Asterix and the griffin: Inoculated with magic potion – culture

On the map, the area in the east looks like a strange planet. A great cartographic void – without mountains, rivers, villages. Untapped, unknown. In the west they call this terrain “Barbaricum”. If you want to get to know the area better, you have to be ready to leave your Roman bubble. He has to cross the Limes.

The new, 39th Asterix comic adventure begins with the map of the desolate Barbaricum. It is the last volume whose designs were made by the creator of Asterix, who died in March 2020 Albert Uderzo has seen. And it is now the fifth of the duo Didier Conrad and Jean-Yves Ferri. Following their artistic fathers Albert Uderzo and René Goscinny, the scenarist and draftsman have already included in their albums “Caesar’s papyrus” and “The daughter of Vercingetorix“Packed a lot of current information into it (such as the subject of” Whistleblowing “or allusions to the” Fridays for Future “movement). And that is what they do in their new volume, which was released this Thursday “Asterix and the Griffin”.

The conspiracy theorist Fakenius has an easy game with the legionaries

In it, Asterix, Obelix and Idefix go to the Sarmatians with their druid Miraculix. The nomadic riding people ruled between the 7th century BC and the 6th century AD from the southern Urals to the steppe areas of today’s Russia and Ukraine. Miraculix would like to supply his friend, the shaman Terrine, with a magic potion. You know each other from a “seminar for alternative magic”. At the same time, Caesar’s legionaries are also making their way east. The emperor needs a new attraction for his circus – and after his expedition leaders Globulus and Ausdimaus have already failed to get the Cyclops and Germanic unicorns suspected in Helvetia (Caesar: “That brought me critical comments on all forums”), he should now mythical “griffin”. This mythical creature made of lion and eagle was actually located by ancient historians in the area of ​​the Sarmatians, among others.

For the Gauls, the druid’s magic potion has always been the remedy for every evil: excerpt from “Asterix and the Griffin”.

(Photo: Asterix®-Obelix®-Idefix® / © 2021 Les Éditions Albert René / Goscinny – Uderzo / Egmont Ehapa Media / Egmont Ehapa Media)

But unlike the travel-loving Gauls, for the Roman legionaries the east represents a threatening terra incognita. Where is he, this griffin? Does the shaman’s totem animal have psychic powers? And what is waiting for the Romans beyond the horizon? Fear spreads in the troop. Can the soldiers trust their leadership trio made up of a seedy intellectual (Globulus has the features of the French writer Michel Houellebecq), a fearful gladiator (“The earth is flat,” claims Ausdimaus) and an overwhelmed centurion? In this situation full of uncertainties, the conspiracy theorist Fakenius has an easy job with the soldiers. He grumbles: “I’ve always found it suspicious that the sun rises in the east every morning.”

It is the old story of belief and doubt, of power and powerlessness, which is what this Asterix volume, which is very successful in terms of both drawing and content, is about. Which answers are the right ones to the existential questions of humanity? Who should you trust? A wonderful approach in times of digital bubbles.

The authors are even forgiven for packing the image of women in socialism, the current gender debate and the modern understanding of roles (“we take turns looking after the children”) on their 48 pages. All of that would have sufficed thematically for at least ten more volumes, but the Pyrenean Ferri and Conrad, who lives in Texas, are apparently in a hurry with what they want to tell. Because both are over sixty, as old as their characters. After all, it takes two years to create an Asterix album, so you can be tempted to squeeze (too) much into a new band.

Do the Gauls now also wear mouth and nose protection?

In any case, it is worth studying this Eastern comic in detail. Also because of the incredibly detailed, still hand-made illustrations that play with shadows, snow and sky colors. (When will Asterix finally appear appropriately in A3 format? And when will the German Pinakotheken also discover the value of this comic art?) And also because of the various allusions and swipes.

The big Corona topic also resonates in the new volume. Not only with the scarves, which in the snow-covered Altai Mountains sometimes act like mouth and nose protective masks for the Gauls and Romans. Likewise when trying to develop a newly composed magic potion vaccine even under complicated climatic conditions (“Four-leaf clover leaves become unstable at low temperatures”, warns the druid). And, of course, “immunity” also plays a role again and again, not least thanks to the wonderful translation by Klaus Jöken, even if “political immunity” is usually mentioned.

