Review by Frank Plowright
Asterix artist Albert Uderzo once stated that he felt the body of work should cease when he stopped drawing the character. Herge left explicit instructions applying a similar hands-off to Tintin, but he passed away before the continuation of equivalent series such as Lucky Luke and Blake and Mortimer by new creators living up to the high standards expected. Uderzo changed his mind.
Asterix and the Picts is the first Asterix story without the creative involvement of his creators, although Uderzo did select his successors. One might have thought that accepting the assignment was very much a poisoned chalice; that guaranteed financial success would be accompanied by universal disdain. Indeed one artist apparently withdrew from the pressure of living up to the benchmark set by Uderzo. Thankfully Didier Conrad was able to overcome any similar doubts.
The short review is that Asterix and the Picts is a creditable effort that only an incurable curmudgeon could write off as sub-standard, and it certainly ranks above several of the Asterix stories created by Uderzo alone. Yet it sticks rigidly to formula.
Conrad delivers an uncanny Uderzo impersonation, matching storytelling style, inventive cartooning and vivid characterisation. He doesn’t bother with the whimsical background elements with which Uderzo populated his stories, but they’re icing rather than flour and butter. Writer Jean-Yves Ferri also understandably adheres to the established template of Asterix stories. A stranger arrives in the Gaulish village, in this case Pictish warrior Macaroon who washes up on the beach encased in ice. He has a tale to tell, after which Asterix and Obelix accompany him home to correct some wrongs and deal with the Romans there.
Ferri delivers twists along the way, maintains a high gag ratio focussing on Scotland and his use of the Loch Ness Monster as a playful beast is a touch of originality. On the other hand for all the checklist research of Scottish traits and habitat there’s an imaginative paucity to the names of the Scottish characters, names being a continuing strength of the series under longstanding translator Anthea Bell.
With one album under their belts to work out the kinks, Ferri and Conrad raise their game with Asterix and the Missing Scroll.