As­terix and the picts

Comic Heroes - - Front Page - Jean-yves Ferri Di­dier Con­rad

Writer: Artist: Pub­lisher: Orion Out: Now

Af­ter René Goscinny died in 1977, As­terix co-cre­ator Al­bert Uderzo forged on with­out him, writ­ing as well as il­lus­trat­ing the strips. There was, how­ever, some­thing miss­ing. Uderzo in­tro­duced in­con­gru­ous plot de­vices such as fly­ing car­pets and ex­trater­res­tri­als into the sto­ries, yet iron­i­cally the magic was gone. Though draw­ing as beau­ti­fully as ever, he could not con­jure up scripts of the same qual­ity; his col­lab­o­ra­tor had been a mas­ter of plot­ting and sparky char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion.

Now, with Uderzo’s bless­ing, two new cre­ators have stepped in to fill his and Goscinny’s size­able shoes. Jean-Yves Ferri and Di­dier Con­rad are both well-es­tab­lished names in the world of ban­des dess­inées, and both, by co­in­ci­dence, were born in 1959, the same year the in­domitable Gaul made his de­but in the Franco-Bel­gian comics an­thol­ogy mag­a­zine Pi­lote. Tar­tan army As­terix And The Picts opens with a tat­tooed, kilt-clad Pic­tish war­rior wash­ing up on a beach in Ar­mor­ica close to the “lit­tle Gaul­ish vil­lage that we know so well”. Young Mac­a­roon is frozen in­side a block of ice but, once thawed, he re­veals that his fi­ancée has been kid­napped by Mac­cabeus, the wicked chief­tain of a ri­val clan, who has de­signs on mar­ry­ing her as well as forg­ing closer ties with Rome.

As­terix and Obe­lix, of course, of­fer to help, and af­ter a sea cross­ing dur­ing which, in­evitably, they run into and sink the crew of use­less pi­rates whom they tra­di­tion­ally en­counter at least once on ev­ery ad­ven­ture, they fetch up on the shores of Cale­do­nia. Im­me­di­ately, they meet the Loch Ness Monster, and this is the only bum note the book strikes. Nessie here is a cute, friendly crea­ture re­sem­bling the tit­u­lar beast in the old Dis­ney movie Pete’s Dragon, and is an un­wel­come throw­back to the fan­tasy el­e­ments of the Uderzo-only sto­ries. (Yes, we re­alise that Getafix’s magic po­tion which gives the Gauls su­per­hu­man strength is to some ex­tent fan­tas­ti­cal – but it’s also an in­sep­a­ra­ble, em­bed­ded part of the As­terix mythos.)

Other­wise it’s fun all the way as our he­roes bash Ro­mans and treach­er­ous Picts, save the feisty maiden, and help unite the war­ring clans. There are plenty of jokes at the ex­pense of the Scots. Bag­pipes, whisky, caber-toss­ing, tar­tan, Hadrian’s Wall, Rob­bie Burns – ev­ery known stereo­type of Celtic life is mined for hu­mour. But it’s done so good-na­turedly that you’d have to be Alex Sal­mond to take of­fence.

Con­rad’s art mim­ics Uderzo’s per­fectly, down to the last brush­stroke. Frankly, it’s hard to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween a page of As­terix And The Picts and a page of any of the pre­vi­ous As­terix al­bums. This is pas­tiche of the purest, most lov­ing and skil­ful kind.

As for the English trans­la­tion by Anthea Bell – the col­league with whom she usu­ally part­nered up, Derek Hock­ridge, died ear­lier this year – it’s as witty and pun-packed as ever.

With As­terix now over 50 years old, and with 34 al­bums al­ready un­der his belt, his fu­ture ap­pears to be in safe hands. James Love­grove

Och aye the noo! As­terix and Obe­lix head off on a Scot­tish jolly.

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