In Asterix and the Normans another minor piece of the jigsaw slots into place. Having appeared in various forms in earlier volumes, in this ninth Asterix story artist Alberet Uderzo finally evolves village blacksmith Fulliautomatix into the familiar looking character he remains. From this point he’s the giant guy in the leather apron with a massive red moustache and a hammer slung over his shoulder in case of need.

While the Romans surrounding them are ever-present, it’s usually only a single visitor from another land that turns up at the Gaulish village. This time there’s a full scale invasion as the Normans turn up en masse to camp on the beach, Gaul having been randomly selected by chief Timandahaf as the location where they might finally learn the meaning of fear. It should be explained that these are the original Normans, feared Scandinavian warriors, after whom the Normandy area was named when they eventually settled there. It may be historically correct, but the animated film adapted from the book was given the perhaps more apt title of Asterix and the Vikings.

The clash of the ancient in modern often used as the basis of jokes by René Goscinny is given greater prominence here with the arrival of Justforkix, a thoroughly 1960s teenager deliberately styled with long hair, Lutetian fashion and a fondness for the Rolling Menhirs. His cockiness vanishes on seeing the Normans, and a good early gag is his reporting the imminent arrival of these feared warriors around the village to universal apathy. Justforkix is instrumental in broadening the character of village bard Cacofonix, who for the first time doesn’t end the volume tied up and incapable of playing.

An excellent gag plays on the Roman mania for efficient administration, and all forms required to be completed in triplicate. This requires the patrol leader to get active with the hammer and chisel on marble tablets, which is still preferable to another bout with the Gauls and Normans on the beach. The first is stunningly depicted from above by Uderzo, fitting fourteen Normans, Asterix and Obelix, and five Romans into just over a quarter of a page.

This is early in the classic run of Asterix books, and not the best regarded, but anyone picking this up as their first Asterix story would surely be blown away at the quality. It’s only in comparison with other volumes that it suffers. It took decades for the anomaly of Justforkix having blonde hair throughout the book, yet red on the cover, to be corrected, and having made the revision a new cover entirely was introduced.