Alice Dryden (huskyteer) wrote,
Alice Dryden

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Tom Kitten In Bondage

Acting on a tipoff from slightlyfoxed, yesterday I attended two talks as part of a celebration of comic books at the Institut Français.

Anthea Bell has been translating Asterix from the very beginning. We have her to thank for such names as Getafix, Fulliautomatix and Spurius Brontosaurus, for translations or close approximations of brilliant French wordplay, and for entirely new puns when a translation is impossible, to keep the joke count consistent between languages. Some notes from the talk:

It's fortunate that Asterix and Obelix themselves need no translation for most European markets. Such is their influence that an increasing number of people who should know better now say 'asterix' for 'asterisk'.

The books go down well in the UK because our countries share a tradition of irrreverence when it comes to history - witness 1066 And All That. 'Our ancestors the Gauls' - nos ancêtres les Gaulois - is the first thing French children learn about in history lessons; the equivalent of 1066 or 1492.

I was especially pleased by the comparison of Asterix to Odysseus: going on quests, succeeding by his wits, and celebrating his homecoming with feasts. He also follows the classic plotline of the little clever chap besting the big bully.

During question time at the end I put up my hand and asked whether Bell had ever changed the nature of a character in translation, making someone stupid or sarcastic when they weren't originally. She told me very gently and politely that she would never do that because it was unethical. On a side note, she condemned 'butchering the English language for the sake of idealistic principles', an attitude I found admirable.

She is a national treasure and well-deserving of her recent OBE.

I became aware of Bryan Talbot when two unconnected friends almost simultaneously lent me Alice in Sunderland and Grandville. There's a lot of cartoon animal violence in Grandville, which I don't really like, but both works are dense with allusions and references and I admire them very much.

He came on stage looking exactly as he depicts himself in Alice in Sunderland - "Where's the rabbit head?" demanded a fan - and delivered a history of anthropomorphic animals in art and fiction: Egyptian gods, Aesop, Brer Rabbit, Louis Wain's cats, dogs playing poker, Beatrix Potter, Scrooge McDuck, Blacksad. Potter's works, he pointed out, are very dark - as she drew her animals from life, did she tie up an actual kitten to depict Tom at the mercy of Samuel Whiskers the rat? (I doubt it.)

I was brave and asked my second question of the day: Why is it acceptable to have anthropomorphic animals in comic books for adults, while if you put them in written literature it has to be for kids or sci-fi?

He said he didn't know, which was a shame - I was hoping for some great insight. He mentioned Watership Down and Redwall, but the former isn't really anthropomorphic and the latter isn't really for grown-ups.

If that's all tl;dr, the important point is that at the book signing afterwards Talbot was doing little sketches of his badger protagonist Inspector LeBrock, and I decided to be cheeky and ask for a husky instead.

"I don't think I've ever drawn a husky before. You haven't got a picture of one, have you?" he asked.

Incredibly, I had not, but slightlyfoxed saved the day by googling one up on her smartphone. And this was the result.

Tags: art, comics
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