Asterix and the Normans cover detail
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Asterix v9: “Asterix and the Normans”

“Asterix and the Normans” is a silly outing for the series, but still a lot of fun.  Goscinny sets up a little dramatic premise, and then milks it with comedic bits for all its worth.

Asterix and the Normans cover
Writer: Rene Goscinny
Artist: Albert Uderzo
Lettering: Bryony Newhouse
Translator: Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge
Published by: Orion (Hachette)
Number of Pages: 48
Original Publication: 1967
Original Title: “Astérix et les Normands”

Expanding the Village

Albert Uderzo draws a wide angle view of The Village from high above

This book starts in Asterix’s village, with a nice down angle wide shot and an introduction to the village’s mailman, Postfix.

It almost feels right off the bat like Goscinny is going to expand the Village a bit here.  While we’ve had cameos from other Villagers over the first eight volumes, we’ve not yet met most of them.  The stories tend to concentrate on the core four — Asterix, Obelix, Getafix, and Vitalstatistix — and everyone else falls into the background.

Unfortunately, the scope of the village doesn’t expand past Postfix.  We meet some pretty young ladies who like to dance to popular music, but they don’t get names or anything.  Putting a bigger spotlight on the rest of the villagers will have to wait for another album, I’m afraid.

By the way, take a look at that image of the village above. I have an unnatural love for this type of architecture. I’ve compared it to the Smurf Village before, because Uderzo has similar influences, but this is just so cool to look at.

Check out the thatched roofs and all the wooden pieces drawn in to the roof to keep the house in shape.  Check out the different designs of just the houses we see in this panel.  We get triangular and circular and square-ish homes all along the same walking path.

Uderzo adds in the little details, like the flowers in the window box, or the laundry hanging out the window (on the area where glass would go, if they had it at this point.)  The alternating wooden sticks at the crest of the roof at the bottom of the panel is even interesting to me.

Who Are The Normans?

They’re Norse.  They like proteins of all kind, so long as they come with a with a cream sauce. And they drink lots of cider as if it were a magic potion.

They are brutal, violent aggressors. But they can also be polite and informative, willing to share in the good times.

But they know no fear. That’s their problem.  Though they’re feared by everyone else, they think that their own lack of fear might be a weakness.  This book is about their attempt to learn about fear.

The Normans know no fear, so they'll get a Gaul to teach them!

They figure they’ll just grab a random Gaul and get a quick introduction to the concept.  As plans go, it’s not terribly well thought out at any level.

As a character type, I love them.  They’re not exactly big dumb galoots.  They are big and powerful and they don’t think things through, but they’re also deeply curious and trying hard in the course of this book to improve themselves.  They want to learn something, but they’re going about it in the wrong way.

All of the Normans alternate between polite and informative, and then brutish and violent.  It’s a great combination, perfect for a comedic presentation like this one.

Unfortunately for them, they’ve picked the wrong way to learn their lesson.  They’re so ignorant about their problem, they don’t realize that they’ve picked the last person in the world to help them solve it.

Who’d They Pick?

The storyline in the village has to do with Chief Vitalstatistix’s nephew, Justforkix. He’s spending a few weeks with his uncle in the village to help toughen up.

But he doesn’t quite fit in.  He tries to bring rock n roll music to the village, which gets a mixed reaction.  Things go really south when he spots the Normans coming in from offshore.  He finds this to be a reason to panic.

Justforkix fears the Normans

I can hear Justforkix delivering that line of dialogue so clearly in my head, though it’s usually with a period after each word, not so much the dashes.

Meanwhile, the village is ready to start a celebration, tripping over one another to go meet the Normans to pummel them.

But the Normans capture the fleeing Justforkix, and Asterix and Obelix are suddenly on a rescue operation. And as much fun as everything in the book leading up to that was, the Cray-Zee stuff starts there.  The climactic concert scene cracked me up so much that I had to go back and read it twice for fun.

Oh, and there are some Romans in this book.  They’re merely a running gag, showing up in places to get beaten up.  It’s very funny, but not worth talking about much past this paragraph.

But here, Obelix doesn’t mind sharing with the Normans in the midst of battle agarke:

Obelix shares a Roman soldier with a Norman warrior.

The Gauls and the Norman get along very well, when you think about it.  They’re not that different. They’re both warriors who don’t like the Romans.  They have bushy mustaches.  I’m surprised they didn’t find a way to get along better in this book as the brothers they truly are.

“Kum-ba-yah!”

