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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

IZNOGOUD par Goscinny et Tabary

IZNOGOUD is a long-running comedy series created by René Goscinny and Jean Tabary, published in France beginning in the 1960s, continued by them until Goscinny's death in 1977 and then handled by Tabary solo. I'd heard about it some twenty years ago, and being a fan of Goscinny through ASTERIX (avec Uderzo) and LE PETIT NICHOLAS (avec Sempé) I was curious, but apparently at that point there was nothing readily available in English. It was only after Tabary's recent passing that I found out British publisher Cinebook had been publishing English editions of IZNOGOUD since 2008, with eight books in print. I decided to try the first three, despite the fact that I wasn't that impressed with my most recent foray into reading old Goscinny as an adult, a few volumes of LUCKY LUKE (avec Morris). I ended up liking this a lot more. It's no ASTERIX, but then asking anything to be as good as a series I fell in love with over 30 years ago is a tall order.

Iznogoud is the star of the series, the evil Grand Vizier of Baghdad in some vague non-historical "Arabian Nights" period (and all the cliches that entails, including genies and flying carpets), serving a good-hearted Caliph. Apparently the series actually began starring the Caliph, but soon after Iznogoud emerged as the star with his schemes of taking power, or as he constantly says "I want to be the Caliph instead of the Caliph". The only other regular character so far is Iznogoud's aide Wa'at Alahf, who often tries to talk Iznogoud out of his schemes, but reluctantly goes along, usually hindering as much as helping.

Unlike ASTERIX and LUCKY LUKE, each book contains several short stories, most of them 8-10 pages, with one 20-page epic in the third book (apparently in the post-Goscinny period there were longer stories). All of them involve Iznogoud coming up with some elaborate scheme to take power (up to and including plots to assassinate the Caliph), with everything constantly backfiring on him, despite the fact that he has the Caliph's full trust (as apparently the only person in Baghdad who doesn't know about Iznogoud's desire to be Caliph).  I suppose the repetition could get tiresome after a while, but it's still fresh after these fourteen stories (which aren't published in any particular order, and range from at least 1963 to 1972 based on the signatures), with endless variations on the theme, including time machines, magic frogs, election fraud and trips to the desert, the beach and the ocean. I especially like the plan to leave the Caliph to die of thirst in the desert in the first book, which has a lot of unexpected turns, and the story in the third book where Iznogoud finds an obscure law which allows anyone to challenge the Caliph to a fight, which has a great twist.

The books aren't perfect, of course, especially if you aren't that fond of puns, and of course the unfortunate bits of racism you see in a lot of old comics (seriously, some of that stuff was acceptable even into the early 1970s?). But there's a lot to recommend them, and Tabary's art is especially good, coming pretty close to matching Uderzo in his prime. I think I'll probably get at least a few more of the books.

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