel the need to strike the comparisons to North American comics to help people out. 😉

      2. I hear you 🙂
        In all honesty, when most people from the younger generations, even in France, mention that quote, they think it’s from Asterix… So you’re definitely not alone. As one of our favourite pirates would say: “O tempora, O mores”.

  3. Re: Buddy Hackett. I believe that the scribe in the bottom right panel on your paragraph is supposed to a be a caricature of Goscinny himself.

    1. Ah, you’re probably right. Though it is kind of crazy how similar Goscinny looks to Hackett, now that I look at him. I guess it’s just that whole thing with the mouth talking from one side of the face….

  4. Once again I find myself in almost total agreement with Augie’s review. This is an absolute classic, yet strangely still not top of my mental list, its so close to Gladiator though I don’t think I can seperate the two and as such it scores –

    8.5

    Just as Banquet it wastes no time with set up, two pages in and we’re good to go. Just like Banquet this feels like its been written in episodic chunks (as it was) with mini adventures within the main story. Unlike Banquet it hangs together so much better as a conhesive whole and as such gets the balance of gags and story pretty much perfect.

    I’m amazed how much they get into these stories, time for the classic running gags as mentioned and so much fresh stuff and development. Asterix and Obelixs squabbles are almost at their perfect best and as Dan says he’s not quite there but Fulliautomatix is getting close.

    I have an old copy of this and the cover is the one Dan linked to. I adore it and its shame the Orion version didn’t go with this. The more developed parody of the movie poster just goes to show that ever inch of these volumes can be used for a gag.

    I meant to mention before but forgot but on this volume couldn’t ignore how GREAT is the lettering. I adore the ‘font’ and wonder JC Lebourdais do the french volumes have the lower case ‘i’s I’ve always wondered. But the lettering through out is just sublime so energetic and dynamic, but never overbearing and simply enhancing both writing and art.

    Two final things. I personally love Obelix getting a few drops of potion. I always remember as a kid this underlined just how desperate the situation our Gauls were in and really heightened things. I also, as a big dog lover, was so happy that Dogmatix saved the day.

    Oh and last thing there is an English language version of the live action movie available over in the UK, I checked and its readily available on Amazon in these part and Augie if you are interested I’d be happy to source it and send it to you. Its actually my favourite of the live actions available in the UK, as far as I can see we don’t have ‘In Britain’ available here alas and have skipped ahead to the simply fantastic Mansion of the Gods animated film which is just perfection.

    Anyway enough blathering from me, just a brilliant comic but I’m super excited about what’s next. I’ve always really enjoyed the stories that centre on the village itself and after so many travels we finally get to one of those, WAYHEY!!!

    1. And I’m in almost total agreement with you (except your high rating for Asterix the Gladiator). I was actually torn between 4 and 4.5 stars, so if I was rating out of 10 I probably would have gone with 8.5.

      I’m definitely with you on the stories set in the village. My favourites are probably Asterix and the Roman Agent, Mansions of the Gods and Obelix and Co.

    2. The font is indeed based on Uderzo’s own handwriting, perfected on previous series done with Goscinny like Jehan Pistolet and Oumpah-Pah. He used to letter by hand until his wrist problems prevented him from doing it any longer, by then he had assistants who could mimic it and I believe they now have made a proper font out of it. Tell me if you have a favourite page, I’ll make a snapshot of the french version and I’ll post it here. I finally found my bound omnibus volumes from storage and I’m ready to catch up with Augie.

      1. I’ve seen some sample pages from the French editions, and it’s scary how close the modern font is to his handwriting. They did a good job emulating it.

    3. Colin – Thanks for the pointer. I see “Asterix at the Olympics” on Amazon Prime video with subtitles. That’s the only live action movie they have, but it has English subtitles, so I’m in! I’ll have to do a review when I get to that book. That’s book #12, so I’ll watch it next month. (We also have a couple of the old animated movies with subtitles, though I’m not so sure I’m interested in those.)

      And perusing Amazon now, it looks like they do have English versions of the others, after all. I never dug that deep into the DVD listings before now. I think Netflix has me spoiled.

      This is a happy moment for me. Thanks for the offer, but it looks like I might be able to pull this off myself. (And then write it off on my taxes…. 😉

      1. There are plenty of clips of Astérix Mission Cleopatre on YouTube. Some of these give a good taste of some of the funny scenes, even if you don’t understand French.

        For instance, there’s this clip.

        I find the live-action Asterix films vary in quality quite a lot. These movies are not (perhaps couldn’t be?) an exact copy of the books, but the best ones add great new comedy or musical material that is perfectly in keeping with the original stories and characters.
        Anyway, I just want to add I’m greatly enjoying your series of reviews. Thanks.

  5. Oh we’re certainly going to be close in argeeing when we get to favourites, though I’m thinking Soothsayer and in Switzerland will feature high on my list… I look forward to finding out…

  6. Do watch Mission Cleopatra (and review it!) the other live action Asterix films aren’t really good but that one is great! But I heard the US version cut 20 minutes and changed a lot of the jokes to suit US audiences so maybe you should find a subtitled French version.

    1. As I’m almost at the end of the list of books to review, I’ve been looking at what movies I might review next. “Vikings” is available in streaming format, so I might do that one next, just because it’s easiest to get to.

      Getting Blu-Rays or DVDs of the others gets tricky. Some of the versions on sale at Amazon are a little sketchy — they’re print-CD-R-on-demand (as is the Cleopatra movie), or they’re Region 2. I don’t want to start hacking my DVD player, or even know how I can… I want to watch them all, though, so it’s all possible…

  7. Just wondering. Has the dialog in the pirate sequence of Astrix and Cleopatra been changed? I have a newer edition now, but I seem to recall a more Jamaican accent used in my (now lost) original edition.

  8. Also, Snoop Dogg sang one of the songs in Mission Cleopatra, Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra came out in 2002 not 2004.