Now, for some random thoughts from the issue:

Dogmatix Gets a Personality

In this book, we learn that Dogmatix is an environmentalist.  He cries when Obelix accidentally uproots and tosses a tree.

I’m not spoiling anything. This is not a plot point.

It’s just something that happens suddenly, as Goscinny realizes Dogmatix isn’t going anywhere and he should graft a personality onto him.

Just thought I’d take note of it here.
 

The Chekov Factor

Here’s a strange scenario.  I’m stretching on this one, but you never know….

There’s an old story (Apocryphal? I don’t know.) about the addition of Chekov’s character to “Star Trek” in its second season.  It goes that he was added to appeal to a younger, female demographic that was more likely to be tuning into “The Monkees” than “Star Trek.”  He was young, good looking, and had a trendy floppy haircut.

There’s a part of me that wonders if the publisher of “Pilote” didn’t send a memo to Goscinny that, while Asterix is excellent, he’s not appealing enough to the same kind of bubbly teenage fangirl that drove the success of The Monkees or The Beatles.

“Could you include a young, floppy-haired teenaged boy into the next Asterix adventure for me?” the memo would say.

And then Goscinny goes on to make him the butt of all the jokes and the wimpiest idiot in the book.

I’m making this all up, but it would be a great story, wouldn’t it?
 

Bad reproductions

This book (2004 print edition) has the worst reproduction problems of the series so far.   There are panels in the second half of this book that look un-inked.  The black linework is so shaky and unfinished that it’s distracting.  Some pages also look like slightly out of focus, like they were photocopied from the original books and not rescanned or re-imaged from the original film.

Asterix v8 bad reproduction, before and after the remastering in 2010

Look at Cacofonix on the left panel in the 2004 edition of the book. His hair and shirt look so rough that you’d think they were still in pencils.  They cleaned those up dramatically for the remastered 2010 edition on the right.  The same goes for the line across the right side of the bagpipes.

The colors are a lot better, too.  My scan takes a little bit of the saturation out of the colors on the left, but the colors in the new (digital, in this case) edition are bolder and work better.  Also, Cacofonix’s hair is back to being its correct yellow, instead of white in this panel. And his shirt goes from something close to a plaid design to a polka dot pattern. That’s probably the biggest change, and part of me wonders if it was done like that because it’s an easier pattern to reproduce.

I also like that the patch on his bindle is a different color than the rest of the bag.  It’s a small detail, but all those small details are what make the difference.

Punniest Name of the Month

Asterix and the Normans Chief Timandahaf

Once again, you can’t go wrong with a new chief’s name. The Norman Chief Timandahaf wins this book. It’s particularly funny because I didn’t get it at first.  I misread that “i” as a short “i” sound instead of a long “i.”  “Tim and a Half” is only funny if you’re a fan of Dorf on Golf, and that’s an old and obscure joke now.

If you want to pick Justforkix as a name for a lazy spoiled teenager who drives a fancy Italian chariot and always wants to have a good time, I wouldn’t argue with you.

This book doesn’t have as many great names it as previous volumes, but it does use them to great effect.   My favorite is near the end in this panel:

Asterix and the Normans' Autograf

There’s also a bit of a repeated joke in this book about how the villagers find it funny that the Normans have names with a definite pattern to them.  They find this laughable. That hypocrisy is what makes it so funny.

Chief Vitalstatistix makes fun of Norman names

Recommended?

Asterix and the Normans cover

Yes, it’s a sillier story and the whole thing balances on your buying one crazy part of the premise — that they’d kidnap the kid, of all people — but the rest of it is good fun. The battle between Asterix/Obelix and the Normans works particularly well, both the mental and physical parts of it.

The solution to the problem is particularly ingenious, which is what I’ve come to expect from Goscinny.

This book is also the basis for an animated feature, “Asterix and the Vikings.” Check out The Complete Asterix and Obelix Streaming Guide to see where you might be able to watch that today.

One topic for discussion: Who would win in a fight?  The Normans or the Goths?

— 2018.027 —

Buy It Now

The new editions have a dramatically different cover, not just a recolored one.  It’s a bit busier, but I think I do like it more.  Also, Justforkix’s hair is the correct color on this newer cover.

Next Book!

Asterix the Legionary page 16 second tier - Asterix seeks information on Tragicomix's location

The tenth book in the series is perhaps my favorite, “Asterix the Legionary“. It’s silly, it’s goofy, it has a dash of history to it and a lot of familiar faces. It’s a romance, a war story, an office comedy, a buddy movie, and ten other things beautifully wrapped up into one 48 page package.

