Pipeline, Issue #527


Brick and mortar comic shops get a bad rap. Limited space and budgets, plus weak support from the monopoly that supplies them, means they can't keep everything in stock at any given moment. Some run to the modern-day equivalent of mail order to overcome this problem in the shape of the on-line comic shop. That starts driving arguments between supporting your local shop and saving lots of money by buying at deep discounts on-line at the additional cost only of postage.

But is it really nirvana out there on ones-and-zeroes land? Not always.

I've written a lot about ASTERIX here in recent weeks. I've been spoiled in that the local comic shop I spent a number of years at every week -- Dewey's Comic City in Madison, NJ -- has always kept a shelf stocked with those books. Whenever I wanted one, I had a selection to choose from. And whenever I've gone into New York City, a stop at Midtown Comics always results in a slightly bigger shelf filled with Asterix books, including some of the hardcover editions.

Since I'm not a big fan of running into the city at any cost -- including great comics -- and I recently changed jobs and had to start shopping more locally at a much more limited shop, I've investigated the possibility of shopping for certain things on-line.

It hasn't been as exciting as you'd think. You can't find Asterix books on-line at any of the major American on-line comic sites. I tried as many as I could find, mostly coming as advertisers on podcasts: InStockTrades.com, MileHighComics.com, YouBuyNow.com, DCBService.com, MailOrderComics.com, and ComicHole.com. I searched through their on-line archives using terms like "Asterix," "Obelix," and "Uderzo." Nothing came up. In a couple of spots, I searched on "Goscinny," since he had other stuff available, including the LUCKY LUKE series. No go. I tried "Tintin" on a whim.

Nothing, nothing, nothing.

The only place that had anything in stock was Forbidden Planet International. The Asterix translations are printed in the U.K., so seeing them at a British comic shop isn't surprising. I didn't look to see if they shipped to the U.S., but they had a very cute Dogmatix plush in addition to the books.

In the end, the only places to order the books from the U.S. were Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. I've just moved the argument from Brick and Mortar versus Web to Comic Book Sites versus On-Line Superstores. Hey, I don't care if I had to go to Wal-Mart to get Asterix. I can only give my money to the people who stock the material I'm looking for.

It's sad, really. I'm used to enjoying relatively obscure books, some smaller indy titles, and even some DC and Marvel titles that are off in their own corners. I've never seen such a blackout for such a major international concern.

Likely, the only way for ASTERIX books to get any respect in the States is for Disney to announce that the next PIXAR movie will be an ASTERIX adaptation. Somehow, I doubt we'll be hearing about that soon.

On the other hand, a nice Asterix animated series or movie would work well. . .


I said in the last column that I'd be reviewing ASTERIX IN SPAIN this week. That review will happen next week, instead, when I get the chance to scan in a few panels that I want to use in illustrating the review. In its place, I read a second book from the series:

Usually, Asterix is fairly two dimensional. He's the little guy with the big power. He's got pride in his village, and just enough smarts to outwit what he can't outfight. In ASTERIX AND THE CAULDRON, though, he's a very sad and sympathetic character. When Asterix is put in charge of guarding a cauldron full of money and fails, he's banished from his village until and unless he recovers the missing coins.

So off Asterix goes, followed by his faithful friend, Obelix. Together, they roam the countryside, looking for ways to make enough money to refill the Cauldron. Sadly, none of them work. They try boar-herding, bank-robbing, acting, and gambling. One strikes out harder than the other, and it's all a pretty sad thing. Asterix feels guilty for what he's done, and his inability to save himself and his friend makes him all the more interesting.

While Obelix comes off dumber than ever in this book -- not just brawn before brains, but outright dumb -- we also learn of Asterix's naivete. He doesn't understand simple concepts of economics, for example, which ultimately kills his chances of making money off those delicious boars. He's been locked up in his village for all this time, mostly traveling into the forest for the occasional boar. His trips to other lands -- Germany, Britain, Belgium, Corsica, Spain, etc. -- come without any warning as to what he should expect. He goes in blind and doesn't always learn the new culture he's dealing with. He just battles through so he can get home. It's not surprising, then, that he can't manage a small business or get past his preconceived notions to be a successful actor or gambler.