Asterix Volume 39 "Asterix and the griffin"

Some like wild boar, others like borscht or fermented mare’s milk: Asterix and Obelix among the Sarmatians.

(Photo: Asterix®-Obelix®-Idefix® / © 2021 Les Éditions Albert René / Goscinny – Uderzo / Egmont Ehapa Media)

In any case, things are not overly politically correct in the new volume either. So initially the Romans want their hostage, the blonde super-Sarmatian Kalashnikova, to show them the way to the griffin. Kalashnikova is visually a mixture of the French singer Dalida and the American series actress Eva Longoria. It is said that she once ran off with a bastard, as the barbarians of the west are called in the east.

In any case, at a meeting in Berlin, the scenarioist Ferri can’t help saying that he would have loved to see all the Eastern Amazons in the new album drawn by his friend Didier Conrad in leather costumes. From a historical point of view, that would have been a good fit, because the Sarmatian horsewomen, as warriors, were in reality similarly equipped and talented as their men. “Unfortunately,” says Ferri, “Didier painted them far too well.” But Conrad (who has been suffering from flu symptoms these days in Texas) immediately adds: “We had to be careful about creating an entertaining story that doesn’t provoke anyone too much.” The fact that the Roman legionnaire who is least able to resist Kalashnikovia bears the facial features of the French Asterix publisher Céleste Surugue does not annoy him – Surugue confirms it with pride: “Isn’t that great? I feel so honored.”

Anyone who still thinks that Asterix is ​​one of those comic booklets that you can read out in a few minutes has not yet exceeded your intellectual limit. Again and again there are wonderful reminiscences of Asterix classics such as “The Great Crossing”, “Die Trabantenstadt”, “Argument about Asterix” and Hergé’s “Tim in Tibet”, but also to the monumental western films of John Ford or Howard Hawks. And yes, it is a pleasure to see that the shaman’s wife Matryoshkova (“War is now a woman’s business!”) Looks very reminiscent of the self-confident Gaulish chief’s wife Gutemine. So this barbaric can not be as different as Fakenius claims.

French right-wing extremists would like to politically co-opt Asterix

Ultimately, life is like this: some like wild boar, others borscht or fermented mare’s milk. Nothing is better, nothing is worse. And as long as you don’t allow your brain to be obscured by inciters like Fakenius for fear of the unknown (yes, the fog also plays a central role in this volume), everything is okay anyway. The main thing is not to get stuck in your bladder. The daughters of Uderzo and Goscinny have spoken out very loudly against the attempt by French right-wing extremists such as Éric Zemmour to politically co-opt Asterix as the French national hero in the fight against foreign infiltration. Anne Goscinny and Sylvie Uderzo alike emphasize that their fathers are descendants of Ashkenazi Jews from Poland and the Ukraine as well as Christian-Italian immigrants. Asterix therefore has little to do with France’s purity.

"Asterix and the griffin": Jean-Yves Ferri (text), Didier Conrad (drawings): Asterix and the griffin.  Translated from the French by Klaus Jöken.  Egmont Ehapa, Berlin 2021. 48 pages, 12 euros.

Jean-Yves Ferri (text), Didier Conrad (drawings): Asterix and the griffin. Translated from the French by Klaus Jöken. Egmont Ehapa, Berlin 2021. 48 pages, 12 euros.

Weeping at the end of the tape. While the returnees are celebrated with a feast in the Gallic village, as always, a crying owl with her purple-checked bundle sets off at the lower edge of the picture. The owl, that was the favorite animal of “le Patron” Albert Uderzo.

Already in “Asterix bei den Belgiern”, the album that Uderzo had to complete after the untimely death of his friend René Goscinny only under threat of fines to the publisher was ready, such a crying little animal appears. Back in 1977 it was – in reference to the nickname of Goscinny’s wife – a rabbit that mourned on behalf of all readers. But in contrast to the howling hare, which steps off to the left, the weeping owl, alluding to Uderzo’s death, now goes: to the right. In other words, in a direction in which the reader would now like to turn the pages. If the story of the indomitable and warm-hearted Gauls wasn’t already over at this point.

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