comic books

There’s a new Asterix comic out, but is that such a good thing?

In the hands of new creators, ‘Asterix and The Missing Scroll’ is a tight story lacking playfulness.

Not every old favourite has to get a new lease of life in the hope of working the money mills. In fact, it may tarnish the original treasures as a new generation samples the new offering, rejects it for its poor quality, and automatically assumes the original wasn’t any good either.

It was a nagging suspicion in the case of Asterix and the Picts, the first Asterix adventure to be written and drawn by neither of the original creators, René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo (who took over the writing along with the art after Goscinny’s death). Jean-Yves Ferri, the new writer, and Didier Conrad, the new artist, have only cemented that fear with the latest in the series, Asterix and the Missing Scroll.

The first Asterix comic, Asterix the Gaul, was serialised in the late 1950s, and published in 1961. Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge’s English translation came out in 1969. It’s safe to say that the two books from the new creative duo, the first of which appeared after eight years of a hiatus, are many young people’s introduction to the cult of Asterix.

And you wouldn’t blame those readers for wondering why their parents found Asterix comics so wonderful.

A publishing tale

Missing Scroll is built around the idea of a missing chapter from Julius Caesar’s bestseller (50 copies sold swiftly, so eerily familiar to today’s literary writers in India). This is the one in which Caesar admits his inability of defeat the one Gaulish village despite his vast conquests.

On the advice of his publisher Blockbustus, Caesar decides to junk the chapter, which makes its way through a leak to a parody Julian Assange-like figure of Confoundtheirpolitix. Naturally, Blockbustus wants it back. Naturally, the missing scroll arrives at the Gaulish village, where Asterix, Obelix, Getafix and Dogmatix (who has no role in this story, more’s the pity) are entrusted with its safekeeping.

The story is plotted tightly enough – too tightly, in fact, to accommodate the opportunities for jokes, puns and laughter that the classic Asterix albums did. Translator Anthea Bell may not even have had to stretch herself much to invent equivalent puns, for there just aren’t enough of them in the first place. Sure, there are cursory references to modern technology like a character named wifix, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Not funny enough

But the tropes that bring on affectionate smiles – the village fight, Cacofonix’s insistence on singing, Obelix’s obsession with wild boars, Geriatrix’s relationship with his fetching wife – are either missing or perfunctory hat-tips. The Roman soldiers no longer appear hilarious as they are beaten up. And Asterix?

Asterix himself is barely in the story, even though he’s visually present almost everywhere. Obelix and chief Vitalstatistix at least have some personal drama playing out, while Getafix the druid plays an important role. But our diminutive hero hardly leaves a mark.

And that’s because there is virtually no crisis for the inhabitants of the little Gaulish village. There’s no great threat to the peace and quiet in their lives. Nor is there an enemy - be he ever so bumbling – who has to be defeated. As a result, no strategies are required to resolve the storyline, which leaves Asterix with little to do but to glug the magic potion from time to time and produce the pfaff sound effect while toying with Roman legionaries.

Ferri’s work, sadly, lacks the playfulness that Goscinny brought to his characters and plots, highlighting quirks and inserting funny sub-tales. As for the art, it’s similar to Uderzo’s, but the use of spaces and angles is subtly different. It’s almost as though Conrad is paying respectful homage while pointing out that he’s an artist in his own right.

Perhaps the only sub-text here that’s worth a laugh is the demonstration of the vanity attached to being a writer, one that both Julius Caesar and Vitalstatistix are seen falling prey to. While the Roman ruler is seen to be ecstatic at being asked for autographs, the Gaulish chief dictates what appears to be a classic ‘I’m-the-one-who-did-it-all’ autobiography to a visibly bored journalist in desperate search of a scoop.

Personally, I’d rather re-read the originals. Star Trek, James Bond or even Sherlock Holmes may thrive in the hands of new creative teams, but Asterix hasn’t made the cut, unfortunately. It’s possible that the new writer and artist know they may not be able to surpass the original creators. Read to the end to see if you agree.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.