This is not gonna be a full professional review (plenty of those to be found for an Asterix comic!), but it will include some spoilers. You have been warned. Also, this is an Asterix rant. You have, again, been warned.
As much of a fan as I am and have been since childhood, I rarely do reviews for Asterix books. In fact, I reviewed one Asterix ever, which was for a school assignment during my translator studies.
The assignment was to make both a positive and a negative review for the same book and I chose Asterix and the Falling Sky, because I believe one needs challenges in life.
Also, I very urgently needed to process the trauma that were Aliens in Asterix so I could get started on my thesis. Which was an in-depth comparison of two Dutch translations from Astérix Legionnaire. Yup. I did that. It was so complicated, I think some people graded me well so they didn’t have to read it.
Translating an Asterix is not an easy feat, but studying such a translation, you get help from an army of geeks absolutely dedicated to analysing every last letter (I say this with love). So that’s doable. Lots of mansplaining around, but helpful.
(Conclusion of my very lengthy thesis: take some freedom, whatever you need, but don’t change character names halfway a series. People REALLY do not like that. Poor Frits van der Heide, he meant so well.)
Asterix and the Griffin
I was a bit scared of the idea of fantasy animals in an Asterix because … oh dear I don’t really like fantasy animals? (It’s not you, dear little unicorn, it is me, I’m sorry).
But I was already happy to see Asterix ride a horse on the cover (I like horses a lot, especially when they don’t have a horn, again, I am sorry).
Enter a bunch of Amazon warriors a few pages on, an upgraded Walhalla warrior queen, and frozen magic potion, I was full game.
“Co-parenting Yves, Co-parenting Amazon warriors. In an Asterix!” Yves is my colleague, has never claimed to be curious for first-hand unfiltered comic book impressions, but underwent the process with quiet grace, and concluded that it sounded like an album right up my sleeve.
Yes. I got snowy landscapes, I got Asterix fighting with his sword without magic potion, Amazons and horses, so I was happy. I read an Asterix, still, not like the linguist I later became, but like the little kid that devoured fiction. And she was happy. She felt included in this album, in a way she never truly was as a kid. I have the imagination not too care too much about that, but still, it would have been nice.
Around the time of my thesis I consulted a lot of other Asterix fans. General blueprint of the average Asterix fan: white elder male. I haven’t gone round to check whether they were also cishet, but I make some majority assumptions here. The one time I saw Didier Conrad ‘in the flesh’, signing Asterix comics, I queued up among a bunch of other Asterix fans, and it was obvious I am not your average Asterix reader. Even the kids present felt like an anomaly.
I am not a kid, but I am still, a little younger and a lot more female. Oh boy, do I feel female in a line-up with other Asterix fans. And while I appreciate the puns and the clever references, overdetailed analyses tend to bore me (Birthe if you read this, this statement does not include you 😆, you make it work). Before I entered the land of fanfics I knew not a single person who enjoyed Asterix comics quite the way I did. I did. A marvellous find, it was, when I did. And female Asterix fans rock. We’re a great bunch. All five of us.
I handed Didier Conrad a letter, he asked me whether he should read it right then and there and I answered with a horrified ‘NO!’ Sadly, I seem to have removed the letter from my pc. I don’t remember what exactly I wrote to him and Jean-Yves Ferri, the new Asterix team, but I remember wishing them good luck, telling them about what these comics have meant for me, and also, that I wouldn’t mind some changes. The last thing you want to see, as a creative, is a fellow creative being suffocated by your childhood hero. That danger felt very real to me. Asterix, in France is a monument. Tinkering away at monuments is … tricky.
There is change in this new album. And Asterix, my dear childhood friend, who happens to be a cishet white, and, dare I say it, elder white male, has some trouble to adapt. I also suspect him to have some substance abuse issues, because he fully failed to see how well he functioned without magic potion. He didn’t smile a lot.
Some of the critics I read claim that Ferri and Conrad don’t make optimal use of their heroes, and I see that. They criticise their heroes. Make a little fun of them. And I laugh along, because I feel this criticism is well-deserved.
I will miss the way Uderzo drew eyebrows and facial expressions for a long, long time.
But I adore the way Conrad draws women. Present and powerful versus the male-dominated world that was the Roman Empire.
Historical (fantasy) fiction is a genre I love, but it has never been particularly kind to me. I will never forget the history teacher that in primary school told me, that, as a female kid, I would have been confined to the house in Athens and thrown off a cliff in Sparta.
Ferri and Conrad don’t throw me off a cliff. They take that leap, to make their borrowed universe kind to me. Deep down, I don’t care how clever the caricatures are, the puns, the gags, and I don’t care how much childhood sentiment lingers. I just want those badass amazons. I daresay I have found them in many other places by now, but it’s still fun to see them in Asterix. Overdue, but appreciated.
Next time I queue up for the autograph of an Asterix author, I will feel less out of place. I might even say a word, or two. Maybe I’ll talk about Mesmer, and all the stories in my head. They seem to fit a little better. The Asterix universe includes me, just a little more now. And I think, for all the love I’ve given it over the years, this too is well-deserved.
Now all that’s left, is for the main character to start appreciating it a little more. Yes, my dear winged-helmet wearing friend, I am looking at you!