Nous sommes en 50 avant Jèsus-Christ. Toute la Gaule est occupèe par les Romains…Toute? Non! Un village peuple d’irrèductibles Gaulois rèsiste encore et toujours à l’envahisseur. Et la vie n’est pas facile pour les garnisons de lègionnaires romains des camps retranchès de Babaorum, Aquarium, Laudanum et Petitbonum…
50 B.C. All Gaul is occupied by the Romans. All? No!…One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium…
Asterix, a Gaulish warrior and his pal, Obelix are the two main characters in this little village. Written by the late Rene Goscinny and drawn by Albert Uderzo, Asterix and Obelix’ adventures take them all over the Classical world—and even into the New one. I discovered these French comic books in the 70’s when Asterix was already 15 years old. In a used bookstore I found a catalogue from an exhibit of comic strip art shown in the Louvre. In it were a few of Uderzo’s drawings—and I knew I had to see more. With lots of help from my high school French teacher, I wrote a letter to Asterix’ publisher, Dargaud, asking how I could get my hands on those comic books. Before long, I owned the first in the series ($2.95, not bad) and would accumulate more.
Looking at Albert Uderzo’s style it’s immediately obvious what an influence his drawings had on me—let’s face it, they still do. As a kid wanting to be a comic artist I consciously mimicked his style. Uderzo is a master of perspective and camera angles and sight gags.
The stories are ostensibly for kids, but full of puns and current event gags and spoofs of Latin. French celebrities made cameo appearances (not that I’d know who they were). But here’s what’s important: Goscinny and Uderzo paid their audience the compliment of assuming we had enough knowledge of Classical history to get the jokes.
Asterix captured a sense of French national pride and cultural identity. But not only for the French; as Asterix and Obelix traveled the Classiical world, the authors poked gentle fun at the peoples who would one day be Brits, Germans, Spaniards, Danes, &c., &c. Apparently everybody likes getting the Gosciny/Uderzo treatment—Asterix is the most translated of French literature.
Alas, the world has changed in 50 years. Europe is become the European Union, and national pride—French or otherwise—is not to be encouraged. A couple of years back according to Charles Bremner of the Times, Albert Uderzo was asked by Dominique Versini, the EU Children’s Defender to let Asterix and Obelix be the official ambassadors to the United Nations convention on the Rights of Children. Not so fast, said the higher-ups at Defence for Children International:
‘… Astérix conveys an “archaic…hierarchical” world at odds with the revolutionary” values of the 1989 convention…said Jean-Pierre Rosenczveig, a senior juvenile judge who heads the French DCI.
Astérix also projects “a Gaulish vision which ignores the intercultural reality of French society,” they say. His constant resistance against the Romans and other foreign invaders sends altogether the wrong message in the peace-loving European Union.’
Vercingetorix may be laying down his arms at Caesar’s feet once again. Asterix is “a eulogy to tribal, hierarchical, society with frequent references to a chief.” And that’s no good, mes enfants.
Alors. Once upon a time, with the help of their druid’s magic potion, a tiny village of plucky Gauls could snap their fingers at the mighty Roman Empire. And the Romans never were able to discover the potion’s recipe.
Asterix’ website http://gb.asterix.com/indexmus.html
Here’s the big scene from Two Bad Pilgrims, where Francis and Johnny nearly scuttle the Mayflower when they fool around with their father’s fowling piece. First the thumbnail sketch:
Then the tight sketch:
There was some squeamishness about showing two boys firing a gun in a kids’ book, so we tried a different approach. Sometimes you encounter this kind of snag in the creative process. Kendra Levin, the editor and Jim Hoover, the art director worked with me to find a solution. How about if instead of the gun, we show the boys playing with squibs?
What the heck is a squib? Here’s where my dad, and the Company of Military Historians really came to the rescue. My dad posted the question in the forum page of the Company’s website. Turns out a squib is a thin tube of paper or a hollow quill filled with black gunpowder—homemade fireworks. When you light one it zips around the room.
But, this isn’t really what happened aboard the Mayflower. More important, it’s not as interesting to look at. We ultimately struck a compromise and decided to show the boys with the gun, but not actually firing it.
Here’s the inked in version. Squibs, a barrel of gunpowder, straw ticking on the bunk, old wooden planking—all the ingredients for setting a ship afire.
It seems nuts to have gunpowder just laying around like that, but according to Mourt that’s the way it was. I know that British warships in Nelson’s time stored all gunpowder in a special room, the magazine. It was lit by a lamp on the other side of a glass window. Anyone in the magazine had to wear slippers, because the nail of a shoe grating across powder on the floor would cause a spark, blowing up the ship.
Here’s the color sketch.
And Vince Dorse’s colorization.
I’ve got another book coming out in August, Two Bad Pilgrims.
It’s the true story of the Billington brothers, who came to the New World on the Mayflower. They were a couple of brats who nearly blew up the ship while fooling around with a fowling piece belowdecks.
The art director and editor asked that this project be given a graphic novel look. When I was a kid, my goal was to become a comic book or strip artist. So this was fun, but what a load of work! Nineteen times more work than a conventional picture book.
I was never going to finish all this—thumbnail sketches, comp sketches, character designs, inking and coloring— on time without some help, so my buddy Vince Dorse jumped in to digitally colorize my black and white ink drawings.
Here are character designs for the 2 boys, Franky and Johnny.
The thumbnail sketch for spread 18/19 (later bumped to 20/21). The thumbnail sketch is about 2 inches tall.
The comprehensive sketch for page 20. I work about half-size.
The inked-in version of page 20. This is a night scene at the top. I really enjoyed dropping in those big areas of solid black!
Now it’s time to color it in. I painted this little color sketch for Vince.
And here’s his beautiful colorization.
John Manders Illustration
Caricatures, Comic Strips
School Assembly Visits