Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Cerebus Around The World


My husband Ricardo (aka Bebo) and I are about halfway through a two-month stint living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We’re both lucky enough to be able to work remotely, so we plan to live abroad for a few months like this each year. Before I left, Sean and I spent some time setting up a file sharing system that allows us to sync working files and streamline our cleanup process. I have good Wi-Fi, and there’s even an internet café two blocks away where I can print good quality test pages – so, thus far the experiment of working on Cerebus restoration from abroad has been a success!

And then, of course, when I step outside the door - there’s Mexico.

I’ll (mostly) resist the impulse to turn this post into a travelogue – but I will share a few experiences and thoughts about Mexican culture that relate back to High Society and Church and State, at least in my mind.

A quick tangent first – I attempted to purchase a Comic-Con badge for the first time last Saturday during open registration (unsuccessfully – I’ll get another chance as a trade professional later in the spring, but I figured why not give it a shot) in what has to be the most picturesque setting in which anyone has tried to purchase a Comic-Con badge, ever. Bebo and I had just arrived in Guanajuato after an hour-long bus ride from San Miguel - and after some confusion at the reception desk and nail-biting clock watching, I finally got my laptop open at the Hotel Chocolate restaurant with 4 minutes to spare.

For the next hour or so, I alternated between watching the yellow messages on my screen notify me as each day sold out, eating “chilaquiles divorciados” with both mole and chile verde, and looking out at this view:

Hotel Chocolate is up about a million stairs, halfway up a hill overlooked by the giant statue of “Pípila” – a local hero who, during the Mexican War of Independence, broke through a Spanish barricade by lighting fire to the wooden door of a fortress while carrying a long, flat stone on his back to shield himself from musket fire.  To the right of Pípila, sprawling over the right side of the hill, is the former home of Luis Echeverria, President of Mexico from 1970 to 1976. The cab driver who pointed out the mansion said that the people of Guanajuato hope the former president will return one day – so that he can give back everything he stole (!).

These blatant reminders of revolution and corruption felt almost surreal to me, like an exaggerated version of reality – scenes that wouldn’t be out of place in the world of High Society.

Another political anecdote: before the previews at a movie theater, there was an ad for Mexico’s “Ecologist Green Party” (Partido Verde Ecologista de México). It depicted a family hanging out in their living room, discussing the recent sentencing of the man who had kidnapped the father. “It’s too bad he wasn’t able to get the death penalty,” the mother said disappointedly, “since the Green Party didn’t win the election.” “But at least they were able to push through legislation allowing three consecutive life sentences without parole – and that’s practically the same thing!” said the informed 20-something year old daughter happily. It turns out that reinstating the death penalty is, oddly (and controversially), part of the Green Party’s platform.

A few days later, walking home we noticed three young men holding a stencil up to a wall, painting what I assumed would be some interesting street art – but later I saw it was the green party’s logo, with a slogan that roughly translates as, “We Deliver” (i.e., on their promises).

Mexico’s Congressional elections are coming up in June, and the Ecologist Green Party is one of the wealthier, more influential, and more controversial political factions. They don’t actually work with ecological organizations – and the European Green Party has withdrawn recognition of the party due to their support for the death penalty. They also face accusations of corruption and nepotism. Despite these failures, they enjoy a growing minority representation in Congress – and as I’ve seen, their ads seem to be everywhere. Another surreal absurdity that makes me feel a bit like I’ve walked into the political machinations of Iest.

It makes me wonder whether Mexican readers of Cerebus respond even more powerfully than North American or European readers to High Society’s parodies of political corruption.

Now, as we begin work on Church and State I, it seems only fitting that I’m in an environment where the Catholic Church is omnipresent. In both Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, church bells ring from several directions every morning and evening. In San Miguel (population 80,000), there are rumored to be over 300 churches. On public buses and in every cab we’ve ridden in so far, there are images of the Virgin Mary. When you make large purchases, cashiers will often make the sign of the cross several times over the money before putting it in the register. I won’t even start on the Holy Inquisition torture museum in Guanajuato … that’s one of the only times I’ve been glad that my understanding of Spanish is still rudimentary.

I asked Bebo (who is Mexican and grew up Catholic) whether he thought there would be a Mexican audience for a book like Church and State, or whether religion is so ingrained in the culture that people aren't cynical about it. He speculated that those who would be interested in Cerebus in the first place are probably people who wouldn't mind seeing the church knocked down a few pegs. I would think that a critique of church hierarchy would resonate especially well in a place where it has such a powerful historical presence.

These thoughts about the potential for the themes of High Society and Church and State to be especially relevant to Mexican readers naturally led me to wonder about translation. So it doesn't surprise me at all that both High Society and Church and State I have already been translated into Spanish (although it looks to be Spain Spanish, as opposed to Mexican Spanish). I have to say, I’m in awe that such a thing is even possible!

The complexity and number of issues that would need to be addressed to translate Cerebus seems staggering:

·       Obviously, all the lettering would need to be redone (unless someone can create a “Dave Sim font”? multiple Dave Sim fonts? How many Dave Sim fonts?)

·       The translations would need to map spatially onto existing areas allocated to text – or, in cases where that isn’t feasible, text bubbles and even whole panels would need to be redrawn.

·       A talented translator would need to work creatively to preserve the tone and humor of the writing.

·       Jokes and references (including certain characters' speech mannerisms) may need to be adapted in order to translate culturally. Bebo mentioned that big budget animated movies (usually Disney and in this case Dreamworks) sometimes do this, quite successfully. Here , Donkey is voiced by a Eugenio Derbez, a very successful Mexican comedian. Donkey’s lines are not simple translations, but rewritten entirely for a Mexican audience, complete with local songs and sayings uncommon elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world.

I’m curious about how the above issues were addressed in the existing translations – and whether there are more Spanish editions in the works!


Dave Kopperman said...

Canada, U.S. and Mexico. Who knew that Cerebus was going to benefit from NAFTA?

Max West said...

Mexico looks like a neat country worth visiting. Anyway, I understand the challenges of translating another work into a different language and into an entirely different culture. People have used that argument when translating manga and anime from its native Japanese. I remember watching American TV shows when I visited Italy like "ALF" and "the Nanny"; it definitely lost something in translation to hear Alf and Fran Drescher speaking in dubbed Italian.

Leinad Zivro said...

Hi! A Spanish reader here... Answering to your questions, the spanish Cerebus edition stopped after Jaka´s Story, supposedly because the price that Dave was asking for was too much for the editors. And they had begun with High Society and not with the first phonebook, so they printed only four phonebooks...

The translations were quite OK. Although, as you say, it is impossible to translate all the accents and jokes Dave puts in the characters´ way of speaking, the translator did a great effort and tried to find alternative ways to adapt it to spanish idiosincracy, so it wasn´t bad at all. The biggest problem, though, was the lettering. AS I remember (Because I have the english phonebooks and only read the spanish ones from the library) they used only one font and they played with the size of it.At the begginig it was OK, because wen Dave at that moment wasn´t playing very much with it, but in the Jaka´s Story one the difference with the original lettering was yet beginning to be
really flagrant...

Anyway, as I was saying, the edition is no more going on, so now the only chance for the spanish readers is to learn english and enjoy the original edition.

A big hug from Barcelona. I follow your wonderful blog every day. Thanks for your good work!

Tony Dunlop said...

I can't help but wonder if the Mexican Green Party's support of capital punishment is at least partly a way of razzing the Catholic Church, which of course opposes it.