The Anonymous Art
Other Nexus Graphica Columns
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Recent Books of Interest
Whore Written by Jeffrey Kaufman, Art by Marco Turini (Zenescope/Big City)
Returning to the universe of their previous collaboration Terminal Alice,
creator/writer Kaufman and artist Turini introduce CIA assassin/fixer Jacob Mars. After being downsized
out of a job, Mars takes on any job to pay off his numerous debts. For all intents and purposes, he
becomes a whore. Kaufman, a recognized legal expert and defense attorney, clumsily manages to
successfully ape trashy men's adventure series such as the Destroyer and Executioner. Turini's art
matches the tale, but for some inexplicable reason there is no nudity where, by rights, there should
be. The suitably misogynistic Whore engages the reader, only stumbling during the latter fourth when
a new character appears out of nowhere.
Riven Co-Written and art by Bo Hampton, Co-written by Robert Tinnell (Dark Horse)
Adopted as a small child from her native Romania, Katya grows up in idyllic Islington, Vermont. After
suffering a serious head injury at 14, the Americanized Katy enters a five year coma. Upon waking, the
confused young woman begins to experience horrific visions of brutal and violent murders. Hampton produces
a lush and beautiful vision for the story, full of disturbing images set upon a largely realistic
tableau. The characters behave intelligently and with a proper reverence and fear for the events unfurling
around them. The excellent Riven delivers a new twist on the classic, well-worn werewolf tale.
Purveyors of one of the least understood and respected aspect of comic book production, translators largely
remain anonymous and typically only garner attention under negative circumstances. In a hope to enhance an
understanding about the little understood skill, I interviewed Jerome Saincantin, the newly-minted Public
Relations Officer and main translator for CineBooks -- a UK-based, English language publisher of French and Belgian comics.
How did you become a comic book translator?
Ha! That's a funny story, actually. I was living in Ireland at the time, and I'd done a few translation
jobs here and there without ever really going full time. I was living with a couple of flatmates from
the Bay Area, and one of them had told me the story of Emperor Norton, a sort of San Francisco folk
hero. I knew that he'd been the basis of the character of Emperor Smith, in the Lucky Luke book by
the same name, and so I tried to see if I could find that particular volume, translated, as a
Christmas present to my friends.
I ended up finding out about Cinebook, a very young company then and the only ones who were publishing
Lucky Luke in English. Not finding Emperor Smith in their catalogue, I wrote to them to ask
when they planned on translating it.
And, almost as an afterthought, I attached my CV.
Three months later, I was translating my first comic for them! And the best part? Even though I'm
not the usual translator for Lucky Luke, I did a couple of them while Erica [Jeffrey,
the regular translator] was on holidays -- including Emperor Smith!
Beyond the obvious traits (being fluent in foreign languages), what other skills are required to be a translator?
Well, the first one should also be obvious but is often overlooked: you need to be "fluent" in your
own language too! It sounds silly, I know, but the fact is that unless you're translating technical
manuals or extremely dry legal stuff, you need to have a good, literary command of your native
tongue. That's an important aspect, because very few people have such a command over the whole spectrum
of styles and genres one can encounter, and you can find yourself a gifted translator in... poetry,
or theatre, for example -- and hopelessly out of your depths with military adventures or a noir novel.
Besides that, you need focus and patience, to be able to go over the same text you produced again and
again and actually read it every time, instead of letting your brain paste your previous take on
it. I'm still working on that part, myself! Fortunately, we translate as a team at Cinebook, so we
get the benefit of a fresh view on things as a matter of course. It's VERY important.
One thing which may not be a skill but is really important, I think, is loving, if not the material,
at least the process. Especially with comics, where the subject matter is wildly different with each
series and volume, you need enthusiasm for the job, to keep you learning the new vocabulary and
researching new background info all the time.
What exactly does as translator do beyond just swapping words?
Well, as I just mentioned, you do a lot of background research. Either for technical/specific vocabulary,
or for expressions related to a certain place or time period. Whatever it is you're translating,
however long you've been doing the job, I can pretty much guarantee you're going to be firing up the
old Googlemobile at some point (and thank the Devil for internet!) or lifting big, fat thematic
dictionaries. Good thing, too. It's our only form of on-the-job exercise!
