Asterix and the Picts – the first new Asterix book in eight years, with a new creative team – Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad – taking over the popular series, has been a runaway success and is already being reprinted in France, despite only being released on 24th October.
Much to the delight of British fans, this new title – the 35th in the long-running series created by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo – pits Asterix and friends against the Picts. Yes, the Picts!
These people of ancient Scotland comprised many clans of formidable warriors. Their name, given by the Romans, literally means “painted men”.
While there was was some concern the change of creative team might put fans off the new book (although original co-creator Albert Uderzo, now 86, was involved in the book’s production and drew Obelix for the front cover, which shows him taking part in a caber toss), Bleeding Cool reports over two million French editions have already sold and it is already being reprinted.
One French bookstore reported sales of 200,000 on its first day, smashing the previous record set by the French edition of Fifty Shades Of Grey. The next day it sold another 15,000.
Asterix and the Picts continues in the tradition of the adventures of the most famous Gaul, an epic journey to a land rich in traditions and the discovery of a people whose cultural differences will result in memorable gags and wordplay. Bets are open on readers’ forums where impatient discussions are in full flow…Whisky? Caber tossers? Bagpipes? Names beginning with Mac? The origins of Hadrian’s Wall and the Loch Ness Monster finally revealed? And, who knows, perhaps even Gauls in kilts?… Suspense is at its height!
Since Asterix the Gaul was first published in 1961, the series has sold more than 350 million books worldwide and been translated into 111 languages. Asterix and the Picts had a five million copy print run with simultaneous translations into numerous languages, including Scottish Gaelic, with the English version translated by Anthea Bell, who has opened up the series to an English readership since 1969.
René Goscinny co-created the Asterix series in 1959 with Albert Uderzo. After Goscinny’s death in 1977, Uderzo continued alone until handing the project to Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad, after he announced his retirement two years ago.
“I’ve got 68 years of working in comic books behind me so I was not at all worried about passing on the flame. Once I had decided that it was worthwhile to keep Asterix alive beyond my lifetime we had to get on with it,” said Uderzo.
“Usually, takeovers don’t happen like this,” explained writer Jean-Yves Ferri. “Usually, with something this size, entire studios take over. But in this particular case, Uderzo wanted to find two individuals. So it’s a bit like when you’re used to driving a small car and all of a sudden you’re told to drive a massive train – the proportion is very different to what we’re used to.”
As for why the team chose Scotland for this new adventure, Ferri is quick to point out England had already been taken (for Asterix in Britain, first published in album form in French way back in 1966).
“Asterix had never been to Scotland,” he explains. “At the time it was the Picts and there is very little left from their time, just perhaps some stones, so we could imagine a lot. And I decided to make the Picts the ancestors of the Scots.
“Scotland was the first idea I had – I wanted to make this a “travel album” so I started to think about places I could send them to and I like Scotland. And I came across the Picts so that worked well. The landscape is really good. In fact, comic books have often used Scotland as a setting.”
Speaking at a lecture hosted by the Glasgow division of Alliance Francaise in June, reported by BBC Scotland, Ferri said there was an allusion to the Scottish independence referendum debate in the new story, showing all the clans divided and uniting.
“It’s a symbol, for Scotland united and free,” he said, although he also pointed out “politics are the background” in the tale.
“But the story – the principal story – is a kind of love story between a Pict character and a girl. And Asterix and Obelix went to Scotland to help him.”
Asterix and the Picts is published by Orion Books in the UK and available now from all good bookshops.
• Asterix: The Official Web Site: http://www.asterix.com
• A French fan site dedicated to Didier Conrad: http://didierconrad.weebly.com
• Some background on his career on Hollywood Comics (in English)
Images © 2013 LES ÉDITIONS ALBERT RENÉ