Sunday 15 September, 2013 20:52
The first few panels from the new Asterix book, ASTERIX AND THE PICTS, have appeared online. Due to be released on the 24th of October, this is the first Asterix story not to have been illustrated by its co-creator, Albert Uderzo. Uderzo announced his retirement from the series a couple of years ago, and the reins have been handed over to writer Jean-Yves Ferri and artist Didier Conrad. (Uderzo’s former inker Frédéric Mébarki, who also drew a lot of the promotional materials for the series, was originally announced as the artist, but stepped down after only a few months on the project.)
They’re quite strange to look at, and I don’t necessarily mean in a bad way. The look of Asterix changed wildly over the course of its 50-plus year history as Uderzo both developed as an artist and refined the look of the characters and their world, but they were always identifiably the work of the same person. In switching to a new illustrator, the style of the series was always going to change, but I must confess I didn’t think it would change THIS much. The line style is completely different and the characters themselves have a decidedly more rounded, simplified look, ironically evoking — to a significant degree — their appearance through the mid to late 60s rather than the more elaborate style of the last few decades. I’m not averse to change, but there’s something about the new style that I’m not overly enthused about. Uderzo was always going to be a hard act to follow — even well into his eighties, I thought he was virtually unparalleled in the field of cartoony graphic novels — and it’s perhaps for the best that Conrad hasn’t simply tried to replicate the look of his predecessor. Still, part of me can’t help but feeling that Mébarki is a great loss. I’ve no idea which of the various promotional images that have circulated over the years he was responsible for, which suggests that his style was interchangeable enough with that of Uderzo that this transition would have been a whole lot more seamless had he remained involved. And they’re not even using the Asterix font for the speech bubbles:
Regardless of the artwork (and I’ll wait till I have a copy of the finished product in my hands before completely passing judgement), I’ve been looking forward to the new album for some time now purely because I felt the series was desperately in need of fresh blood on the writing side. It’s generally regarded as improper to be glad that the original creator of any series is stepping down, but in Uderzo’s case, I always felt that his superlative artwork far outweighed his abilities as a writer. (With, admittedly, the odd exception — ASTERIX AND THE BLACK GOLD was his best solo offering.) If nothing else, the plot — Asterix and Obelix visit Scotland circa 50 BC and unite the warring clans — sounds like a welcome return to the (comparatively) more reality-based nature of the René Goscinny era, in stark contrast to the increasingly inane fantasy adventures involving magic carpets, potions that turned adults into children and (the series’ nadir) intergalactic travel that characterised the tail-end of Uderzo’s tenure as sole writer and illustrator.