I’m about to go all Kremlinologist on this one.
This is a moment I’ve been looking forward to/dreading since Papercutz announced their deal to publish Asterix here in the States a couple months back. I talked about that in “Papercutz Brings Asterix to America. Finally. Should I Worry?“
In summary: Compromises will need to be made to appeal to an American audience. Compromises will likely need to be made to appeal to a modern audience. Let’s hope they don’t completely dumb it down and ruin the reading experience.
For the most part, what I’ve seen in the Papercutz pages is that they’re sticking close to the original text, but getting there with different word choices. They didn’t do anything radical like change the point of view of the caption boxes. They didn’t switch Goscinny’s passive tense to active tense.
From what we can see on the preview pages, they haven’t changed plot points or character descriptions. No elements are added or removed. It really does hew closely to Goscinny’s scripts.
When dialogue sounds a little stiff or on the nose, it was like that in the original, as well. Let’s not forget that “Asterix the Gaul” was written in 1958 and serialized a page or two at a time in weekly installments. Styles were different.
In fact, the new Papercutz translations include one or two changes that might even be — gasp! horror! — an improvement.
That all said, there’s still some parts of the preview that make me anxious. Overall, I’m not getting upset or raging over it, but there are things to continue to look out for.
I’ll start with something I liked:
Translations for dialogue (usually Latin) show up at the bottom of the page. I’m a fan of this.
The Latin is still the in the dialogue, but now you don’t need to Google for the answer, or scour the pages of Everything Asterix: Latin Jokes Explained. The translation is right there on the page. (If you want a fuller story of the Latin jokes, going to Everything Asterix is the right move. Some Latin jokes work best with those explanations.)
The question is whether all of the Latin will survive when we get to the pirates or the more intensely Latin dialogue sections among the Romans in other volumes.
The reason I could see some of the original language disappearing from the balloons — hopefully replaced by some other form of wordplay or punnery — is that those bottom-of-the-page translations make for a very busy-looking margin. They’re barely squeezing everything in here on the page in the preview I’m showing above.
And on busier pages, cramming all those translations into one line doesn’t leave them much room. All those repeated “Latin for” notes don’t help.
I’ve seen Papercutz do this before in books like The Smurfs, and it works fine. But those books are less reliant on wordplay, historical references, or Latin translations.
Also, the footnotes are far subtler in “Asterix” than they are in the “Smurfs”, where they’re not even superscripted. In “Smurfs”, the footnote is a number in parenthesis in normal sentence case.
In one small way, papercutz has already stopped using the Latin in the book:
Roman soldiers don’t salute their superiors with “Ave” anymore. They go straight to “Hail.” I know it’s more consistent, perhaps, to use the English word there as they’re speaking English everywhere else. But it’s such a little thing that I think it works to put the reader in the mind that these are people who would have spoken another language.
It’s like all those X-Men comics where the Spanish character lets loose with a “Madre de dios” or the German shouts, “Achtung”. You didn’t translate those words. They were left in their native language with the rest of the dialogue. You, as the reader, were welcome to make your own translation.
With Asterix, it’s kind of the reverse. The Romans who would be speaking normally in Latin have their dialogue translated into English except when they utter famous Latin phrases. It’s kind of weird, when you think about it.
So don’t think about it. Just enjoy it. Study it. You’ll kill on Jeopardy! some day with your Asterix-gained knowledge… (If Jeopardy! gets it right…)
Modernizing and Americanizing
The biggest concern I had was that they’d work so hard at “Americanizing” the script that it would sound like awful modern crap. I don’t want Asterix to be hip and to use all sorts of modern slang to make his point.
The closest example I saw of Papercutz coming to that is here. I’ll present here the original French comic, followed by the British translation, and finally the Americanized dialogue.
The “huh” of the British edition doesn’t work for me, when I compare these three. It says nothing. It does nothing. Worse, it says so little that it says nothing and leaves it up to the reader to figure out what he means by that. (Or maybe I’m missing a subtlety of British English. If so, that even more so makes the point for Papercutz that an American translation of Asterix is worth the effort.)