That said, translating isn't just swapping words, either. That's something computers do -- and we
all know how comprehensible THAT usually turns out. You have to be able to think in both languages,
read the sentence/paragraph in one language, let the information enter the brain and... well, magically
come out in the other language! You can't go: "This means that, and this means that, and that word
equals this word..." You grab a concept, an image, and you let your fluency transcribe that concept
or image into a different language. Sometimes, that involves rewriting whole chunks of text in completely different ways.
Which is sometimes a difficult line to toe, because you're still only a translator -- not a writer. Your
mind might be telling you that such a line would sound better said in such a way, but you can't go and
change the author's style either. You have to walk the thin line between maintaining the stylistic
integrity of the work, and making sure it doesn't actually sound translated.
It's definitely an art form. I've had people asking me if I wasn't worried about computers stealing
my job, and I can assure you I sleep soundly at night!
What is the difference between translating prose works and comics?
A comic book is both easier and much harder to translate. The easier part is, obviously, the amount of
text; aside from Blake & Mortimer, most comics are light on words. But they're also more
concentrated, and therefore much more vital. A single mistranslation can mess up massive amounts of story!
You have to capture the essence of the text in much smaller chunks. More than that, your actual SPACE
is limited by the bubbles -- which means that when the two languages vary wildly in how many words they
need to say the same things, sometimes, you're out of luck, and you start having to improvise -- move
some information around between bubbles, change the tone, cut something altogether.
The other thing is that most of the text in a comic is dialogue. You've got to make it fluid,
believable. Which means, among other things, that you have to be at ease with the familiar register of a
language, the colloquialisms, the way people actual talk to each other in the street... Having lived
abroad helps tremendously there.
You recently assumed the mantle of Public Relations Officer of Cinebook. Why the new role?
As we began to grow in popularity, the number of reviewers we were in contact with grew in kind, and we
also created a presence on social networks. Answering emails takes time, and monitoring Facebook or Twitter
is also (as we ALL know too well) time-consuming... That was something that [founder] Olivier [Cadic]
simply couldn't keep doing himself.
So I got the job. And one of the reasons is that Olivier -- all of us at Cinebook, really -- feel that
any contact with either our readers or the professionals who show an interest in our books, like you,
should be handled by people who are passionate about what we do. Which I am; I truly love comics, and
there's such a wealth of material available from Europe that's completely unknown in the
English-speaking world... I've always felt it was such a waste. Hopefully, I'll be able to communicate
my enthusiasm for that material, and for our... well, "mission" through my contacts with the public.
How does the new position impact your translation work?
It hasn't so far, really. It's been impacting my online gaming time, though! But that's probably for the best.
What's forthcoming from you and Cinebook?
More of the same great comics, of course! We're continuing with our regular series -- Lucky Luke
and Thorgal every two months, the second part of Blake & Mortimer's Curse of the 30 Pieces of Silver -- and
our less regular ones -- volume 4 of Valerian, kids' favourite Yakari and the return
of all-American fighter jock hero Buck Danny. Most notably, in September we're publishing Berlin, a one-shot
by Marvano about Bomber Command during WWII, which I found absolutely brilliant. I just finished translating it,
and I had tremendous fun researching RAF slang for it. Hopefully my efforts will not be found wanting!
Later on, in 2013, we're bringing best-selling series XIII to its conclusion (well, the first cycle,
anyway, since they've gone and restarted the series on us!) -- a feat that had previously been deemed impossible
on account of the series being cursed... No one had ever gone past volume 3 before. So, you know, it had to
be a curse, right? Not dodgy editorial policies...
And that's about it for the moment -- you can
find our full catalogue here for more information.
Copyright © 2012 Rick Klaw
Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied
countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications including
The Austin Chronicle, The San Antonio Current,
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy,
Moving Pictures, RevolutionSF,
Conversations With Texas Writers, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains Universe,
Steampunk, and The Steampunk Bible.
Coming in March 2013 from Tachyon, he is editing The Apes of Wrath, a survey of apes in literature
with contributions from Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Franz Kafka, Gustave Flaubert,
Joe R. Lansdale, Pat Murphy, Leigh Kennedy, James P. Blaylock, Clark Ashton Smith, Karen Joy Fowler,
Philip José Farmer, Robert E. Howard and others.
Klaw can often be found pontificating on Twitter
and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.