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Trouble with Comics

Asterix and the Black Gold

Writer/Artist – Albert Uderzo

1981.

This is my first exposure to the venerable series about the shrewd little Gaulish warrior and his dimwitted oaf buddy, Obelix. I understand it’s the second album (#26 in the series) to be both written and drawn by Uderzo after the death of co-creator/writer Rene Goscinny. I also understand that many prefer the ones where Goscinny was writing.

In this one, the two friends travel to the Middle East to find more “rock oil” (petroleum), as their village druid Getafix has run out and needs it for his various potions. They’re joined this once by Roman secret agent Dubbelosix, who is drawn like late ‘70s Sean Connery and has all manner of steampunk gadgets like a folding chariot. They have many hardships, dangers and all manner of confusion in their search for the oil, though nothing too serious. The copy I was loaned still shows a 1981 copyright and $9.95 pricetag, so maybe later editions have better printing and coloring, but I found it indifferent here, though I can tell Uderzo has a pretty supple line and the art style of bulbous noses, big feet and exaggerated postures works just fine for the humorous set-ups, while here and there he does stop to draw some very nice establishing shots of Arab architecture.

As far as the gags, I was a little surprised, given how successful the volumes are worldwide, that so much of the humor is verbal rather than visual/physical. I like puns better than most, and the idea of using the Gaulish –ix or Roman –ius suffixes afford a few opportunities for at least a smile, with names like Surreptitius, Dubbelosix and such, though Uderzo stretches the idea a bit far with on-the-nose mouthfuls like “Ekonomikrisis”. Uderzo also has pretty low standards for some of these jokes: what’s so funny about a tired camel thinking, “Being humped about really gives me the hump?” What does that even mean? Maybe it’s the translation. There are some witty James Bond bits and an ironic running gag about the nastiness and useless of “rock oil” that contrasts with the modern reliance on petroleum. Reading more about the book, it’s clear Uderzo worked pretty hard, including lots of then-current references and even using a character modeled on Goscinny as a kind of tribute, so no doubt longtime fans, or those still familiar with the current events of 1980, will get more out of it than me. I liked it but aside from a mild interest in reading one written by Goscinny to see if it’s funnier, I don’t feel a great urge to return.

—Christopher Allen

August 10, 2011