Iznogoud and the Day of Misrule (Book 3)

By Goscinny & Tabary, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-79-3

In his lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, most read, writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. He still is. Among his most popular series are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and of course Asterix the Gaul. In 1962, scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the deserts when he teamed with the superb Jean Tabary to produce imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah, but it was villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud that stole the show – possibly the conniving little devil’s only successful scheme.

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record with the first instalment appearing in the January 15th issue in1962. A minor hit, it jumped ship to Pilot: a magazine created and edited by Goscinny where it was refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little rat-bag who had increasingly stolen the show.

Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to Haroun Al Plassid, Caliph of Ancient Baghdad, but the sneaky little toad has loftier ambitions, or as he is always shouting “I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph!” The revamped series, Iznogoud, started in Pilote in 1968, becoming a huge favourite, with 27 albums so far, a TV cartoon show and even a live action movie. When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary assumed the scripting as well as the superbly stylish illustration, moving to book-length complete tales, rather than the compilations of short punchy stories that typified their collaborations.

This third translated album was actually the eighth French volume (released in 1972 as Le jour des fous) and features the best of both worlds. The eponymous lead feature is a whacking great 20 page epic, following the vile Vizier’s best chance to usurp the throne when a festival dictates that for one day masters and servants swap roles. All Iznogoud has to do is ensure that the Caliph isn’t around to reclaim his position at the end of the day: simples no? Apparently not…

This is followed by a delightful 8 page slice of whimsy entitled ‘The Challenge’ wherein the Vizier attempts to embroil his royal boss in a duel with the usual insane outcome and ‘The Labyrinth’ demonstrates the creators solid grasp of classic slapstick as an unbeatable maze proves no match for the Caliph’s incredible luck, and the book concludes with a sharp political spoof that also takes a good-natured poke at unions.

In ‘Elections in the Caliphate’ we discover that only the Caliph can vote; but when Iznogoud gets the notion that he can get a fakir or magician to make Haroun Al Plassid vote for absolutely anybody and not just himself as usual, it opens a truly chaotic can of worms – which is quite handy since on polling day most of Baghdad goes fishing…

Like all the best storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: as a comedic romp with sneaky baddies coming a cropper for younger readers, and as a pun-filled, witty satire for older, wiser heads, much like its more famous cousin Asterix – and also translated here by the master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue. Here their famed skills recall the best – and least salacious – bits of the legendary “Carry On films” as well as some peculiarly Tommy Cooper-ish surreal, absurdity…

Snappy, fast-paced hi-links and gloriously agonising pun-ishing (see what I did there?) abound in this mirthfully infectious series: is a household name in France where “Iznogoud” became common parlance for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and often of diminutive stature.

When originally released here in the 1970s, these tales made little impression but hopefully this snappy, wonderfully affable strips can finally find an audience among today’s more internationally aware comics-and-cartoon savvy British Kids Of All Ages.

I love ‘em – and remember – annual end-of-year gift-giving season is nearly upon us…
© 1972 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All Rights Reserved.