Some might criticize the book for spending an awful lot of time going nowhere, while the obvious culprit is ignored. Of course, it's only obvious to us readers because we recognize the slightly devilish way Uderzo draws the culprit, and are sure to not trust him entirely. But Asterix and Obelix come from a simpler place, a small village where everyone knows each other and can trust each other. That's why it's such a surprise when they're stabbed in the back like this.

But the story goes in circles. It's basically Asterix and Obelix getting involved in one futile plot after another to earn money, until they chance across the solution to their problems. That doesn't bother me in the least, though. This is still a humor book, and Goscinny never stops making with the funny, even when the plot's going "nowhere." He gives Uderzo lots of great stuff to draw in this book, from ampitheaters to farmer's markets to chariot race tracks. The individual routines don't outstay their welcome. They're done in a few pages before moving onto the next. And each is packed with the kind of slapstick and verbal shennanigans that you read ASTERIX for.

Speaking of which, I need to credit the British writers who translate these tales. Without them, the names of the characters and the puns would never come across to those of us who aren't fluent in French. Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge do an insanely good job at stuffing those balloons with the kinds of references and puns that work for native English speakers. They might be forced to push through some bad puns to fill extant balloons, but that's OK by me. It's still an amazing read.

ASTERIX AND THE CAULDRON is the thirteenth book in the series. The paperback edition can be had for ten bucks from any reputable on-line book superstore today. It's published by Orion Books Limited in the UK, with U.S. distribution through Sterling Publishing.


Jamie and I recorded the Pipeline PREVIEWS Podcast this weekend. It'll take me a couple more days to edit it down to something more manageable, but it should be up over the weekend, at the latest.

Here's a smattering of the books we talked about on the show:

Dark Horse has decided that twenty dollars is their optimal price point. There are four books solicited this month, in particular, that jumped out at me:

SERENITY collects the three issue mini-series telling the story set between the FIREFLY TV show and the movie. It's a hardcover book, co-written by Joss Whedon, with solid art from Will Conrad, and colors by Laura Martin. It's only 96 pages, but it is full color and full size.

THE ESCAPISTS gets a hardcover collection with 160 pages at the same price point, though it does so by shrinking the page a little to 7 by 10 inches. (I mentioned this in my review of the series earlier this year, when I noticed the slightly larger lettering.) It's a great mini-series from Brian K. Vaughan, Jason Shawn Alexander, Steve Rolston, et. al. Comic book fans will enjoy a lot of the inside humor, and it hits a great price point for the format.

GOON: CHINATOWN is a new original graphic novel from Eric Powell. It spans 128 pages in full color, at the same page size as THE ESCAPISTS.

And, for those looking strictly for an art book, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: PANEL TO PANEL, is an art retrospective of all the Buffy books Dark Horse has done in the last nine years. It's a softcover book, full color, and features art from the likes of Mike Mignola, J. Scott Campbell, Eric Powell, Chris Bachalo and a host of others.

One obvious word of warning: All of these books are coming out in November. Dark Horse solicits on their own schedule.

Over at DC, I'm interested in the Green Arrow/Black Canary wedding. I don't know why. I must be watching too many soap operas these days. (Anna's back on GENERAL HOSPITAL!) Or it could be the creative teams on the books, paired with a certain cheekiness to the whole event which makes me smile.

J. Torres is writing THE BLACK CANARY WEDDING PLANNER one shot, with art from Christine Norrie and Lee Ferguson. The JLA WEDDING SPECIAL is written by hot new up-and-coming writer Dwayne McDuffie, with art by one of my favorites, Mike McKone. And we can top it all off with THE GREEN ARROW/BLACK CANARY WEDDING SPECIAL, written by Judd Winick and featuring art by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiottit. Anything Conner does is worth looking at. She's one the most underrated cartoonists working today, probably because she's not on a regular monthly title of any stripe.

