Synopsis: When Asterix and Obelix rescue a mysterious Pict named MacAroon, they must journey to Caledonia, now Scotland, to return him to his lady love, Camomilla, the adopted daughter of the old king. However, the treacherous chieftain, MacCabeus, plans to marry her and claim the throne – with the help of the Romans! What with caber-tossing, bagpipes, malted water and an enormous otter in the loch, can the Gauls reunite MacAroon and Camomilla and enjoy some Roman-bashing along the way?
Astérix chez les Pictes, by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad 6.25
In 2009, after fifty years at the helm of Astérix, one of the world’s most popular and beloved comic book series, artist and co-writer Albert Uderzo was forced to retire his pencils because he could no longer draw. Astérix’s future was bleak.
Then, in 2011, it was announced that the torch was being passed to a new generation: Jean-Yves Ferri (‘Fluide glacial’) would be writing new Astérix adventures, and he would be accompanied by Didier Conrad (‘Spirou’) on pencils.
In 2013 came their first offering, ‘Astérix chez les Pictes’.
To start with, one must acknowledge the difficult task that Ferri and Conrad had before them: Uderzo was a peerless artist, and René Goscinny, who penned the first 24 books, had a literary wit that was key to the series’ tremendous success.
Fandom being what it is, there’s hardly any way that Ferri and Conrad could have met expectations. Except that Uderzo had been writing the books since Goscinny’s passing and his output had become less and less palatable over the years.
For all intents and purposes, Ferri and Conrad were in a similar position as J.J. Abrams when he took over from George Lucas: the bar had been dropped so low that it wouldn’t have taken much to outclass recent efforts. Abrams certainly did.
And Ferri and Conrad also did.
But only just barely.
Their adventure is set in winter, and it consists of Astérix and Obélix finding a Pict (an early-period Scotsman) frozen in a large block of ice on the shore. After being revived, the duo, armed with a gourd of magic potion, set out to return him home.
Along the way they will naturally encounter the usual ragtag bunch of pirates, as well as a Roman legion. And a villain: Mac Abbeh, the sickly-looking leader of a neighbouring clan, who is trying to gain the leadership of all the combined Picts.
In ‘Astérix chez les Pictes’, one can expect the usual silliness and action sequences, but of a lower order: the book feels as though it were geared towards younger children, so unsophisticated and unclever as it is. I didn’t laugh out loud once.
Furthermore, the new characters simply don’t fit. I don’t recall all of Uderzo’s work enough to confirm whether or not he has adopted this style in the past, but these cartoons felt like they were taken from a different strip and thrown into an Astérix book.
The worst of them all is Afnar, the giant Nessie-type beast, which looks completely out of place. Many of the new characters are so lackluster and ill-fitting that when the original characters aren’t in the panel, it looks like a different series.
Seriously, the first time I started reading this book, I struggled with it so much that I couldn’t get past the first 8 or 9 pages. I dropped it and moved on to its follow-up, ‘Le Papyrus de César’, which was decidedly more appealing, if somewhat banal.
While I eventually gave it another shot for posterity’s sake, the fact remains that ‘Astérix chez les Pictes’ wasn’t an inspiring read whatsoever. It is vastly superior to Uderzo’s most recent “efforts“, but it’s a book I wouldn’t recommend or ever read again.
Stick with the originals.