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Monocle Husky

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.

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What a wonderful autograph!
Not bad for a first try! I hope there are more huskies in his future :)
I know the cover of One Bad Rat but I haven't read it - time to rectify that perhaps!
I think Anthea Bell is wonderful for the work she's done on the Asterix books. (Not forgetting co-translator Derek Hockridge not-OBE, of course!) You really would think that they'd been written in English from the word go. I wonder, did anybody dare ask Bell whether (like many readers) she'd found the books less fun since Goscinny died? To my mind Uderzo is a much inferior writer.
Nobody asked directly - she did mention the differences in the post-Goscinny works, but was (I'm guessing carefully and deliberately) neutral about them.
The words and pictures partnership of Goscinny and Uderzo did have a magic that Uderzo alone can't match. I don't pounce on new Asterix stories with quite so much enthusiasm these days...
I haven't read many that have appeared later than my own childhood, I must admit. But I did browse, and like, the anniversary special.
I only started reading them when my brother (who is almost ten years younger than me) started reading them after he'd run out of Tintin books. My Asterix collection only takes up about a foot of bookshelf, as most of them are paperbacks. I have a few non-English copies. My brothers collection (and his Tintin collection) has been appropriated by his offspring...
Tintin is my first love, I must admit, and no other comic book comes close to matching him.
You lucky thing to meet Anthea Bell!
I'm really glad I did! She seemed like a genuinely lovely person, and so clever.
Not quite what you asked, but certainly adjacent to it: it might be worth noting that the black boatswain on the pirate ship used to talk with a highly exaggerated and stereotypical accent. Several decades after the original translations, Hockridge and Bell apparently re-visited the character and toned that down a lot for subsequent printings because they no longer thought it acceptable or funny.

I have no idea what voice the boatswain had in the original French.
Ah, she talked about him! He had and I believe still has the stereotypical voice in French, but it no longer sounds right in English. He gets extra jokes to make up for the fact that we're missing out on an accent.
Mmm. I don't doubt she made the right decision. Nonetheless, it does change the character.

In terms of translated names, incidentally, have I mentioned the magnificent glory that is Dogmatix? When the character was originally introduced (kept following Obélix around in Tour de France, as I recall) they decided to keep him as a regular feature and held a competition to choose a name.

The winner was "Idéfix". Fixed idea. Which promptly got translated as "Dogmatix", where dogmata are not only fixed ideas but also begin with "dog". An absolute gift. If I didn't know better I'd suspect Bell somehow rigged the competition!
I didn't know it was a contest, but it's one of those cases where I think the English name is better than the French (see also Getafix)!
And Gluteus Maximus. I know that's better than the French without even knowing what the French was. (-8
Ha, yes!
I have no idea what voice the boatswain had in the original French.

What you'd expect: a rather exaggerated North African style.
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?

Acceptable is a relative thing - anthropomorphic animals as an idiom in general (as opposed to something like Maus where the usage is very deliberate and somewhat ironic) are common enough but not universally accepted even among those who'd accept the idea of comics for grown-ups in the first place.

I wouldn't be certain, not having read a lot of anthropomorphic prose, but I'd suspect it's easier not to get bogged down in a visual medium - if the character's appearance is conveyed at a glance it's less jarring and easier to settle into an idiom such as 'everyone's an anthropomorphic animal' than if you have to stop and explain. Comics are quite efficient at conveying more than one thing at once.
Good point!
Aah! I wish I'd known about the event - I might have been able to justify the expense just for Bryan Talbot, let alone Anthea Bell as well. FWIW, you might like to try his Adventures of Luther Arkwright - the original work, rather than the sequel. (Ideally, the original Valkyrie Press editions, but the Dark Horse one is much easier to find - not much difference, really, but DH apparently insisted on word balloons, where the original often had just lines connecting the text and the character) It's an uncommonly richly layered story that'll likely appeal to anyone with Whovian sensibilities, based on the notion of parallel universes, and the coordination necessary to prevent Bad Things from happening.

Whilst there's certainly rather a bit of violence in Grandville, I didn't feel it was gratuitous, but rather, reflecting the severity with which the malefactors treated any who'd impede their plans. Definitely a work I can recommend, and not merely for its furriness. ^_^ (And it looks gorgeous on an iPad. ^_^ I'll be re-reading the first volume tonight, I think, in readiness for the second, which I finally realised wasn't being sold digitally by Comixology, but Dark Horse. £3.99 wasn't a difficult decision =:)

Didn't I read recently that Uderzo's handing off to someone else now, too? Ah, yes, here we go. (Goscinny died in 1977? I thought his departure was more like 1997..)
Yes, I was surprised at how long ago Goscinny left us. I will give Luther Arkwright a try if I get the chance!
Very cool! Thank you for sharing, and I admire your canine impudence - and Talbot's honesty.
Now I'm picturing Talbot shaking his fist and growling 'Impudent puppy'!
Sounds like you had an incredibly awesome set of encounters there. It's been far too long since I've read any Asterix or Tintin; I used to devour the books in my childhood. And Grandville, well, what a fantastic autograph :)
It was an excellent day - I was lucky to find out about it, and that I was able to attend!