The DC Book Of The Month, though, has to be SUICIDE SQUAD: RAISE THE FLAG #1, the start of a new eight issue mini-series from the man who wrote the original great SQUAD series, John Ostrander. Here, he's joined by Javier Pina and Robin Riggs on art. He'll be bringing back most of the team, judging by the preview art. That's a nifty trick, since I think a couple of them are dead, last I saw. It doesn't matter to me -- I want more smart political superhero books. While Ostrander doesn't have The Cold War to bounce ideas off of anymore, there's always plenty of other international intrigue to riff off of. Greg Rucka has proven that in CHECKMATE recently.

Finally, the second volume of GON is out from CMX in September. It's breathtaking art with hilarious stories. In this volume, the titular little dinosaur goes up against a tick, some penguins (ooh, trendy!), and the forest as a whole. It's only six bucks; you can't go wrong.

Over at Image, there's Yet Another Edition of THE PRO coming out, this time a trade paperback including the new follow-up short story they inserted into the last hardcover edition of the book.

And Top Cow has some books of interest for me for a change. Their Pilot Season line-up of titles includes VELOCITY, written by Joe Casey and drawn by the great Kevin Maguire, and CYBLADE, featuring Rick Mays art.

Welcome to 2007: Where everything old is new again.

The WIZARD Magazine for September features two characters from HEROES on it: the stripper and the cheerleader. Yup, that's WIZARD.

The HERO Initiative got the OK from Marvel, so they're printing up a ten dollar paperback to show off all of the covers they auctioned off from ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #100. That ought to be a nice addition to anyone's collection -- including the first new McFarlane Spider-Man art in ages -- as well as being a nice way to help out a deserving charity.

(Update: McFarlane's piece won't be in the book. I'll be ranting about this in the next column.)

I spoke of TINTIN before, and now I get to discuss its future. With a movie in the works, what better time to release a boxed set with all of the books under one slipcover? Practically hidden on page 321 is the TINTIN HARDCOVER BOXED SET, a $150.00 collection of all twenty-four stories in eight volumes. I hope to get to TINTIN after ASTERIX. If I like the first couple I read, this might be my best chance to scoop them all up at once.

(In the meantime, I can drool over a similar ASTERIX "Grand Collection," which promises new coloring, lettering and pages. It won't be completed for a few years, though.)

If that's not enough for you, how about THE COMPLETELY MAD DON MARTIN on page 398? It's in the same format as THE COMPLETE FAR SIDE -- two oversized hardcover books in one slipcase. This collects all the cartoons Don Martin did in MAD between 1957 and 1987. I talked about this in the podcast already, but Martin had a bit of an influence on my art when I was younger. By the time I found him, he had defected to CRACKED Magazine, but I eagerly lapped up all the panels I could find of his, copying and tracing them religiously to learn how to draw toes that curled around edges and bodies that could maintain those poses. It's a great goofy style, and this is the ultimate collection of it. If it sells well, maybe someone will put out a much smaller edition of his CRACKED material in 2008.

Now, the rapid fire round:

    That's it for writing about PREVIEWS, but like I said before: Stay tuned for the podcast version. It's well over an hour of back-and-forth between Jamie and I, discussing a whole lot more than I've covered between this column and the last.

    I'll have another ASTERIX review for you next week, just because I'm on a roll. But that won't be all. I'll throw something else in there for the superhero fans among you. And maybe, just maybe, I'll bring myself to discuss San Diego.

    I should note, by the way, that I'll be offering my usual daily coverage of the convention even though I won't be there. Stay tuned to CBR for more!

    My blog, Various and Sundry, discusses why Jewel's latest album stunk, the week's new DVDs, World Series of Poker updates, blatant begging for your business, and even Wayne Brady's new game show. It's been updated every day for well over two years now. Stop by, won't you?

    The VandS Tumblr has the quickest blog entries a boy could make.

    The Pipeline Podcast page will give you links to subscribe to the podcast in a variety of places.

    I am spaced: MySpace and ComicSpace.

    You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

    More than 700 columns -- maybe even 800 -- are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically.

    Spider-Man's [SPOILER] Tries to Deal with the Ultimate Betrayal

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