30 day comic challenge, week 3

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Day 15 – A song comic people wouldn’t expect you to like

I hardly ever blog about French-language comics, so some people might think I don’t like them. But I do, actually – Donjon by Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar, for instance, is even on my top 10 favourite comics list.

Day 16 – A song comic that holds a lot of meaning to you

Civil War by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven was the first comic I’ve written about in a scholarly article, so naturally this comic has a lot of meaning to me.

Day 17 – A song comic that annoys you

Comics can be annoying in a lot of different ways. It’s annoying when you have wasted time reading a comic you don’t like, or wasted money purchasing a copy. It’s annoying when other people or advertisements tell you how great a certain comic is, when you have already found out you don’t like it. Rather than merely being disappointed with a comic that you’ve read once and tossed away for good, however, annoyance is more of a perpetual nuisance: an annoying comic just keeps popping up and demanding your attention. For the last couple of months, Hajime Isayama’s Shingeki no Kyojin a.k.a. Attack on Titan has been that annoying comic for me. Although no one could possibly expect this manga to live up to the enourmous hype surrounding it, one is at the same time tempted to think, “millions of readers can’t be wrong, right?”. So I thought I’d give this series a chance and at least read the first volume. I did, and annoyed I was. With other best-selling shōnen manga, I can at least understand why other people like it, even though I don’t like them much myself: One Piece is genuinely funny, Naruto is well drawn – but Shingeki no Kyojin is neither, nor has it any other redeeming qualities. Still, now that the live-action film adaptation is around the corner, there seems to be no end to the hype.

Day 18 – A song comic you have as your ringtone/want to be your ringtone desktop background image

My computer desktops still have their standard operating system images, but the other day I was tempted for a moment to change that when a nice wallpaper image of Kozue Chiba’s Koi toka, kiss toka, karada toka was posted on I Love Shojo (see also my blogpost about ILS). Then again, I haven’t read this manga yet, and I didn’t even like Kozue Chiba’s Crayon Days much (see my short review), so ultimately I left my desktops as they were.

Day 19 – A song comic you’re currently obsessed with

Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s Akira will probably play an important part in the PhD thesis I’m writing, so I currently spend more time reading this comic (and reading about it) than any other.

Day 20 – A song comic episode from a new album collection you are waiting for to come out

Robin Vehrs posted a few more Enjambements episodes after the first book came out (reviewed here), so I’m hoping there will be a second collected volume someday.

Day 21 – A song comic you want to dance to read at your wedding

I’m not sure how the hypothetical bride would feel about this, but Action Comics #1 would certainly make a nice wedding present. On the other hand, it may be a bit too long to be read at the wedding right away. So how about a 1986 Sunday strip of Calvin & Hobbes, watercoloured by Bill Watterson himself, instead?


30 day comic challenge, week 2

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Day 08 – A song comic you liked when you were younger

I’m still fond of many comics I liked as a child. A series I don’t quite like as much now as I think I did back then is Hägar the Horrible, still drawn by Dik Browne at that time. Some gags will always be hilarious, but many are not. Often, Browne simply ignored the Viking setting and made dull jokes about marriage and taxes instead. Current strips (by Chris Browne) can be read at hagarthehorrible.com.

Day 09 – A song comic that makes you want to dance draw

Granted, “draw” isn’t exactly to “comic” as “dance” is to “song”, but I couldn’t think of a better analogy, and at least the transfer from passive reception to activity is retained. Initially I was thinking of comics that represent the act of drawing, such as Kozue Chiba’s Crayon Days (briefly reviewed here), but one of the few comics that actually made me pick up pencil and paper was Civil War: X-Men. The drawings of penciller Yanick Paquette and inker Serge Lapointe make use of clear outlines and compact shadows, with often only minimal parallel hatching, which makes them relatively easy to copy. It’s not as if the colouring (by Stephane Peru) wasn’t good, but the quality of the pencil and ink drawings is palpable even in the finished comic.

Day 10 – A song comic that makes you cry

Although I can’t say it actually made me cry, I remember a scene early in Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant as a striking rendering of sadness and despair: Prince Valiant (and that other guy, Prince Arn) mourning the death of Ilene. That must have been around episode #80, from 1938.

Day 11 – A song comic that reminds you of summer

While some episodes of Jirō Taniguchi’s The Walking Man are clearly set in other seasons, some most likely take place in summer, e.g. “Night Swimming”. Generally, taking a walk or aimlessly wandering around (which is what this comic is all about) is more fun when it’s warm and bright.

