Summary: The 34th album – the first for four years – is the highlight of Asterix’s 50th anniversary celebrations. A collection of 12 new stories – all linked by the theme of Asterix’s anniversary celebration.
L’anniversaire d’Astérix et Obélix: Le Livre d’or, by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo 5.5
‘Le Livre d’or’ is a tribute book celebrating the 50th anniversary of Astérix and Obélix’s adventures in print. It comprises of artifacts from over the years, including doodles and advertisements, all tied together loosely by a minor storyline, that of a party being thrown for the duo by their Gaul friends.
It is officially written by René Goscinny and drawn by Albert Uderzo, but the fact is that most of the pair’s material is culled from the ’60s and ’70s, with the textual bridges being conceived and penned by Uderzo recently. Furthermore, much of the new art is apparently by the hand of other artists, not by Uderzo.
Thus, it is very odd that this book is considered as Astérix and Obélix’s 34th official adventure, given that it doesn’t even stand as an adventure proper. Presumably, this was done for commercial reasons; Uderzo has pretty much taken control of the empire since Goscinny’s passing and has managed to market it to death, perhaps even beyond repair.
There is much consensus between fans of Astérix and Obélix that the books have lapsed in quality since Goscinny’s departure. The last book, in particular, was especially atrocious, taking the series to new lows by introducing the Gauls to alien invaders – a contrivance that is certainly not befitting of the series. Goscinny must have been spinning in his grave.
The foreword in ‘Le Livre d’or’ is by “Astérix”. It is a vehicle for Uderzo to take a shot at all his detractors. Under the guise of Astérix, he quite literally calls these people imbeciles for their criticism – a comment that lacks class and should probably not be featured in a book that will reach many generations. It’s an extremely poor judgement call on Uderzo’s part.
The fact is, Uderzo’s books aren’t nearly as well-written as Goscinny’s books were – no matter what he thinks. Goscinny was a wordsmith, while Uderzo is a master cartoonist. These are very different skill sets, and it’s normal that he can’t match Goscinny’s works. Normal. This is where a little humility might be of great benefit to him.
Anyway, all this to say that calling fans imbeciles for criticising such drivel as his last book is, truth be told, imbecilic.
Further insulting fans is the poor quality of this book, which is really just a mish-mash of recollections and ill-conceived attempts at inserting Astérix and Obélix in new contexts – starting with Uderzo’s attempt at showing us the villagers some fifty years older, aged and weak, with their kids now running about in their stead.
Not only is this segment lacking inspiration, but it also is bereft of the wit and vitality that is key to the Astérix books. It’s an extremely unimaginative look at our heroes and their motley band of friends, all cliché-ridden. Then Uderzo shows up in the strip and is forced by the characters to return them to their proper form. It’s just bad. Period.
The rest of the book is basically a regurgitation of all the scenarios that Astérix and Obélix have not been seen in yet, as though Uderzo just sat there wondering what they would look like waterskiing, sitting on a satellite, playing twister, spray-painting, dressed in various clothing, or inserted in classic paintings by Delacroix, Manet and others.
It’s all totally contrived and it doesn’t come together at all. I like the idea or representing our duo in various guises; it can be fun in some ways. But the impression I got from this set was that, in absence of inspiration, it was easier to transpose our heroes to others’ works. If bereft of new ideas, simply rehash.
It’s like those superhero figurines that one finds in all sorts of guises in toy stores and comic book shops. Batman never had a fluorescent suit, nor does he need a time-travel suit (or whatever) but they continue to hammer out new suits because Batman is the product and they need new product to sell. Again… if bereft of new ideas, simply rehash.
Similarly, ‘Le Livre d’or’ jam packs its pages with characters from throughout the series, finding ridiculous ways to bring them back or to have them pay tribute to the series, and, ultimately to themselves. It’s all entirely unlikely, of course (as if the pirates would pay tribute to the pair!), and there’s no attempt at making sense of it.
All this to say that, although it’s got some interesting art and perspectives, this book is a royal mess. For a golden anniversary, it’s an abject failure. Not only does it feel like a trash bin of leftovers that have been purréed together, but it ultimately fails to actually pay tribute to the series in a manner that befits its standing as one of the most original and enjoyable works of the last century.