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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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.