Reply to Stajano deckerd at
Mon Oct 30 17:45:35 CET 1995

On Oct 29,  9:06pm, Frank Stajano wrote:

> DWIGHT-810:
> >I've done six languages: German, Dutch, French, Danish, Swedish,
> >and Italian into English. It's amazing what you can do with a
> >dictionary...(fortunately, Disney comics aren't exactly rocket
> >science).
> I disagree entirely! It's a lot harder to properly translate a
> comic story than a newspaper, a technical article or a random bit
> of prose. Comics are
> full of puns and gags based on linguistics (though this is not the
> specialty of DISNEY comics-- Achille Talon or Asterix would be
> better examples) but also on national traditions, current events
> and so on, which
> would be just lost if the translator were not aware of the customs,
> traditions etc of the country of origin. I'm thinking for example
> of some Italian stories from the 70's and 80's which poked fun at
> popular TV presenters and celebrities. So I think that, if you
> rate yourself as a good translator, you're being way too modest
> with respect to your work when you say that most of it comes out
> of the dictionary...

Well, there are different approaches and different schools of
thought here. Ideally, I think, a translator should produce
_exactly_ what is there, no more, no less, and certainly not
try to "improve" on it. Let the editor worry about whether it's
suitable for his purposes. But you'll note that I said "ideally,"
and the real world is a little different. With Disney comics in
particular, the editors and most of the readers aren't really
interested in an exact rendering of the original story. They
want a good story with entertaining dialogue that matches the
pictures. In theory you could ignore the original text entirely
and write a whole new story based on the artwork. I don't quite
agree with this, since I think the translator should deliver a
close approximation of the original, at least, but the bottom
line is the average American Disney reader probably doesn't care if
a story is satirizing Italian talk show hosts or is making visual
Dutch puns. The story has to make sense and stand on its own as
if it were written in English to begin with.

Non-Disney jobs I've done require much closer attention to nuance
and levels of language. The example of Asterix in particular
has me a little spooked, always worried about missing puns or
topical references. I'm getting a little shameless about pestering
foreign friends and correspondents for clarification of doubtful
names and phrasings. And not everything translates exactly. A key
moment in a story might be when a character stops calling another
character "vous" and starts using "tu." English doesn't have the
formal and informal forms of "you." The worst, though, are the
visual puns, where you can't just write your way out of a jam
by substituting some arbitrary English wordplay for something
that was untranslatable in the original, but actually have to
come up with something that matches the pictures...

> That wonderful story ("Zio Paperone e il deposito oceanico")...
> I was amazed at the idea that Scrooge had so much money that he
> actually had A NUMBER of money bins! And that to put all that
> money in one single bin would have forced him to build one so big
> as to have a horizon!

I kind of saw the story as taking the idea of Scrooge's money
behaving like water (so he could swim in it) to its ultimate

> That sense of immensity (as in the opening
> chapter of Asimov's "Foundation", where the spaceport was so big
> that clouds formed inside the building)

I read someplace that the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy
Space Center in Florida is so large that special climate control
equipment had to be installed to prevent just that from happening.
Thunderstorms inside the building were apparently a distinct
possibility. So buildings large enough to have their own weather
inside aren't quite outside the range of present capabilities.

> and of "breaking the rules"
> (because I was sure that "in reality" Scrooge only had one
> comparatively small money bin), together with the beautiful art,
> always made that story special for me.

It was a special story for me, too. I translated it for Disney
Comics and the check bought me my present VCR. I was always
curious about what the readers would think of the story, but
unfortunately Disney Comics' letter columns got a little irregular
around then and about the only direct response I can recall was
from a fundamentalist Christian lady complaining that the story
was Satanistic or something because it had a "witch" in it (Magica).

Oh well...

--Dwight Decker

More information about the DCML mailing list