Redbeard, Baba & Co: Piracy and Parody in Asterix

Nikolaos Chrissidis - Professor, Department of History, Southern Connecticut State University



Perpetual haplessness does not often inform images of piracy in literature, theater, comics, advertising or film. The pirate gang in the comic series Asterix may be one of the most emblematic of such cases. The phenomenal success of the series worldwide has popularized the type of the wretched pirate in contrast to those of the swashbuckling raider, cunning robber, romantic villain, or ‘Robinhooded’ outlaw that permeate representations of piracy. Redbeard, Baba and Co have been a regular feature, if only as a sideshow, in most of Asterix’s adventures. No matter whether they are at sea (almost always) or on land (once), whether they are nearby or far away from the Gauls, the pirates are on the losing side of things. “O fortunatos nimium, sua si bona norint agricolas” and “Non omnia possumus omnes”, utters Pegleg, indicating again and again the pirates’ inability to perform successfully at their job. For the Gauls, the prospect of a pirate encounter, far from instilling fear, serves as a happy occasion of having fun by thrashing Redbeard and his companions and, usually, sinking their ship. This paper focuses on the image and role of the pirates in the comic narrative of Asterix. It examines Nelly Feuerhahn’s proposition that the pirates are equivalent to the Germans (early in the series, a perpetual enemy of the comic’s Gauls). Are they one more group of barbarians that the Gauls are fighting against? Or, rather, are they hapless “outlaws” who always get beaten when they try to make a living? Redbeard and his gang are certainly very different from their original incarnation in the comic strips and albums created by Jean-Michel Charlier, Victor Hubinon and their successors. Beyond being an inside joke on the part of René Gosciny and Albert Uderzo, Asterix’s pirates may ultimately constitute a caricature of (certainly not romantic) anti-heroes. They are figures of fun in a parody of piracy which nevertheless invites the reader’s pity and laughter simultaneously, unlike in the cases of some of their more successful colleagues in other expressions of pop and “high” culture.

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