Wait, we’re up to the eighth volume already? Eh, what!
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1966
Original Title: “Asterix chez les Bretons”
The English Channel Provides a Mirror Image for Asterix
Asterix, as it turns out, has a cousin in Britain by the wonderful name of Anticlimax.
Unfortunately, Caesar has conquered Britain now — all except for one small village that Anticlimax lives in. A group of neighboring tribe leaders has come together, determined to fend off the Romans in one last stand. (This takes a page out of Vercingetorix’s play book.)
Anticlimax goes to France to get Asterix’s help with some Magic Potion to continue to defend his homeland.
The parallels and kinship are obvious, and so Asterix and Obelix cross to the island nation to help. Word gets out quickly that they’re there, though, and so begins a wild chase scene across the land. There’s spy craft, chases, derring do, and jailbreaks (of course) to fill out this story.
And wine. There’s a lot of wine. Barrels and barrels….
While these Romans might be mostly different from the ones in the encampments surrounding Asterix’s village, they act the same. They know enough to be afraid. Their leaders are gung ho enough to not care. And, occasionally, they follow their directions so close to the letter that they run astray of common sense. This, thankfully, provides some very humorous moments.
British Humo(u)r All Over
I’m reminded a bunch of The Goofy Gophers this week, that pair of furry Warner Bros. cartoon creatures who are always unendingly polite to each other. That’s the depiction of the British in this book, though not quite to such an active degree.
They all have stiff upper lips, a break for what would eventually become tea time, and the desire to help one another with a righteous “what” or “wot.”
I think this book benefits by being translated by a couple of Brits, who know the stereotypes they’re making fun of very well, indeed.
Just like in the previous couple of volumes, there are a lot of references. Some good ones that might have been a half page gag of their own instead get tossed off in a secondary line of dialogue in a single balloon. This book is overloaded with British gags, and it’s wonderful.
There’s also the misunderstandings that happen from the different ways they speak. When Anticlimax offers Obelix the chance to “shake me by the hand,” well, you can imagine what that kind of handshake will look like:
Warm Beer, Fog, and Tea Time
Several British-isms become running gags in the book.
Most notably, the cooking isn’t up to the tradition of French cuisine that our title Gauls prefer. The local pub does not server boar to Obelix’s liking, and the beer is — warm. As an American, I can empathize with Obelix here, and I don’t even drink.
The fog rolls in multiple times, usually when it’s convenient to the plot, but who cares? It’s funny. It works.
And, of course, there’s the daily break in the action for a cup of hot water, sometimes with a splash of milk. We’ll get to that soon…
These gags are all inserted at perfect times. They fit into the scenes they’re a part of. They don’t feel forced. Their repetition helps emphasize the cultural differences in such little things that the locals don’t pay any attention to it anymore.
And, because this book was created in the middle of the 1960s:
The Beatles make a cameo. I love the two girls pulling at each other’s hair in the bottom left corner.
The thing that grabs me about this book is how Goscinny plots out rising action in some of the biggest set pieces. There are really three in this book. I’ll skip over the drunken Roman soldiers to get to the other two.
During the rugby game at the end, what could have been a simple attempt to sneak into the locker room to grab the team’s drinks (which is accidentally Magic Potion) instead turns into mere seats at the game to start. From there, they can see the effects of the Magic Potion start to creep in, and realize that they can’t afford to waste more time. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and it leads to Asterix and Obelix running through the field and joining in the game.
As you might imagine, Obelix is a natural for the game.
Earlier in the book, Obelix is sent up to the London Tower to be jailed. You can guess how well that effort stuck.
But the action grows as the scene develops. Asterix comes to save Obelix after Obelix has already saved himself. They just miss each other going up and down the tower, causing them to reverse course to find each other, only to have to fight through some Romans.
Uderzo doesn’t show most of the action. It’s a progression of word balloons emanating from the Tower. Those short snippets of dialogue sell the scene.
It’s great comic timing and storytelling, like something you might have expected in an earlier Hollywood comedy. Picture Marx Brothers or Abbott and Costello here. It works really well. It was the hardest laugh of the book for me.
The Tea Thing
It’s so painfully obvious and then so completely overwritten in the end that I don’t mind spoiling it.
Asterix, going off to England, for some random reason grabs a random bunch of leaves off Getafix’s work table to bring with him. This is two pages after we see the British taking a break from their warring with the Romans in the middle of the afternoon to have drinks of hot water with optional splashes of milk.
All the pieces are there, and the end results are obvious.
So much happens in the book that there’s a chance you might have forgotten about the tea leaves by the time Asterix pulls it out to use as a plot device. Ok, that’s clever and I’ll give Goscinny points for using the leaves well.
But, then, on the last page in the last two panels, Getafix smugly tells us these leaves are tea leaves and — we’re supposed to be surprised? Goscinny already spelled it out pretty clearly in the previous pages. It was obviously going to be a thing from page four. Why are we ending the book with two panels to clearly explain an obvious gag?
Maybe this worked better in the original serialization. Maybe. I just think it landed with a total thud in this album, though.
Squeeze In the Lettering
There’s something else in this book I noticed for the first time in the series. The letterers fought to fit all the words into certain word balloons.
Obviously, there’s always a difficulty in translating comic works in that you need to fit your translation inside the same size balloons. Yes, you could make balloons larger, but then you’re changing the art and production gets more complicated. Todd Klein did it with Don Rosa’s “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck,” but he’s Todd Klein. Don’t try that at home.
There will be times when saying the same thing in English will be much longer than in the original French. Letterers will need to work whatever magic they have to get things to fit on the page.
The British in this book, in particular, are a verylot.
There are just a LOT of balloons in this book that look too small. The font size on the lettering takes a hit to make sure everything can fit inside the borders.
It’s not just the British, though. The Romans do it, too. Am I just noticing this more for the first time with this book than in the past? Or did something change with the word balloons or lettering in this book? Is it Goscinny’s scripts and how much stuff he’s packing into each book now that’s causing this?
Best Name of the Book
It’s a tie. Anticlimax’s village has a chief named Mykingdomforanos and a Caledonian chief by the possibly even better name of O’Veroptimistix. They appear on page 3 of the book. The fight was over that quickly this week.
But of course. This one, like the two before it, is a laugh a minute. It mixes in the history of the Roman conquest of Europe well with Asterix’s continuity, gives us a funny representation of the British, and has a strong story behind it.
I have one or two qualms with the book, but they’re minor: a gag falls flat, some lettering looks squished. That doesn’t ruin the overall effect of a very funny book at all.
— 2018.025 —
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“Asterix and the Normans” brings a particularly obnoxious visitor to the Village, who turns out to be a handful to babysit. Cacofonix gets a bigger role, and the Normans are Vikings who just want to learn fear. What can go wrong there?