Iznogoud volume 5: A Carrot for Iznogoud


By Goscinny & Tabary,translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-021-4

For the greater part of his too-short lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of the most prolific and most-read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Incredibly, he still is.

Among his most popular comic collaborations are Lucky Luke, Le Petit Nicolas and, of course Asterix the Gaul, but there were so many others, such as the dazzling, dark deeds of a dastardly usurper whose dreams of diabolical skulduggery all proved to be ultimately no more than castles in the sand…

Scant years after the Suez crisis, the French returned to the hotly contested deserts when Goscinny teamed with sublimely gifted Swedish émigré Jean Tabary (1930-2011) – who numbered Richard et Charlie, Grabadu et Gabaliouchtou, Totoche, Corinne et Jeannot and Valentin le Vagabond amongst his other hit strips – to concoct the innocuous history of imbecilic Arabian (im)potentate Haroun el-Poussah.

However it was the strip’s villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud, who stole the show – possibly the conniving little imp’s only successful coup.

Les Aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah was created for Record; the first episode appearing in the January 15th issue in 1962. A minor hit, it subsequently jumped ship to Pilote – a comics magazine created and edited by Goscinny – where it was refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little rat-bag who had increasingly been hogging all the laughs and limelight.

Like all the best storytelling, Iznogoud works on two levels: as a comedic romp with sneaky baddies invariably hoisted on their own petards and coming a cropper for younger readers, whilst older, wiser heads revelled in the pun-filled, witty satire: the same magic formula which made its more famous cousin Asterix such a global success.

…And just like the saga of the indomitable little Gaul, this irresistibly addictive Arabian nonsense is adapted here by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made those Roman Follies so very palatable to the English tongue.

Moreover the deliciously malicious whimsy is always heavily laden with manic absurdity and brilliantly applied creative anachronism to keep the plots bizarrely fresh and inventive.

Insidious anti-hero Iznogoud is Grand Vizier to affable, easy-going 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 launched in Pilote in 1968, quickly becoming a massive European hit, with 29 albums to date (carried on by Tabary’s children Stéphane, Muriel and Nicolas), his own solo comic, a computer game, animated film, TV cartoon show and even a live action movie.

When Goscinny died in 1977 Tabary added the scripting to his sublimely stylish illustration (from the 13th album onwards), moving to book-length complete tales, rather than the compilations of short punchy stories that typified the collaborations.

This fifth Cinebook album was actually the seventh French album (released in 1971 as Une carotte pour Iznogoud) with the lead tale an exceptional, extended epic comprising half the book, bolstered by a triumvirate of shorter yarns and prefaced as ever with a handy catch-up profile page of the usual suspects…

The eponymous A Carrot for Iznogoud’, is a rare bird indeed as the verminous Vizier is all but absent from proceedings which commence when gentle, isolated and very dim Haroun Al Plassid finally gets an inkling of what his trusted deputy is truly like…

Stealing out into Baghdad disguised as an insurance salesman, the Caliph finally gets the message that his beloved people fear, despise and revile his precious Iznogoud. Shocked and dismayed he ponders what to do before – politely – accidentally aiding an ancient wizard (or perhaps crazy old coot…).

In gratitude the dotard tells him of a fabled vegetable that makes people nice. Desperately keen to redeem and “cure” his advisor, the Caliph instantly dashes off on a monumental solo voyage of discovery to secure some of the legendary “Carrot”.

The logic is simple: if eating carrots makes you nice all he has to do is find a place where people are pleasant, kind, honest and generous. The deed is nowhere near as simple as the thought – or indeed, the Caliph…

After exhausting and enraging the grocers and market sellers of his own lands, the search takes the determined Haroun Al Plassid to neighbouring kingdoms, across deserts and even oceans (where he encounters a certain band of pirates moonlighting from their damp and dangerous day jobs in Asterix), but everywhere all he finds are conmen, chancers, rude brutes and impatient surly types just like the ones at home in Baghdad.

He is almost ready to give up when he is sold as a slave to lordly Rhu’Barbfoul in distant Lastyearatmarienbad and sent to the kitchens to grate carrots for soup.

Excited beyond belief he begs his master to give him a carrot and release him, which after hearing the tale of woe and (perhaps) thanks to the steady diet of nice-making veg, the nervous lord does…

The journey home is no less dramatic or magical, though fraught with painful ironies, but even after the Caliph reclaims his vacated throne, the ameliorating herb he fought so hard to secure does not at the last find its way to its intended target…

Wry and deliciously surreal, the epic is an especial change of pace as the evil architect of all woes only appears in two panels over the 19 hilarious pages…

He is completely present for the three venal vignettes which follow, beginning with an outrageously bizarre close encounter in the desert entitled ‘Magic-Fiction’.

When Iznogoud and bumbling, long-suffering crony Wa’at Alahf are taking a break from the sorcery-besotted city of Baghdad they stumble across a couple of Martian explorers. The curious, affable alien explorers want facts and data for their records but, after seeing the power of their Spatial-Temporaliser ray-guns, all the Vizier can envisage is the effect the weapons would have on the royal simpleton he wants to replace: an indolent oaf who couldn’t answer a straight question if his dinner depended on it…

Sadly, after sneaking the E.T.’s back to the palace, Iznogoud’s intemperate temperament gets the better of him before his plan can succeed…

Baghdad is a city that suffers with an excess of heat but in ‘Iznogoud on Thin Ice’the vile vizier hears tell of a drinks seller whose wares are always freezing cold. Ever inquisitive and always looking for an angle he investigates and discovers that the unfortunate lady in charge is so unseemly that anyone who glimpses her face is frozen solid with shock. She just stacks the chilled out victims in her cellar and stores her drinks beside them…

The infernal imp’s heart soars! All he has to do is get the Caliph to peek under the appalling and enigmatic Gehtorehd’s ever-present veil and the throne is his…

Sadly her gift doesn’t work on anyone with an elevated temperature, so even after getting the gorgon into the palace Iznogoud has to wait for the doctors to cure the Caliph who has a touch of fever, All he has to do is wait a while, but Iznogoud is a very impatient potentate-in-waiting…

There’s more direct skulduggery afoot in ‘Tried and Tsetsed’ which closes this compilation of crazy criminality. When bribe-taking Iznogoud officially greets an embassage from Africa he is given the most dangerous beast they know as a placating present by the chief ambassador who came ill-prepared to grease palms.

He is less than impressed until he is advised that the dread Tsetse Fly can put victims into a permanent slumber with one little bite. Now seeing his dreams falling into place at last, the Vizier lays his plans to introduce the bug to his boss, but is distracted by his idiot servant Wa’at Alahf and releases the flying terror in the wrong room…

Snappy, fast-paced hi-jinks and abundantly stocked with gloriously agonising pun-ishments (see what I did there?), this mirthfully infectious series is a household name in France where “Iznogoud” is common parlance for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and frequently not that tall.

When first released in Britain in the 1970s, these tales made little impression, but hopefully this snappy, wonderfully moreish strip will finally find an appreciative audience among today’s more internationally aware, politically jaded comics-and-cartoon savvy Kids Of All Ages…
© 1971 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All rights reserved.