Translation has taken up a good deal of my career. For years I translated foreign albums into Danish. It was primarily French comics, which suddenly broke into the Danish market during the seventies, and I was luckyenough to be the Danish voice of ‘Gaston’ and ‘Spirou’ as executed by the legendary comics auteur André Franquin. I continue to do so with ‘Gaston’ now that he has acquired a junior counterpart, ‘Gastoon’ carried forth by younger artists. ‘Blake & Mortimer’ has also been a long lasting acquaintance that exists till this day, where the series is continued by different able creators.
I did not think that this line of job would occupy my mind and my hand for years when we in the line of mathematic and natural science in high school paid little attention to our French lessons. As it happened, French become the only subject I needed later apart from English of course, but that education started back to primary school and lasts until this day...
The market had changed. The public grew older and had more money to invest in more lavish looking output. Moreover it had become acceptable to cherish these stories, sustained by the fact that the French stories in versatility were so much more elegant and appealing than the run of the mill English and American comic books following a tradition primarily meant for children and with narrow minded story substance.
In my contribution to this process of mass translation I was special in the way that I did my own lettering at the same time. That could save some time writing the text immediately on transparent overlays, and the pay was not that good at the company I worked for, so that was a welcome way of saving time.
The job of translation appealed to me. I had read many French albums before they hit the stands in Denmark. Lately I found my collection of original ‘Iznogoud’ albums, and in these hardcover albums I had still the typewritten manuscript of my translation for each title. These scripts never came into use, however, since it became another publisher who finally translated them, but it goes to show that I also had a lot of fun doing it on my own at selected titles. That kind of fun extended the monetary need in another field, since I had to translate a lot of articles for my magazine ‘Carl Barks & Co’ that I published myself during the same period. It was about funny animals, but not just within comics, my interest covered animation as well and does even today.
This all took place in the time before the spreading of the ‘world wide web’ and you had to pick up all info in print and wait a long time for your snail mail letters to be answered. We were patient fans and finally obtaining results of your diggings was a thrill. Conveying these results to others in print was another joy. The project of launching a Carl Barks index in Scandinavia was appreciated by a lot of people, who also in Europe only knew him as ‘The good Artist’.
When presenting a proper translation job it is known to be preferred that you have a certain affinity to the subject matter. This was the case with me and Gaston. The French text is not always funny if you translate it directly. French is a very polite language, and there are no speakers like the French to indulge in aesthetic accomplished performances handling their native language.
I was quite privileged in that role. No editor interfered and no foreign publishing house wanted my stuff to be translated back to see if I had delivered a proper job. Later that process was introduced on more prolific series, but that adds to the costs, of course.
I walked from a meeting one night with one of the editors. It was in the heyday of the market, and we wondered when this vast expansion round would be over. And then it happened. Over the next couple of years the circulation dwindled and the number of new titles to be translated as well. People had found other thrilling pastimes to occupy their minds.
Even I have shifted my interest to another field, and being hesitant about it at first I have realized that it was a genuine blessing to me to transfer my ambitions to literature instead. What I lost in broad caricature and symbolism I gained so much more in psychological depths and realistic touch.
Actually it was a friend of mine who pushed me along and challenged me to try this new ‘platform’ for my endeavors. I still shared a studio fellowship with my good friend Jussi Adler-Olsen, who was by then trying his wits with a crime series. He had not been satisfied with the sales on his thriller books and said to me, that he might consider dropping the whole lot and do something else with his life. There were many other fields that would pay off much better. That was before his potent breakthrough worldwide.
‘When do YOU write a book, Freddy?’
He was then looking over at my drawing board where I executed my album comics. In front of him he had his trusty ‘Word Perfect’ program with the soothing white letters on a blue background and on his head he had put on his father’s cap to further inspiration – much like Gyro Gearloose, I thought.
‘What will the title be?’
I answered that I had thought of ‘Questland’ which was the name of the computer game. It also sounded international, in case there would be any need for that.
‘You better register that name, then.’
Jussi is quite knowledgeable with artistic rights. What I did was that I registered ‘www.questland.org’ which is the site where you now can read more about my titles put out in English and German as e-books on Amazon and Apple.
And here comes the second part of my essay on translation. Now it is my own stuff being translated to foreign languages. Dwight Decker has helped me earlier with one new album translation each year for which I had sent him some Danish pocket comics, but for a more substantial revision on my English language book translations I had to pay him a regular fee. Actually the German version came first. I had come in contact with a German from Berlin, who had taught himself Danish just for fun. The fun part was the motivation. He was chairman of the German club of ‘Olsen-Banden’.
But Guido surprised me. For almost three hours we talked in Danish with no problems. The guy had taught himself Danish to be able to appreciate the Olsen Banden movies so much more and Danish culture in general. It kind of reminded me of a Dutchman who had done the same earlier to get the full experience of the humor in Robert Storm Petersen’s oeuvre. There was a valid reason for that, though, since Storm Petersen is not well known outside Denmark. But why Olsen Banden? Those characters are even dubbed into German. This indicates a special German angle on the matter of translation that I must offer some comments here.
‘Who’s that guy?’ John asked. He was immediately informed about it.
At the afternoon coffee table I gave Guido a printed version of my first book, ‘Questland’.
‘Would you like to have a try with giving a German voice to this piece of literature?’ Guido had a look at it.
In Germany everything cultural is regarded with seriousness, and a major part of the people handling this have an academic doctor’s degree.
‘Don’t give it a thought, it’s pretty adventurous.’
After that Guido was lured into translating three more titles, which is now also available as e-books on Amazon and Apple. Before launching them Guido had some reservations.
‘I must go back and redo Questland. I’ve learned so much more since then that I would like to present a better version’.
This is not the case with English, though. In fact I translated all four premiere titles on ‘www.questland.org’ into English, but I knew it was not good enough. If I presented them as they were, someone among the public would notice my incorrect wording, or maybe not quite incorrect, but a wording an Englishman or an American would not have chosen.
‘It’s okay, but it ain’t native’.
That’s the whole matter in a nutshell. No author would like the reader to laugh his head off or shake his head or cramp his toes while lingering too long with a funny wording that is not meant to be funny. That unfortunate distraction draws away attention from the important matter - the flow of the storyline.
There was another matter that worried me in my books, and that was the humor bit. I tried to insert some equivalent substitutes for humorous dialogue, dialects and funny wordplay, but I knew they did not come out well in my preliminary version. Mark however captured my intensions and inserted parallel wordings that served the same purpose as was meant in my original Danish text.
I had a complaint from Dwight, though. In the first ‘Questland’ book there is a guy called ‘Kasper’. If that was supposed to be ‘Casper’ he would thoroughly object. Since ‘Casper – the friendly Ghost’ appeared on the scene many years ago that name has been impossible to use in the USA. Another tricky name was ‘Waldo’. I had to maintain that use, since it is the name of the funny guy in a white and blue striped shirt that children are supposed to find among scores of other people within the detailed pictures. He is named ‘Holger’ in Danish and thus in my book as well.
I have been asked about the validity of this strange ambition of mine launching my titles in foreign languages. Will they not completely be lost in a black hole among the enormous number of e-books available out there?