The French “bah” to me indicates Asterix isn’t worried about it. It’s like Ebeneezer Scrooge scoffing at something. “Whatever” fills that role, too, but feels far too much like an adult writing a modern teenager speaking.
I will grant you that this might be my personal opinion talking. I just hate “Whatever” as a complete sentence. I supposed I should be thrilled he’s not saying “Whatevs”.
In these preview pages, that’s the only thing that comes close to Asterix speaking in language that’s far too modern for my tastes. It’ll be interesting to see how Papercutz strikes a balance between sounding relevant and being too “trendy.”
Quick Take: The Time Frame Prediction
In my original news story about the new translation, I asked:
Oh, and one other translation thing that’s a sign of the times: will they also rewrite the book to refer to its time frame as 50 B.C.E.?
Page one, Panel one:
The Lettering – a Surprise and an Improvement
They kept the lowercase “i”! That actually surprised me.
I don’t understand why it’s there or why Uderzo did it in the first place. I’m not even sure I like it or that I could defend it, but it feels like part of the Asterix lore now. I’m thrilled that Papercutz kept it.
Overall, it’s a different font from what the British edition used, but you need to be a real stickler to noticed it. I only do because I’m a lettering geek. They picked — or made — a font that comes close to many of the same style cues, but with enough small differences to be unique. It’s slightly more mechanical, but not so much as to look robotic.
They also changed the sound effects. That’s not surprising, as French sound effects are, basically, in French. They won’t work for American readers. Every language has its own sound effects accent, right down to “What sound does a dog make?” The British editions rewrote the sound effects, and now the American editions are doing the same.
Manga fans will know what a pain sound effects can be when it comes to translations, but there’s a whole different character set at work there that makes it doubly tricky.
There’s a panel at the bottom of page one that’s all sound effects where you can see the difference most clearly. Keep in mind that the sound effects were originally drawn on the page, and successive translations had to draw new effects over the old ones.
That said, I think the new Papercutz sound effects work better than the British editions’ does. There’s better balance to them. They fill the space Uderzo slotted for them, where the British edition leaves a couple empty areas on the panel that look awkward next to a sound effect that could have filled them.
Also, that “BANG” from the British editions changes the order in which the letters overlap three quarters of the way through the word. That’s not right.
OK, here come the compromises. This is the part where you, as an Asterix fan, have to decide what’s important and what’s sacrosanct. Are we tied to names, or can we bend a little for the larger good?
And, even more importantly, do the new names even make sense?
The easiest one to talk about is the magic potion-making Druid. He’s been known in English as “Getafix” for a long time. It’s a pun because he’s basically a drug dealer peddling a magic potion.
We knew that wouldn’t stand.
Now, he’s Panoramix. That’s his original French name. I’m not sure the name relates back to his job of making magic potion one bit, but since it calls back to the original Goscinny scripts, I’m fine with it.
The other one is a little tougher to handle. I’m still rolling it around in my brain, trying to decide if it’s weird or wrong. I’ll get used to it, I’m sure. His original name wasn’t the strongest English pun, either, but this new name is just a bit of a stretch.
Say “goodbye” to Chief Vitalstatistix, and say hello to you new Chief, Fisticuffix.
That almost works. If you want to make the argument that the Villagers are fighters — and they are, both with the Romans and themselves — then a pun on “fisticuffs” makes sense.
The problem is, it also has that “-ix” ending. His name is “Fisticuff” and then an extra syllable afterwards that doesn’t make it a new word. The “ix” is an add-on, an afterthought.
Naming things is hard. I get it. But for such a major character, I have to think there was something better. Or maybe I just need to get used to it. Hopefully, I will before we get to “Asterix and the Chieftain’s Shield.”
I’m not going to complain about it for book after book. I bring it up here and then I’ll drop it. There are bigger issues at play. But I note it here now because it feels like it’s missing a point.
Place Name Changes
One last change we can see in this preview is that two of the Roman camps surrounding the Village have changed names. Compendium is now Lilchum. Totorum is now Butterdrum.
I think I liked the British versions there more in both cases.
Changes these camps’ names is nothing new. Each was changed from the French in the British editions, too: Compendium started as Petibonum, and Totorum was Babaorum.
