Julius Caesar has finished writing the history of his campaigns in Gaul. His publisher, Libellus Blockbustus, forsees a huge success … but there’s a snag: the chapter about Caesar’s defeats by the indomitable Gauls of Armorica. Cut it, Blockbustus advises, and everyone will believe that Caesar conquered all Gaul. Or will they? Newsmonger and activist Confoundtheirpolitix takes the chapter to Asterix’s village. Can the Gauls make sure the truth is revealed?
Following in the footsteps of Goscinny and Uderzo, the thirty-sixth Asterix album by Ferri and Conrad is a number 3 New York Times bestselling title.
Le Papyrus de César, by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad 7.0
‘Le Papyrus de César’ is the second Astérix book in the nearly 60-year franchise to be turned over to author Jean-Yves Ferri and artist Didier Conrad by co-creator Albert Uderzo. Published in 2015, it was an instant hit in France, reaching nearly 5 million sales worldwide.
In this adventure, a papyrus containing an excised chapter from Julius Caesar’s book on his conquests of the Gauls has been smuggled out of Rome by one of the scribes. Its content, describing Caesar’s losing battles with Astérix’s village, is extremely politically sensitive.
Thus he sends his editor and a small contingent out to get the scroll back. Unfortunately for them, the messenger, a journalist named Doublepolémix, has managed to pass it on to Astérix, Obélix and Panoramix, who will journey to bring it to the keeper of all Druidic knowledge.
Naturally all sorts of minor misadventures will take place along the way, as they are followed by a trio of Roman soldiers. And, meanwhile, in their absence, the village will be besieged by a legion, in a slightly silly stand-off that will only be resolved by Astérix’s return.
Unlike the solo Uderzo efforts, this book gives off the vibe of some of the classic Goscinny/Uderzo books, both the text and the art – but especially the art, which is frequently indiscernible from Uderzo’s best work (clearly Conrad studied his subject extensively beforehand).
Having said this, it feels more like one of the lesser Goscinny/Uderzo efforts, not one of the better ones. Astérix always depended on Goscinny’s cleverness and he’s extremely difficult to emulate. Ferri makes a valiant effort, and few could do better, no doubt, but it lacks spark.
Still, even a bottom of the barrel Goscinny/Uderzo is pretty decent, if forgettable.
There were some clever bits, like Ferri’s references to modern telecommunications, adapted here as homing pigeons (versus regular mail). I felt that this was perhaps too much of a nod at our current society, but it’s likely that Goscinny would have appreciated it – if not written it himself.
On the flip side, I hated that the book pandered to fans, when a list of references to previous adventures is found in the Index to Caesar’s book. Or at the end, when the druids pass on their history from generation to generation, until they meet… Goscinny and Uderzo, naturellement!
Some might find this an enjoyable nod to the series, and might even get a chuckle out of it, but it felt to me like it was a case of riding on someone else’s coattails instead achieving your own greatness. In those moments, it seemed as though this book was an ad for previous, better, works.
But I guess it’s a difficult task taking on someone else’s creation and continuing it in the same spirit as the original. And I suppose I have to give Ferri and Conrad some props for doing a respectable job of it. ‘Papyrus’ isn’t brilliant, but it’s certainly better than what Uderzo was doing solo.
Given a choice, I’ll take a poor carbon copy anytime over that drivel. And it’s certainly a massive improvement over their first effort, ‘Astérix chez les Pictes‘. Still, my preference would be for the series to have ended with the Goscinny/Uderzo classics instead of continuously diluting the pool.
But I guess my paycheques don’t depend on revenue from Astérix, so who am I to judge?