Day 12 – A song comic that reminds you of your best friend

Back in school, Pat Mills’s Sláine was popular among me and my friends, particularly the albums of Simon Bisley’s run. That was at the same time when Braveheart became a cult film among us, and when listening to Irish folk music and drinking mead became fashionable.

Day 13 – A song comic you sing to read in the shower bathroom

Currently there’s a “Snoopy & die Peanuts” collection (i.e. late Peanuts, originally from the mid-80s) that a flatmate put there. I think I’ll read some of it eventually, although I don’t like what I’ve read so far.

Day 14 – A song comic you like hearing being read live

Uli Oesterle’s reading of Hector Umbra, which I think took place around the time it was re-released by Carlsen (2009), was great fun. He even had a DJ with him (which is only fitting, as there is also a DJ in the story).


30 day comic challenge, week 1

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Instead of just making other people take on the “30 day song challenge”, I’m going to try it myself. However, just like Paul Downey, I’ll replace “song” with something more suitable for this weblog. In my case, that would be “comic”, of course. Here are entries #1-7:

Day 01 – A song comic that makes you happy

This already raises a tricky question. What exactly is it about a comic that can make you happy? The process of reading it? The memories of having read it? Owning a copy of it? Looking forward to reading it? And would it be enough for such a comic to be simply good (whatever that means), or should that comic have a specific emotional appeal in order to elicit happiness? Intuitively, I think I’ll simply pick Karuho Shiina’s Kimi ni todoke (the first two volumes of which I’ve briefly reviewed here in February) because it works on all of these levels. It’s a series that succeeds in letting its readers join its protagonist on a rollercoaster ride of feelings, so when Sawako finds happiness, why shouldn’t the readers be happy too?

Day 02 – A song comic that helps you clear your head

Although I haven’t done any research on this, I’d wager that “clearing one’s head” is one of the more under-theorised concepts in the field of reception aesthetics. I imagine this “clearing” works like this: first you become so absorbed in a work that your mind is completely taken off of everything else, but after the act of reception you find it easy to focus on something else again – your head is clear. To cause such an effect, I guess a comic should be easily accessible, but maybe also have a certain abstractness and superficiality (in a good way), so that it doesn’t preoccupy you for hours after reading it. A comic that works well in this respect is Reza Farazmand’s often surreal webcomic Poorly Drawn Lines.

Day 03 – A song comic that makes you laugh

I found Assassination Classroom by Yusei Matsui to be surprisingly funny. Nicholas Theisen blogged about it last year, but it was only recently published in German.

Day 04 – A song comic that reminds you of something sad

Comics in which sad events take place are likely to remind readers of similar events in real life. In Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw, for instance, many sad things happen to the characters, some of which surely many readers can relate to.

Day 05 – A song comic that has a new meaning to you every time you hear read it

Gudrun Penndorf’s presentation at the comics translation conference in Hildesheim last month reminded me that there are still some references in Goscinny’s and Uderzo’s Asterix that I don’t get. Every time I read an Asterix album nowadays, though, I wonder how little I must have understood when I last read them.

Day 06 – A song comic you can always relate to

I find most of Mawil’s semi-autobiographical comics easy to relate to. In particular, the events depicted in Die Band should feel almost eerily familiar to any reader who has ever played in a band. It has been translated into Spanish (La banda) and English (The Band).

Day 07 – A song comic that is your guilty pleasure

While I don’t feel much guilt about any comic I read, sometimes people are surprised when they learn that an adult man regularly reads shōjo manga. I particularly enjoy high-school romance stories, a favourite of mine being Masami Tsuda’s Kare Kano.


Conference report: The Translation and Adaptation of Comics, Hildesheim, 31 Oct–2 Nov 2014

detail from conference posterTwo weeks ago, a conference on The Translation and Adaptation of Comics brought together scholars from comics studies and translation studies, as well as other fields. Without further ado, I’ll sum up all the talks here (except for 5 that I didn’t attend due to parallel sessions, plus the poster presentations, plus my own paper – I’ll announce its publication in a separate post).

