People, I have a quandary.
Today sees the publication of Asterix and the Picts, the first new Asterix book in eight years. Rather more importantly, it is the first Asterix story not to be created by either Rene Goscinny or Albert Uderzo. Uderzo, the artist, continued producing stories after the tragically premature death of his partner Goscinny in 1977, but has announced his retirement (why not? he is, after all, 86). Controversially, however, unlike Georges ‘Herge’ Remi, who insisted that The Adventures of TinTin should not continue in others’ hands after his death, Uderzo sold his rights to Asterix to the publishers Hachette, and announced that the series would be continued by illustrators of his choice, who had been his assistants for many years.
Uderzo’s daughter publicly criticised him for doing this, but Goscinny’s daughter gave her blessing, selling her own rights to Hachette, who now control Asterix.
The new book is written by Jean-Yves Ferri and was originally to be drawn by Frederic Mebarki, although the latter withdrew, citing the pressure of following Uderzo, and the book has been drawn instead by Didier Conrad. I know nothing of any pre-existing work by these gentlemen and have no idea as to their capability at doing such a thing as Asterix.
By now, you should be aware that I have a very purist attitude towards the continuation of characters by other hands after the death or incapacity of their original creators. It’s a fact of life in the American comic book industry which, now again, more than ever, believes that the creative hand and mine that creates the work is interchangeable and unimportant compared to the characters themselves, which is an unutterably depressing situation to be back in. It’s been less prevalent in European comics, though I confess to being no expert. TinTin ended with Herge and there has been no sugestion in the nearly thirty years since that he will ever return. On the other hand, Edgar Jacobs’ Blake and Mortimer has been continued by several different teams since his death.
All my instincts yell at me to do as I always planned and ignore Asterix and the Picts. It’s not just a matter of principle, but of preference. I have loved Asterix for forty-odd years, since it was serialised in Ranger as In the days of Good Queen Cleo, and the characters were ancient Brits, re-named Beric, Doric and Son of Boadicea, but it’s the creative minds that have made me laugh. I’m not interested in anybody else’s Asterix: they’re not Goscinny, they’re not Uderzo, they don’t have that innate, instinctive understanding that belongs to the creator.
But the last remaining creator has chosen or, I would assume, at least approved of them. He wants to see Asterix live on. Should I at least attempt to read the new book? Let it fail me in its actuality as opposed to my anticipation? Surely that’s only fair?
On the other hand, I tried that many years ago, when William Horwood was chosen to write the official continuation of The Wind in the Willows. He was a good writer, I liked his books, he could make it work. And I threw The Willows in Winter across the room in anger before I got partway through the second chapter, because he’d got it so completely wrong.
Either Ferri and Conrad will produce a successful pastiche, because they’ve properly channelled Goscinny and Uderzo, or they’ll bring their own sensibilities to it, and it’ll cease to be Asterix. I imagine Hachette will have been very careful not to allow the latter, not until they’ve got two or three successes under their belts. But why read pastiche when the real thing is abundantly available?
I realise I’m talking myself into my original conviction here, but I’d be interested in hearing others’ opinions on this. What are you going to do?