It seems Aquarium and Laudanum are part of the universal language, and never need to be changed, no matter the language.
One Last Lettering/Writing/Translating Note
This might be the biggest nit-pick of them all. Or it might be the biggest missed edit of the book.
It might betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the comics format and how it works. It might be the biggest show ever that not everyone understands lettering and how it can be used in storytelling.
Or it might just be the one panel with an error that everyone overlooked in the rush to get the first three volumes (plus “The Chieftain’s Daughter“) ready in time for a spring release.
It’s probably the latter, but it does give me a chance to talk comics storytelling structure, so I’m going for it.
Can you tell me what’s wrong with this panel from the Papercutz edition of “Asterix the Gaul”? (No, not the green line down the left side. That’s a leftover from the previews. Ignore it. I’m sure it won’t be in the final print editions.)
I caught it immediately and laughed out loud — and not in the good way.
Read what’s written in the caption box:
“…Caesar wants to know why?”
Cut then to Caesar, drawn in the panel thinking, with a word balloon above him as he wants to know, “What?”
So, which is it? Is he thinking “Why” or “What”? (I’m saying “think”, but he’s saying it out loud, so the word balloon is appropriate.)
This is a new translation of the panel. Let’s line up the French and British versions of that panel:
The smart thing Goscinny did here was to l11ead the reader from the narrator to Caesar. The caption box ends with the equivalent of “He said”, and then that’s followed by Caesar saying something. It’s a good use of the comics format.
It’s even something you see in movies sometimes, too, where the narrator ends a sentence leading directly into something a character on screen is saying.
Papercutz severed that link and confused the panel. They wanted a complete thought in the caption box. Then they had Caesar repeat the caption box.
Except the two parts say two different things.
There’s one other problem here at work. The Papercutz edition segments the two parts, but still attempted to link them with the ellipsis. Why is there an ellipsis after the question mark?!?
Look, I don’t think the people behind the scenes at Papercutz are incompetent or ignorant about the way comics work. Far from it. They have a masthead that covers decades of experience in the industry. They know what they’re doing. I think someone just needs to take a second look at this instance.
Or maybe not. It’s very likely I’m the only one who will EVER notice this level of nit-picky detail.
But “nit-picky detail” should be any editor’s job.
The Sizing Issue
One last thought on what these preview pages show us:
The books will be 7.5″ x 9.5″. If you eliminate all the white space around the art, that’s the live art size of the page on a softcover album.
So long as Papercutz doesn’t include too much white space in around the edges of the page, the art should look fine. It won’t be full size, but close enough.PipelineComics.com, 08 November 2019
That’s not taking the practical matter of printing into consideration. You need those margins to protect the art from printing presses that aren’t perfect.
That white space frames the art, but it also gives the printer a much better allowance when cutting the pages for the book. They won’t be cutting off the art on the page if the paper gets sliced a half inch off the true line.
Here’s a preview page:
Yeah, that’s a health white area still. The art will be smaller in the Papercutz print editions. Will that affect the reading experience? Tough to tell. I’ll definitely keep that in the “wait and see” column.
I also have to acknowledge that I’m getting to that age where smaller print is starting to bother my eyes. Again, Papercutz isn’t aiming this book at the middle-aged market. This is for the kids who eat up smaller books now.
So, Is This a Disaster Waiting To Happen, Right?
No, I’m not saying that.
I’m being critical, yes, but I’m still keeping an open mind. There are changes in the new Papercutz editions that I like. There are changes that I don’t. And there are changes that might just be overlooked mistakes.
These are still preview pages of the earliest Asterix book. The scripts got sharper as they went on and Goscinny and Uderzo hit their stride. We haven’t been able to read an entire book yet.
And, honestly, there are still some speed bumps I’m fascinated to see how Papercutz negotiates. These changes might be minuscule compared to what might be coming.
The only question is, will the integrity of the series be maintained? Will the books still be fun and exciting and hilarious to the new audience Asterix is trying to attract with these new editions? That’s what matters.
We want a popular Asterix character and book series here in America. This is the first serious attempt at creating that in decades. To get there, changes will be made. They have to be.
And I’ll be watching them very closely…