“Courage” is the word that Albert Uderzo uses for the new creative team that are taking over Asterix the Gaul. After over half a century, Uderzo has handed over his paintbrushes. The pressure on the writer Jean-Yves Ferri and artist Didier Conrad must have been enormous.
With so much of the ancient world already explored by our heroes from pre-conquest America to the Middle East, Ferri and Conrad have set their story at the very edge of the known world. Caledonia, ancient Scotland, is inhabited by the Picts, a bold warrior people who resisted Roman conquest where so many others failed. (Modern Scotland takes its name from the Scoti, a tribe that emigrated there from Ireland during the Dark Ages.)
Much remains unknown about the Picts, giving Ferri a clean slate to work with. Unfortunately, he basically relies on stereotyped images of Scotland such as Nessie, whiskey and kilts. The plot too is a pretty tepid affair of forced marriage and usurped kings. The story has none of the twists and turns and cunning sleights of hand that made Asterix in Britain one of the very best in the series back in 1966.
One thing that does work well is the characters’ names. I particularly liked ‘Pretentious’ for a Roman centurion and a Pictish baddie called ‘Macabre’. That aside, there were quite a few moments where the translation didn’t make a lot of sense, which is strange considering it is the work of arch Asterix translator Anthea Bell.
Where Asterix and the Picts does shine is in the illustration. Didier Conrad has captured the Asterix look whilst still putting his own mark on the artwork. Uderzo was always a master at drawing nature and animals (see Asterix and the Great Crossing ). Conrad is every bit his equal. I loved his slightly sketchy pencils which give a fresh, modern look to many of the scenes.
Asterix and the Picts is a decent re-launch of the series but perhaps Jean-Yves Ferri needs a couple more volumes before he feels free enough to take us down untrodden paths. This book is not a masterpiece like Asterix the Legionary but it does feel like there are better things to come in the future.