The opening keynote was given by Klaus Kaindl, who has also published a book on comics translation. In his talk (and also in his book), he asked the question, What can translation studies learn from comics? [All title translations are mine – most papers were given in German.] He argues for an integral notion of comics translation studies that is concerned with comic-specific aspects. Kaindl identifies the translation of images as a desideratum in the context of the iconic/pictorial/visual turn. Three categories are central to the translation of comics: genre (for Kaindl, manga and webcomics are genres, too), mode (comics are multimodal, i.e. they combine verbal and non-verbal elements, but so does any written text too), and medium (medium-specific aspects need to be considered when analysing adaptations, not “loss” or “faithfulness”).

Next was conference organiser Nathalie Mälzer, who evaluated taxonomies of image-text-relations in comics, more precisely those of Scott McCloud and Klaus Kaindl’s aforementioned book. Three different levels are mixed up in both taxonomies, which should be considered separately: spatial (ratio of image to text in a panel), syntactical (references to other panels, e.g. text and image belonging to different points in time), and semantic (e.g. text confirming the image, text expanding the image, or no semantic connection between text and image at all).

Susanne Pauer analysed the translation of onomatopoeia in comics. She defined comics onomatopoeia as any sound-imitating words in a comic, regardless of whether they appear in a speech bubble or as sound effects integrated into the drawing. I guess that makes sense from a language-oriented point of view. Another thing I noticed about translation scholars is a tendency to make quality judgements about translation examples; thus Pauer spoke of “bad”, “pleasing”, or “faulty” translations etc. [EDIT: see comments.]

In his paper Reading comics, reading cultures?, David Orrego-Carmona presented preliminary results from a study involving a questionnaire survey and an eye-tracking experiment. In this experiment, the researchers compared the reception of “domesticated” and “foreignized” versions of manga translated into Spanish, the former containing original Spanish words in the place of Japanese words (e.g. “tortilla” instead of “okonomiyaki”). The main finding is that foreignized manga require a higher cognitive load and result in less comprehension – even though the participants were already experienced manga readers.

The first day of the conference ended with Carsten Sinner presenting another translatological reception study as a basis of assessing successful translations, using the Argentinian comic Mafalda. According to Sinner, the opinions of many non-experts should be given more weight than those of few individual scholars. Therefore his study involved around 20 participants per target language.

Mathias Bremgartner kicked off the second day with a talk on comics in the theatre, and specifically the stage adaptation of the manga Barefoot Gen. This play premiered in Düsseldorf in 2006 and adapted selected scenes from all four volumes of the manga. The production included projections of found-footage and animated films, spoken-word recording playbacks, and musical numbers. In comparison to the manga, the play shifted the emphasis from criticism of Japan towards criticism of the US. Some of the aesthetics of Barefoot Gen were carried over onto the stage, e.g. the cartoonish simplification of the characters. However, at least in this play, no general comic-specific aesthetics were adapted.

Then Rolf Lohse talked about Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat and its adaptations into an animated film and a radio play. One scene in particular, a dream sequence, was compared in all three forms. Some content was left out in the adaptations, possibly in order to downplay sexual and religious elements to widen the target audience.

Sebastian Bartosch did two different things in his talk: on the one hand, he traced appearances of Lewis Carroll’s white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland through different comic adaptations. On the other hand, he looked at Nicolas Mahler’s literature (for lack of a better word – I mean the sort of literature without pictures here. Novels and the like.) adaptations, particularly that of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, which combines elements from the original novel in a new way. In the discussion it was argued that adaptations should be regarded as works in their own right on the same level as the original works.

Steffen Richter‘s talk on comic storytelling techniques in contemporary German-language literature had been announced in the programme with the subtitle “Christian Kracht und Thomas von Steinaecker”, but in the end it was only about von Steinaecker and not the better-known Kracht. Richter identified four main storytelling techniques in von Steinaecker’s 2009 novel Schutzgebiet which are similar to comics: 1. ekphrastical blocks of text divided by blank lines are the equivalent of panels and gutters; 2. prolepsis (flash-forward) is the equivalent of simultaneous perception of several panels on a page at once; 3. figurative language is similar to pictures in comics; 4. (not sure if this was meant to be part of 3.) repetition in the novel is similar to repetitive elements (panels, characters, stereotypes) in comics.

Posy Simmonds’s Gemma Bovery as a “translation” of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was the subject of Florian Trabert‘s talk. Ironically, Flaubert was a staunch opposer of any kind of illustrations in novels. Simmonds’s comic is quite different from a mere illustration of the novel, however. By transferring the story into the present day, it seems more immediate to the readers. As a “meta comic”, a framing narrative is added that has a (possibly unreliable) narrator make explicit references to Flaubert’s novel. The plot significantly deviates when Gemma Bovery dies, in contrast to Madame Bovery.

