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Big data and journalism in a comic novel

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Cafébabel Aarhus

The 36th instalment about Astérix’ adventures “Astérix and the Missing Scroll” was released last autumn with a circulation run of four million copies and a very up-to-date storyline: a brave and fearless journalist called Confoundtheirpolitix once leaked Julien Cesar’s uncensored version of “De bello Gallico”...

“The year is 50 B.C. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well not entirely! One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaries who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium...“

            This has been the Astérix intro line ever since the first issue. But only few readers know how the founders of the Astérix Series, R.Goscinny and A.Uderzo, learned about the Gallic village’s resistance in the first place.

            According to the 36th issue, a brave and fearless journalist called Confoundtheirpolitix (with an astonishing resemblance to Julien Assange) once leaked Julien Cesar’s uncensored version of “De bello Gallico” — writings on the Gallic war. Having been informed that the emperor plans on deleting the chapter about the “one small village’s” resistance to maintain his image, the reporter brings the stolen scroll to Astérix’ village. 

Confoundtheirpolitix hopes the villagers will help him expose Caesar’s fabrication. However, when he arrives, the village’s leader Vitalstatistix is unimpressed. It is only until Gutemine, Vitalstatistix’ wife, forces her husband to act, that Astérix and his friend Obelix will be sent on a mission to reveal the truth forever...

This Astérix issue is the second one by the new team in charge – Jean-Yves Feri and Didier Conrad – after the co-founder A. Uderzo retired in 2011 at the age of 84. The latter had not exactly been successful in creating new popular Astérix adventures since his partner Goscinny died in 1977.  Therefore the last two issues have been widely considered an improvement. Nevertheless, the 35th book “Astérix and the Picts” by the new team had dampened the enthusiasm slightly at first: The images would be too schematically, the humor too feeble and the story too weak.

This issue on the other hand seems to be a step in the right direction. The drawings have become more lively again and efforts made to relate the story to current political and social events cannot be overseen: the Romans use doves to tweet their news from one station to another, as only one example. Eventually, they will forget the attachment OR the pirates happen to catch a dove – a clear case of information piracy. The overall topic of this issue is modern communication, how easily it can be manipulated and likewise be used for manipulation. But then it also values the media’s position as the fourth power. The recent release of the Panama papers once again highlights how journalistic work can change society.  In the comic novel, Confoundtheirpolitix is a homage to Wikileaks founder Julien Assange and this issue credits the work of those that report the truth.

Meanwhile, the writers aspire to modernize the background structure in general:

For instance, the village’s leader Vitalstatistix has difficulties to keep up his autocratic rule in this book because many citizens question his decisions. So, an attempt for a more democratic rule and a fight for media freedom... how modern can a comic novel be?

Furthermore, while women never had any major part in Uderzo’s books, Impedimenta (Vitalstatistix’ wife) has become one of the lead roles in this one. Feminism included.

The Astérix’ comic novels may be made for children, but this issue displays the world of information traffic, politics, data leaks, corruption and media report in the most illustrative way – making it equally attractive for adults. It is a demonstration of how people just act the way they want to, be who they are, wish to be accepted as such and keep it that way. All an all, a successful example of the beauty of literature.