René Goscinny is less well known outside his native France for his series of comic albums featuring the hapless wannabe-Caliph, Iznogoud, than for the worldwide phenomenon that Asterix the Gaul. In France, however, Iznogoud is a cultural icon, and the name has become a byword for the lampooning of over-ambitious individuals, leading to the annual awards — the Iznogouds — that are bestowed upon hubristic figures in French public life.
A Carrot for Iznogoud contains several short tales in which the eponymous hero, aided by his long-suffering servant Wa'at Alahf, attempts to plot, bribe and inveigle his way into privileged position of Caliph in the court of Haroun al Plassid, ruler of Baghdad. This leads to much peril for Iznogoud (and hilarity for the reader) as each story lurches from broad satire to high farce to frenetic slapstick in the style for which Goscinny has become famous.
Memorable moments from the album include an encounter with some Martians (Goscinny was never one to allow his imagination to be fettered by the demands of verisimilitude!) whose "spatial temporaliser" Iznogoud hopes to use for the nefarious purpose of disappearing that perpetual thorn in his side, the Caliph. There is even a cameo by the pirates from the Asterix books, which presumably means that the adventures of Iznogoud take place in the same era as those of the more famous diminutive Gaul. Historians take note.
Goscinny's tendency to sail somewhat close to the wind in terms of cultural stereotyping may make uneasy reading for some, but his caricatures are, for the most part, innocuous, and most likely affectionate. At any rate, his body of work is, at the very least, a fascinating indicator of evolving attitudes in popular culture — an evolution that can be traced through the span of his career.
The artwork by Jean Tabary is suitably cartoonish and zany, though he deftly handles panels featuring multiple characters and events with an expert's eye for composition, making for a flowing, easy and highly entertaining read that further cements the duo's reputation as masters of the humourous narrative comic strip.
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