Maximilian Gröne presented a selection of adaptations of Dante’s Divine Comedy into comics and a video game. The main object of analysis was the “media cluster” Dante’s Inferno from 2010, consisting of a comic by Christos Gage and Diego Latorre Relancio (DC 2009) and a PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 game (EA 2010). In the comic, the characters are trivialised, textual elements are reduced, and there’s no connection to neither the original wording nor the traditional iconography established by Gustave Doré.

The topic of Janwillem Dubil‘s paper was the British TV series Misfits. Although Misfits is not based on a particular comic, it can be regarded as a “meta comic film” (similar to Unbreakable or Hancock) in that it draws on superhero stories, which of course were popularised through comics. Therefore, one can still speak of a transfer from one medium to another here. Several comic-like elements can be found in Misfits: moments of near motionlessness, artificial imagery such as animated film sequences, display of actual drawn comic panels, and a plot point of magically animating drawings through superpowers.

The last talk on Saturday was Rike Bolte on poetry in comics. In particular, Bolte looked at Julian Peters’s comic Les aventures de Rimbaud (http://julianpeterscomics.com/les-aventures-de-rimbaud/), in which he adapts Arthur Rimbaud’s poem Sensation. While the wording remains unchanged, the pictures give a different impression; for instance, the speaker is invisible in the comic, while the poem emphasises the first person.

Comics conferences often feature comic artists as keynote speakers, so it’s only fitting that a comics translation conference should feature a comics translator – in this case, Gudrun Penndorf, probably the most famous living German comics translator. Everyone in the German-speaking world knows her Astérix translations (she translated every album until the 29th), but fewer know that she also translated the other René Goscinny classics Iznogoud and Lucky Luke. Her career as a comics translator began already in 1966 with Disney comics. In her presentation she focussed on her work on Astérix though, and the difficulties posed by Goscinny’s love for puns. According to Penndorf, the most important things in translating comics are to convey the relevant information and to make the reader smile, rather than retaining the exact wording of the original.

Sunday morning continued with parallel panels. I chose to attend the one in which Caterina Bosco spoke about Translation, Pseudotranslation and Adaptation of the Disney Comics into Italian. It is a well-known fact that today, the majority of Disney comics are produced in Italy rather than the US, but how did the Italian production begin? The first Disney comics in Italy were published in the 1930s. These were translations from American comics at first, but by the 1950s, increasingly original Italian comics appeared in the Italian Disney anthology magazine, Topolino. Due to the lack of credits, which continued until the 1960s, it’s hard to tell them apart though. The situation was further complicated when Disney comics were re-issued with new, re-translated or “pseudo-translated”, text from the 40s/50s onwards.

Hasuria Che Omar presented a paper on the translation of Crayon Shin-Chan in Malaysia. Due to the many cultural taboos in Malaysia – sex, bodily functions, morbidity – both the textual and the pictorial content of comics need to be altered to become acceptable at all. In the case of Crayon Shin-Chan, such changes can be quite extensive, of course. Often attempts are made to preserve the humour by substituting the original gag for a more harmless one. It is the “social responsibility” of translators that makes them perform this kind of alterations, not the fear of judicial consequences. Only in rare cases are Malaysian translators who fail to perform this duty declared “sinners” by religious authorities.

Archaic language in historical comics was examined by Frank Paulikat. Using the examples of Les Aigles décapitées, The Towers of Bois-Maury, and Les Compagnons du crépuscule, he showed that the archaic French used in these comics doesn’t quite match the actual historical French spoken at the time in which these comics are set (the High Middle Ages). The official German translations of these comics, however, don’t even try to retain the archaic outlook of the original texts.

Sylvia Jaki‘s talk on translation of humour in comics concluded the conference. She compared Calvin & Hobbes to Mutts: while the humour of the former is based on (often purely visual) incongruity, the latter more often relies on puns and language-games. In the German translation of Calvin & Hobbes, footnotes may provide explanations for US-specific references. In Mutts, punchlines can even get lost in translation altogether, as they are not found in every strip of the original comic, so readers are already used to the lack of gags.


