[From the Drawing Board of Alexis Siegel]

Bridges of
Translation: Adapting Graphic Novels for a New Audience

I
have a friend from Israel who is a fabulously talented classical musician and
composer. Whenever the spirit moves him
he’ll grab his violin and share his latest inspiration with whoever’s
around. Mostly it’s amazing to witness,
but there was that time when his friends in Denmark (where he lives) wondered
aloud whether they’d have to tie up Cacofonix the Bard before they could enjoy
their wild boar in peace.

Alexis_image_1

Surely you
recall Cacofonix?

I found it
delightful that Danes, talking about an Israeli, would use the name of a
character from a Belgian/French comic… and that the image in everyone’s mind
would be worth ten thousand words.

Then again,
I do tend to get excited about different languages and nationalities and such
things, in a way that maybe not everyone does . . . if I can judge from the
glazed looks I get and the often unanimous votes to have me tied up and gagged
in a corner while the wild boar roasts!

Alexis_image_2

Languages
are a particular fascination of mine.  And comics are an especially rich
field for a translator to play in, with many levels and styles of dialogue, and
lots of cultural reference that can be plenty challenging to translate.

That’s why,
after many years of working on slightly more austere stuff, like corporate
annual reports, I jumped at the opportunity when my older brother Mark Siegel
(at the time in a pre-First Second avatar) suggested we work together on
translating from the French Joann Sfar’s magical stories in the Little Vampire
series.

Alexis_image_3

More Than One Cook in the Kitchen

One
interesting question I’ve been asked is what parts of science, art or craft go
into successfully translating a graphic novel.  I find it’s a lot like
cooking: there are ingredients that you can’t do without and recipes that help,
but you still have to be able to feel the result.  Does the dialogue work?
Does the translated version capture the spirit of what the author wrote in the
original? 

That’s why
collaborations can be so valuable – on your own, it’s harder to have the
necessary distance from the graphic novel you’re working on, so you’re like a
cook who has to be watchful not to let his taste buds get blunted.  In my
work with First Second, I’ve been lucky not only to work on several remarkable
books, but also to get valuable comments from First Second’s talented in-house
team, and even to collaborate with two excellent (and award-winning, I have to