A review of Asterix and the Class Act by Rene Goscinny

Originally created in 1959 and published in the French comics magazine Pilote, Asterix ultimately became a cult hero and French household name. The series is set in the year 50 B.C in the area which is today’s France, primarily Brittony. Asterix and his pal Obelix are part of a small hold-out village of Gauls, and their main sport is beating up the invading Romans.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Asterix and the Class Act
Written by Rene Goscinny
Illustrated by Albert Uderzo
Orion (distributed by Allen & Unwin)
December 2003, $A24.95 hc, ISBN 0752860682

By Toutatis! Asterix is one of those classics which has spanned 2 generations. It seems to appeal to all age groups, from young children who enjoy the cartoons and fun images, to older children who like the cool characters and funky testosterone injected Gaulisms, to adults, who pick up on the subtle ironies. Reading it in the original French is a good way to learn the language, but for those of us who tend to do our reading in English, translators Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge have done a very good job of pulling out Coscinny’s witticisms. Originally created in 1959 and published in the French comics magazine Pilote, Asterix ultimately became a cult hero and French household name. The series is set in the year 50 B.C in the area which is today’s France, primarily Brittony. Asterix and his pal Obelix are part of a small hold-out village of Gauls, and their main sport is beating up the invading Romans. Each of the books has the two adventurers travelling to a new country where they assist the locals, usually by beating up Romans.

This latest book contains 10 stories by Goscinny and Uderzo and 2 new stories created by Uderzo. None of the stories have been published before in the UK, and Albert Uderzo’s 2 new stories were created after the death of his partner. The book is a good introduction to Asterix for new readers as it introduces the characters, including the village druid Getafix, the Chief Vitalstatistix, and Cacofonix the Bard. There are stories covering the birth of Asterix and Obelix, about the origins of Spring, the New Year, the bid for the Paris Olympics, a trend for using Latinisms in Gaul, the origins of the author’s ideas, and even a very humorous series which tries out reader suggestions, including making the stories more American, more complicated, simpler, and even more spacey. The new pieces includes one about the rooster Chanticleerix, and an introduction. Goscinny and Uderzo are never afraid to poke fun at themselves, and the stories are full of humour.

Cartoons are a terrific way to encourage reluctant readers, as they are quick and the visuals propel the narrative forward. These ten “stories” are short, in any cases, some only a page, and even the longest only 3-4 pages. Younger readers probably won’t get it all (I don’t know that I always get it), and there are lots of in-jokes and witticisms which rely on a bit of French culture as the stories do a lot of modern vs ancient paralleling. Nevertheless, there is plenty of opportunity to talk about history, about different, and lost, cultures, and boys in particular, will love the ribald and pugilistic slapstick. Existing fans of Asterix will enjoy this new collection and the way it incorporates the authors as characters, and lots of background information at the start of each strip. All of the familiar characters get a look in, including that cute little canine Dogmatix, plus a few new characters. Naturally the Romans get a thrashing, both physically, and emotionally.

For more information visit: Asterix and the Class Act

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