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

22 Comments

  1. One of the weaker Asterix adventures, memorable because Cacofonix gets to be the hero. Interesting that it’s only his singing that makes eardrums bleed and the villagers tolerate his harp-playing.

    “Normans” has a couple “postmodern” moments. “Surely it’s not 1066 yet?” someone asks. And Getafix directly addresses the reader, commenting on Obelix, “The lad has his bright moments!” Do any other characters ever bluntly break the fourth wall like that in an Asterix album?

    1. Does Asterix looking at the reader on the covers of Ceasar’s Gift and The Great Divide count? Probably not.

      As for referencing the future, there’s a fair bit of that. In Asterix and the Big Fight, there’s a guy who clearly thinks he’s Napoleon – but no one knows who he thinks he is. Also, Asterix and the Soothsayer shows a modern skyscraper. There’s probably more that I can’t remember offhand.

      1. In Cleopatra, there are more than a few quotes and references to Napoleon’s campaign of Egypt.

  2. This story originates in the political context of the times. It’s a mashup between the Yé-yé era (teenagers getting crazy for a new wave of pop singers and musicians, (including Françoise Hardy, Claude François, Johnny Halliday,…) inspired by the Beatles and early Rock’nRoll, and the beginning of the rise of protests against the Military and the Establishment from young adults which will culminate into the May 1968 student riots in Paris and the Général de Gaulle having to leave power under that pressure in 1969.
    The Normans are the people who invaded England at the time of William the conqueror and overpowered the Saxons (remember the the Robin Hood backstory) so it can be seen as a parallel of that, transposed into France.

    1. Sounds a lot like the civil unrest and protest going on in the States to a different degree in the 1960s, too. We didn’t go quite so far as that May 1968 thing, though. I was just reading about that a couple of weeks ago when that Goscinny article went up at TCJ. That was NOT a good month for poor Goscinny, either.

      I loved all the references in the book to how the Normans wouldn’t be invading for a few hundred years yet. I like that all-knowing wink from Asterix.

      1. True it was a hard time for him. He was the older suit-and-tie generation and the pot-smoking youngsters from the Pilote bullpen were giving him a hard time.

        1. The story goes that he rejected a cartoon, they gave him a lot of grief, and years later they all regretted it. I think Moebius was in on that meeting, too. It sounds like just an awful, awful day for all involved.

  3. I gave this one 4/5. It’s definitely a lightweight story in terms of plot, but still a lot of fun. I suspect it might have been better if the villagers were fully formed. Fulliautomatix is pretty much on model now, but still no Unhygenix or Impedimenta – and there’s one panel with three men who all look like Geriatrix, so I’m not sure any of them really count as him.

    This book is responsible for me referring to rain as “a bracing dampness in the air” which I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve been doing for 35 years now. It annoys my wife – which is a bonus.

    Best name is clearly Timandahaf, but honourable mentions to Postaldistrix and Transportcaf.

    There’s a shocking bit of lettering in my edition when Asterix and Obelix have realised Justforkix has been captured and Asterix says “Let’s tell chief Vitalstatistix”. “Vitalstatistix” doesn’t fit, so the letterer opted to write it diagonally, and in unevenly sized letters.

    One other thing. Why does Justforkix have different coloured hair on the cover?

    Oh and I reckon the Normans would beat the Goths in a fight.

    1. Looks like they fixed that lettering problem in the 2004 and later editions by hyphenating his name to “Vital-Statistix” to fit it in that narrow balloon.

      That Justforkix hair color on the cover is just weird. I blame Uderzo being color blind and coloring it himself. Either that, or Justforkix is a strawberry-blond, and the cover leans more on the strawberry side of things. (Is anyone buying that? Anyone?)

      Yes, all the Villagers look alike, but then, all the history I’ve read about Gaul at the time would make that just a thing of the fashion at the time. (Long hair and bushy mustaches.) It’s the same way all teenagers look alike to me now. 😉

  4. Bit late to the party for some reason this week, but even coming in a bit late I’m going to impolitely buck the trend and say I bloomin’ LOVE Asterix and the Normans. It was always one of my favourites as a kid, I remember feeling the Normans provided real menace and were a genuine threat. I also love the way we get the best of both worlds. We get the culture clash of a travel book and the more luxurious pace of a village book.

    By gosh its so funny too…

    …well except in one aspect I’ll get back to later. Its laugh out loud funny, more often than just about any book we’re had before. In part I think that’s due to the ‘lesser’ plot that some folks have refered to. See I don’t see it as lesser, I just see it as more streamlined and as such its allows things to breathe a little more, its not as breakneck as previous volumes. For me this benefits many things. There’s more time to play with the old married couple relationship Asterix and Obelix have. The humour has some lovely recall moments. The challenge the Normans face is used and stretched to its limit, BUT never over stays it welcome.I love the way the Romans allowed their time but again their relationship to the story is different and fresh.

