Asterix is in the news right now. There's a new comic book coming out at the end of the year, Asterix And The Griffin, expected to be the best-selling comic book of the year, and possibly one of the best-selling books of all. There's also a new live-action movie in the works, Asterix and Obelix: the Middle Empire, which will see Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic of AC Milan make his movie debut as the Roman centurion Caius Antivirus, as well as Marion Cotillard as Cleopatra and Gilles Lellouche as Obelix. The film will be directed by Guillaume Canet who also plays Asterix the Gaul.
So there's a lot to play for. This is why it was curious that the official Asterix Facebook page posted the following image two days ago, regarding the partnership with a Chinese production company for the new film. That page was deleted, fast, but repeated mentions can be found online.
Asterix has been repeatedly criticized for the visual portrayal of racist stereotypes over the decades – though not as much as Tintin – and in the last decade or so, books and movies have portrayed characters with greater sensitivity, even if the original versions remain relatively unchanged. There's probably a "the changing faces of Asterix's pirates" article in me somewhere. This promotional image seems to be Asterix of a different age – and even though the commission of such by an unknown artist must have taken some time, it was swiftly pulled. Talking to publishers in France this morning, however, they tell me that it was pulled not because of any reader concerns, but to do with the nature of the announcement.
Sha Nazir, publisher of BHP Comics in Glasgow, shared their concerns, saying "love Asterix comics and accept ethnic depictions of characters from '60s-'00s. But c'mon, this is a new drawing they're using for marketing now! Unpleasant and totally unnecessary. Or am I being over-sensitive, maybe I'm so sick of seeing low-level racism, I'm just triggered."
Stephen Shirres replied "It isn't just you. I was amazed they went with this image as well…especially as it is a Chinese co-production I believe so you'd have thought they would have stopped it."
Nazir responded "I seen it and then had to check it wasn't from the 80s, my first thought was 'they've drawn little yellow men, why have they drawn little yellow men" It makes no sense."
Considering how many editorial and marketing eyes it must have passed by, it does indeed seem odd.