“The better the baddie, the better the film”. René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, both great film-lovers, remembered the words of the master, Alfred Hitchcock, when dreaming up the villains who regularly disrupt the peaceful life in their Gaulish heroes’ village. To cite just one example, Artifis’s diabolical smile, when he cries “I’ve got it! It’s a piece of cake!” in Asterix and Cleopatra, is worthy of the evilest villains on the big screen.
In Asterix and the Chariot Race, Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad inventively introduce the mysterious masked auriga: Coronavirus, the Roman champion with MXDLXII victories to his name! Stopping at nothing to steal the limelight from his adversaries, and doing everything he can to finish the race in the lead to please Caesar, Coronavirus is a fearsome competitor whose eerily fixed smile doesn’t bode well for Obelix.
When devising this unusual character, Didier Conrad designed dozens of different masks, suggesting a variety of narrative options. “I worked a little bit on every possible angle,” he explains. “It’s always better to choose something that suits the storyline, with the design coming later, so I had to ask Jean-Yves a lot of questions. Did he have characteristic behaviour? Was he serious or over-the-top? Did he talk and if so, what sort of words did he use? How dramatic should I make it?”
Conrad’s suggestions went from very simplified designs to a Zeus/Jupiter mask, from a “laughing face” option to a terrifying one, via variations on Greek helmets. Even down to a “double” mask (comedy and tragedy), inspired by Janus, the two-headed Roman god. Ferri’s choice complied with very specific criteria: “Of course I wanted it to be over-the-top! But most importantly ironic, because the main thing I wanted the mask to express was superiority over the other contestants. The mask also meant we could play on the mystery of his identity, as with several famous comic book villains.”
SO … WHO’S HIDING BEHIND THE MASK???