    Everything about the story just has room and it uses that room to such good FUNNY effect.

    It also has the development I so crave in these earlier stories. As well as Asterix and Obelix’s relationship really coming on, as Dan says Fullautomatix is finally Fullyformedamatix. We learn of Dogmatix’s love of trees. The village is also start to evolve and take shape.

    But dashnabbit its just such fun!

    It all feels so cheeky and carefree. Like the two creators know 100% what they are doing are completely confident, but so much so they have time to relax and enjoy the extra space. It also feels liberated and they are so confident they play with the overall format and structure.

    Its one weak spot is it doesn’t have a standout pun for me. It has some good ‘uns but nothing stands out. There’s one I don’t get as well, so can someone help me with Oleaginus – I’ve looked at it a few times and I’m just not seeing it. The winner for me is the great off screen punsters, Riffraf and Autograf – love the way the play with whole punning thing, another sign of the confidence on show here… though Selfservix gets a special mention.

    Anyway loved this one overall and dare I say it its as good as any so far for me and on that basis its gets a richly deserved.

    9 out of 10

    1. You say there are no great pun names, but surely Fullyformedamatix qualifies 😉

      Seriously, there are a few standout pun names that I remember clearly from my childhood because I loved them so much: Crismus Bonus, McAnix,O’Veroptimisix and Timandahaf. Also, Boneywasawarriorwayayix which I love (and slipped into some code once), but I never worked out what the “wayayix” bit was supposed to sound like.

      There’s some truth to what you say about the creators being more confident in this book. I’ve seen this before with writers where they start out cramming loads into their stories and then a few books in, relax the pace a bit. This book would definitely qualify as that point.

      1. Arh – that’s great thanks.

        Good to know I wasn’t missing something, I was just ignorant! Never heard of the word before. It would also be the best pun had I known it as he is indeed very sycophantic, straight laced legionnary and so its brilliantly apt.

  5. I looked up the original, and it turns out that Goscinny made no specific 1066 reference.

    In the English “Normans”, the chieftain says “Right. Bring him round here, all. Make haste!” which inspires off-panel characters to make the weak pun, “Hasting’s the word” and the over-explicit “Surely it’s not 1066 yet?”

    In the French, the chief says “Bon! Ranimez-moi cet oiseau là, et réunissez tout le monde !” meaning “Right, gather round everyone, and wake up this bird!” As a bucket of water is splashed on Justforkix the off-panel characters simply say “Présenté” and “Mais non!” No Battle of Hastings allusions.

    Which makes us Anglophone fans wonder, how much of our love for Asterix is for Anthea Bell rather than Goscinny?

    1. That Anthea Bell (and Derek Hockridge) question is one I’ve been pondering throughout this entire project so far. Not being fluent in French, I’ll probably never know, but I suspect it’s a much larger part of the enjoyment of the series than I had ever considered before this year.

  6. Sounds like the running gag with sounds / words ending in “AF” is not quite as present in the English version. To finish Barney’s example above, the sound of the water waking up Justforkix goes PLAF!, upon which an off-screen Norman named PLAF, thinking his name is being called, says “Here!” and another off-screen warrior says “No, not you!” (I’m paraphrasing, as I don’t have the original in front of me). Similarly, with the “autograph” sequence above, when the warrior named Autograf hears Justforkix say the word “autograph”, he thinks his name is being called and he says “Here!”, at which point another off-screen Norman says, “Not you, Autograf” (or something– again, I’m paraphrasing). So he doesn’t think the kid wants his autograph, he thought his name was being called. The English version isn’t faithful to the original in that sense.

    1. How you describe it for autograph is pretty much exactly how it happened in the English version.

  7. Just goes to show how the precise use of language is so important and in a book so based on wordplay like Asterix its even more so.

    Mind having just read the Legionnary (man I can’t wait for you to get to this one Augie I’m desperate to get my thoughts down) we really see how the (over)acting in the art is just as important. These stories really are the perfect union of words and pictures.

    1. The next review should be up on Wednesday this week, I think. Small chance of Thursday, but I think Wednesday is a likely day to post the review.

      And I friggin’ love the next book, so it’ll be fun. I might even come back to it to make a video out of it once I get the review written, because there’s some craft stuff I’d love to do an explainer about.