Iznogoud is the original name of மதியில்லா
மந்திரி (mathi illa mandhri) in French Comics
Iznogoud (pronounced "He's no good" with a French accent hence the loss of the H) is a French comic strip character invented by René Goscinny - who also created Asterix - and drawn by Jean Tabary. The stories have been translated into many languages, including English.
Set in Baghdad, Iznogoud is second in command (Grand Vizier) after the Caliph, Haroun El Poussah (Haroun El Plassid in English - a pun on the historical Caliph, Harun al-Rashid) but his sole aim in life is to eliminate/destroy the Caliph and take his place, expressed in his famous catchphrase, "I want to be Caliph instead of the Caliph" ("je veux devenir calife à la place du calife"), which has passed
into everyday French for qualifying over-ambitious people who want to become chief. Iznogoud is always assisted in his plans
by his faithful and slightly dumb (but not so dumb) henchman, Wa'at Alaaf (Dilat Larat in original French).
Goscinny's taste for sharp satirical writing keeps the rather repetitive nature of the stories constantly
fresh, making Iznogoud one of the most popular anti-heroes (although he is the villain!) in the French comic strip world.
A classic example is when the Grand Vizier discovers the "Road To Nowhere"--a road that only leads back to
itself--and devises a plot to lure the Caliph there so he will be trapped forever. Of course, Iznogoud forgets that he needs
to be able to exit the road himself first...! Another plan involves freezing the Caliph, which has to constantly be
shelved because there always seems to be some source of heat around (never mind if it's only heartburn!). Iznogoud even attempts
to enlist the services of a primitive computer (described as a very clever djinni) in order to find out the answer to his perennial ambition. The temperamental computer ends up sulking when
Wa'at Alaaf answers a complex mathematical equation before it can. In the end, the only answer Iznogoud gets is the solution
to the equation.
Goscinny's furious talent for punning, made famous in the Asterix books, also appears in Iznogoud. Of course,
most of the puns in the original French would make no sense when translated into English, so great credit must be given to
translators Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge, whose challenging job was to come up with equivalent English-language puns while
still keeping within the spirit of the original text.
When Goscinny died in 1977, artist Tabary eventually decided to carry on the work himself, just as artist
Uderzo did with the Asterix franchise. While the Goscinny period was characterized of issues comprised of several short-length
tales each, Tabary turned the books to a new direction, by dedicating every new issue entirely to a single story, larger and
much more detailed, usually revolving around a new unique concept. Examples of this include a story where Iznogoud is granted
a mysterious accomplice, with whose aid he must succeed unless he wants to end up in Hell forever, and one where a supposedly
'real' person (i.e. one existing outside Iznogoud's comic universe, from his very readers' world!) tries to interfere with
the Caliph's family tree, in order to prevent him from ever existing! The Iznogoud series is now up to book #26 (released
in April 2004) and shows no signs of stopping. The character was immortalized in animated form in 1995 with a series of cartoons,
and a live-action Iznogoud film starring Michaël Youn and Jacques Villeret (Iznogoud: Calife A La Place Du Calife) was released in France in February 2005.
Interestingly, the character has also made his mark on French politics: when the extreme-right wing politician
Bruno Mégret, number two in the Front National, tried to take over the party from Jean-Marie Le Pen, he was immediately described by the latter as Iznogoud—Mégret's diminutive stature and disagreeable persona
making the comparison even more realistic. "Iznogoud" was also later applied to Nicolas Sarkozy, a man of considerable ambition but short physical stature.
Goscinny and Tabary make cameo appearances themselves. In one episode, Tabary uses a magical time-travelling
closet to go help Iznogoud in his fight for Caliph title. In another episode, Iznogoud gets a magical calendar that makes
him travel in time if he rips off its pages. He rips some too much and he ends in the 20th century, right inside the working
room of Tabary himself! And in yet another episode, Iznogoud gets a magical drawing paper set that makes anybody or anything
drawn on it disappear if the paper is torn apart. Problem is, the drawing has to be realistic, and Iznogoud is a lousy artist.
He then goes see a local artist to teach him, and this artist is Tabary himself, renamed "Tabary El-Retard".
We also get some "behind-the-scenes" moments, like when Iznogoud travels in a country in a mirror, and everything
is in reversal, including text in balloons. Tabary is shown complaining to Goscinny about going through this frustrating "reversal"
work, and even threatens him with a gun, to convince him into making a non-reversed "translated" version. They also appear
debating after a contemporary crowd demends them to make Iznogoud caliph.
In later issues, the borderline between creator, creation and audience become even more blurred. Such occasions
include Iznogoud asking Tabary to show (to him and to the audience) what is going on elsewhere, while he and Wa'at Alaaf are
engaged in rather duller pursuits; Tabary being engaged into a heated argument with a guard, whose point of view he has been
changing constantly, to prevent his dangerous comments from being overheard by Iznogoud; Tabary being incapable to come to
Iznogoud's aid for apparently some outside force beyond his grasp stops him from doing so (this later resolved as a part of
a plot of which Tabary was, impossibly, unware of); and a female character's asking for help from the audience, against a
pursuer who claims the reader will do nothing, for he has paid to watch!
As a nod to Asterix, the famous Pirates of Asterix (led by a redbearded captain) make a cameo appearance in Iznogoud. While sailing, Iznogoud's party
encounters the pirates - complete with their Nubian lookout. The captain's only question is "lookout, do you see G-G-G-G-Gauls with them?" After the inevitable
destruction of the ship, the first mate proclaims that the Gauls are the least of their worries. Another nod to Asterix: When Iznogoud and Wa'at Alaaf makes a wax statue of
Brutus come to life, the Roman assassin asks "Are you Asterix and Obelix?".
Other recurrent characters include Sultan Pullmankar, the caliph's neighbour who is described as a touchy
man with a powerful army. Iznogoud would try more than once to make Pullmankar angry in the name of the caliph, so that he
feels insulted and wages a war. However, Pullmankar never gets angry with the caliph, only with Iznogoud himself.
Another character making different appearances is a caveman, as Iznogoud seems to have an ease to go to prehistory
or to bring this particular caveman to eight-century Baghdad.