By Goscinny & Tabary, translated by Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-79-3 (PB album)
In his lifetime (1926-1977) René Goscinny was one of the most prolific, most read writers of comic strips the world has ever seen. Death has barely slowed him down and 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 prototypical villainous foil, power-hungry vizier Iznogoud who stole the show – possibly the conniving little scrote’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 in 1962. A minor hit, the feature jumped ship to Pilote: a magazine created and edited by Goscinny where it was refashioned into a starring vehicle for the devious little rat-bag who had increasingly hogged the limelight.
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 started in Pilote in 1968, rapidly becoming a huge success, with 30 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 compilations of short punchy stories which typified their collaborations.
This third translated album – also available in digital formats) was actually the eighth French volume (released in 1972 as Le jour des fous) and offers the best of both worlds. The eponymous lead feature is a whacking great 20-page epic, disclosing the vile Vizier’s best chance to usurp the throne when a city 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: What could be simpler?
This is followed by a delightful 8-page slice of whimsy entitled ‘The Challenge’ wherein the Vizier attempts to embroil his sublime simpleton superior in a duel… with the usual insane outcome.
Thereafter, ‘The Labyrinth’ demonstrates the creators’ solid grasp of classic slapstick as an undefeatable maze proves no match for the Caliph’s incredible luck, before 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 traditionally goes fishing…
Like all the best storytelling, Iznogoud works on multiple levels. Much like its more famous cousin Asterix – and similarly translated on these pages by master translators Anthea Bell & Derek Hockridge who made the indomitable little Gaul so very palatable to the English tongue – for younger readers Iznogoud is a comedic romp with sneaky baddies coming a well-deserved cropper, but hides its credentials as a pun-filled, witty satire for older, wiser heads,
Here the translators’ 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 hijinks and gloriously agonising pun-ishing (see what I did there?) patter abound in this mirthfully infectious series: a household name in France where “Iznogoud” became common parlance for a certain type of politician: over-ambitious, unscrupulous – and often of diminutive stature.
© 1972 Dargaud Editeur Paris by Goscinny & Tabary. All Rights Reserved.