Je veux devenir calife à la place du calife!!!
Je veux devenir calife à la place du calife!!!
I want to be Caliph in place of the Caliph!!!

Iznogoud is a comic book series starring the eponymous, albeit fictional Grand Vizier of Baghdad. It was first created in 1962 as Les aventures du Calife Haroun el Poussah. The creators later decided that the villain made for a more exciting protagonist than the original, lethargic hero. It was created by Rene Goscinny and Jean Tabary and, as was the case with Asterix, was kept alive by the illustrator after Goscinny's death. Complete books were published from 1966 to 2004. We might note here that the title is not translated but that Iznogoud possesses the uncommon property of being a French comic book with a pun based on another language for its title.

The series centers on the adventures of the great Caliph Haroun El Plassid, know as Haroun al Poussah in French, not that both aren't silly puns on Harun al-Rashid, arguably greatest of the Abbasid dynasty. This means that it's set around the turn of the ninth century CE, during a time of prosperity and expansion (at least for the Arabs) in Mesopotamia. Needless to say, for the purposes of this story this character, who is said to have been larger than life and pretty sharp, is a slow-witted, indecisive dolt of a leader whose greatness manifests itself mainly in his appetite and the circumference of his waist.

The cast is simple. It consists of the Caliph, his Grand Vizier, and the latter's assistant, a total moron (think Patrick Star) bearing the English name of Wa'at Alahf (Dilat Larath in the original). There are other recurring characters but they tend to be of minor importance, with the neighbouring ruler Sultan Streetcar, who is sometimes provoked into declaring war on the Caliph by Iznogoud, being the most prominent. Around the three protagonists the writers build a bustling court and city full of merchants, sycophants, djinn, and (most of all) hapless bystanders.

As the first lines of this article suggest the Grand Vizier, like any good evil lieutenant, aspires to greater things in life. And the only thing greater than a Grand Vizier in all of Arabia is the hallowed and ample personage of the Leader of the Faithful. As the nature of these comic books requires, Iznogoud's quests invariably meet with comical and embarrassing failure. The frequent use of magical items like lamps and carpets as well as the proliferation of djinn offers many novel ways of making a fool of oneself so it's not surprising that our villainous hero is as likely to end up as a magical side table as he is to meet a surreal end in an Escher painting while serendipity saves an unsuspecting Caliph from certain doom. Being unsuspecting and naive beyond belief, the Caliph continues to think the world of his Grand Vizier.

While funny and well worth collecting in this reviewer's humble opinion, Iznogoud is regarded as one of the lesser stars of the grand Franco-Belgian comic book tradition. It did well in France and became very popular among the usual suspects for consuming Francophone comics, especially in places like Spain, Italy, and Greece where people found it easiest to identify the figure of Iznogoud with their local politicians. The series gained but a small audience in the English-speaking world. After the initial 1976-1980 publication run it had to wait until 2008 for an updated re-release.

The series spawned 52 episodes of Iznogoud cartoons, which are pretty average and twice as many as there are Iznogoud comic books, and a 2005 live action film which I have not seen. I would probably stick my head in the scorpion-infested sands of Arabia or take a hammer to my screen rather than honour this awful idea with my attention. Word has it that the film indeed Wasnogoud. There was also a Sony Playstation platform game called Iznogoud that I have not played myself but which according to the critics lived up to its name and then some.

The comic's catchphrase has become proverbial in French (and is recognizable in a few more comic-phile European languages) as a synonym for grand ambition. The French even have a "Prix Iznogoud" to reward the most spectacular failure (or epic fail in hypermodern parlance) in achieving one's goal of replacing his superior or displacing a rival in public life.

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