Asterix and the Missing Scroll by Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad
Price: Rs 499
The year is 2015 C.E., and the indomitable Gauls of the little fishing village in Armorica still rule our hearts in Asterix’s most recent adventure, even if largely for sentimental reasons.
It is a brand new team that has penned and illustrated the comic this time, as in the last Asterix and the Picts in 2013. The new album, Asterix and the Missing Scroll, has been written by Jean Yves Ferri and drawn by Didier Conrad, with the consent of the series’ original creator Uderzo whose creative partner Rene Goscinny died in 1977.
This time, our heroes, Asterix the “cunning little warrior” and Obelix “his inseparable friend” encounter the newsmonger and activist Confoundtheirpolitix who has information that “could make the Roman Empire tremble”! Confoundtheirpolitix, based loosely on Julian Assange, has a leaked scroll which contains a chapter that was cut from Caesar’s Commentaries on the Gallic War. To make Caesar’s exploits sound more heroic, and to please the senate, his publisher Libellus Blockbustus suggested omitting the part where Caesar recounts his defeats at the hands of the Indomitable Gauls of Armorica. But the chapter finds its way to Confoundtheirpolitix who then takes it to Asterix’s village, where the news is received with more amusement than offence, for the folks there believe the old Gaulish proverb “Writing passes but words remain”.
Upon much urging from the ever-fiesty Impedimenta who recognises what this omission could mean to Gaulish history, chief Vitalstatistix sends our heroes, Asterix and Obelix accompanied by the druid Getafix to the Forest of the Carnutes (first visited in Asterix and the Goths) where they hope to find the old Archeopterix who alone has the ability to memorise the scroll and pass it on to successive generations of druids in the good old-fashioned word-of-mouth way.
The story is, of course, set in Gaul at a time when the Romans have developed a revolutionary technology for communication — via pigeons — and other birds which “tweet” messages across the vast Empire. The book is abound with other such allusions to modern day communication systems. In keeping with the previous books, it is an entertaining critique of society and especially the “written word”, which, in the age of Social Media, is topical, and seen anachronistically in the context of the ancient world offers opportunities for many a clever puns which the writers deftly seize and craft lines akin to the genius Goscinny’s word play. Even fleeting characters are named with the usual consideration, for instance, who could be the servant of the greatest publisher Libellus Blockbustus whose books are always best-sellers? Obviously, he would be named after a best-seller himself if you know the drift of the comic books, but we’ll leave you guessing on that one.
Yet, apart from the the Missing Scroll the book misses a few more things — a tight plot and the visual and situational gags which set the original books apart. Earlier books had the ability to draw spontaneous laughter from readers. This one, although replete with witty word puns, plenty of fighting with the Romans and Obelix’s ludicrity, fails to capture the simple humour that fans of the comics were used to. The story is resolved far too quickly after it reaches its climax — one expects more reason even if one is dealing with a time when druids brewed magic potions that could make a man invincible, among other things.
The illustrations, however, are splendid, and match that of Uderzo’s, sometimes even outdoing the original illustrator. Many scenes burst with visual details, like the view of the druid Archeopterix’s Oak tree house in the Forest of the Carnutes and the part where our heroes take on a Roman legion towards the end of the story. Neat lines and appropriate colours bring the scenes to life and add to the visual treat that this new book is.
Even with its few weaknesses, the Asterix legacy is in safe hands. Of course, a translation never does quite capture the flavour of the original (titled Le Papyrus de Cesar), and it should be viewed within such limitation. Jean Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad took over from Uderzo, who has now retired, with their first book released in 2013: Asterix and the Picts. With this 36th album, the duo are “still learning” to play their roles as Asterix’s new creators, as they said in an interview to the UK’sGuardian. Since writer Rene Goscinny’s death in 1977, in the middle of work on Asterix in Belgium, Uderzo has alone pubished about 9 Asterix albums, including a special edition of Asterix in Belgium in 2002 as a tribute to his friend and partner Goscinny. Uderzo sold his stake in 2008 to the United Kingdom publisher Hachette, and the 86-year-old comic book legend now advises Ferri and Conrad as the duo find their feet as the in-charge of the franchise.
Asterix and the Missing Scroll will be enjoyed by readers of all ages especially for its relevance to our times and must be added to a dedicated fan’s collection. Do not just believe the written word — read one for yourself now!