ComFor 2014: Färber, Ingold, Owens

Last month, the 9th annual conference of the German Society for Comics Studies (ComFor) took place in Berlin. Unfortunately I missed half of it, so instead of a proper conference report (not that my previous ComFor conference posts – 2012, 2013 – were proper reports), I thought I’d just point out my favourite talk out of the ones I have heard:

Julia Ingold (Kiel University) presented an allegorical reading of Markus Färber‘s comic Reprobus. Reprobus seems to be Färber’s first standalone comic, and was published only two years ago. In this comic, Färber re-tells the legend of Saint Christopher (who was called Reprobus before he met Jesus), albeit with some twists. Reprobus is a beautifully drawn comic, and its non-linear story is cleverly written. But that’s beside the point.

The dog-headed giant Reprobus has yet to become Christophorus.

Reprobus, the dog-headed giant, has yet to become Christophorus.

In her talk, Julia Ingold referenced Craig Owens’s text “The Allegorical Impulse” (which I have discussed on this weblog last year), and placed Reprobus in a postmodern context. That latter statement was more of an incidental remark, if I remember correctly, as her main point was the reading of Reprobus as allegory through Owens. Therefore I won’t hold it against her that she didn’t take the time to expand on what’s postmodern(ist) about Reprobus.

It’s easy enough to recognise Reprobus in “The Allegorical Impulse”, or vice versa: Reprobus is a typical example of a “palimpsest”, of “reading one text through another”, of the artistic strategy of “appropriation”, in that Reprobus “confiscates” the legend of Saint Christopher (all quotations from Owens). The problematic point is that for Owens, this allegorical impulse is already the characteristic that distinguishes postmodernist from modernist art. Nowadays, as I have tried to show in the aforementioned blog post on Owens, Foster and Ishinomori, Owens’s view of postmodernism is only one of many.

Hal Foster, on the other hand, emphasises (in “Postmodernism: A Preface”) the challenging stance of postmodernism towards the social context of objects.* I find it hard to see such a thrust in Reprobus. The “realm of myths and legends” is “sinking into oblivion”? The people in the big city “have almost forgotten” about Jesus? If this story was really intended as a critique of contemporary society, it’s about 100 years late. This comic combines rather old-fashioned aspects with some undeniably timely traits – which isn’t a bad thing, but makes me reluctant to classify it as entirely postmodernist.

The papers of the ComFor conference aren’t published yet, but an earlier article by Julia Ingold on Reprobus can be read in the latest issue of the journal helden. heroes. héros. (PDF, German).


* Why do I keep returning to those two texts by Owens and Foster? Certainly not because they’re the most convincing, or best written, on postmodernism. They do, however, have the advantage of having been published at a relatively early point in that discourse, of representing quite different – almost contrary – views, and of exerting a lasting influence.

Top 10 words from Frederik L. Schodt

Cover of Frederik L. Schodt's Dreamland JapanOut of the many authors who publish on comics, Frederik L. Schodt is one of the few with a truly distinct writing style – neither academic nor fannish, neither highbrow nor colloquial, his writings are full of rather obscure words, some of which I have never seen anywhere else. Recently I re-read the beginning of his book Dreamland Japan, and while doing so, just for fun,* assembled this list of my favourite eccentric words therein and their meanings (as far as I could find out):

to accord – p. 19: “Japan is the first nation in the world to accord ‘comic books’ […] nearly the same social status as novels and films.” – to grant, to give.

bone-crushing – p. 28: “Yet along with this celebration of the ordinary is the bone-crushing reality that the vast majority of manga border on trash.” – back-breaking, depressing (cf. German: ‘erdrückend’).

hari-kari – p. 11: “in due time both words [manga and anime] will undoubtedly be listed in the standard English dictionary along with other Japanese imports like ‘hari-kari’ and ‘karaoke.'” – variant of harakiri (ritual suicide).

finicky – p. 13: “In Japan, people’s names are usually listed with the family name first and the given name last. Certain academic types in the English-speaking world are rather finicky about this convention and insist on preserving it even in English texts” – difficult to please, demanding.

to flounder – p. 34: “Japanese people have floundered about trying to the right term to describe the sequential picture-panels that tell a story.” – to struggle.

full-figured – p. 26: “Japanese manga offer far more visual diversity than mainstream American comics, which […] still reveal an obsession with muscled males and full-figured females” – according to Wiktionary, ‘full-figured’ means ‘fat’ or ‘plump’, but here it’s probably used in the sense of ‘curvaceous’ or ‘voluptuous’.

persnickety – p. 14: “Fans of Japanese manga (even more than academics) can be a rather persnickety and unforgiving lot” – see finicky.

profuse – p. 15: “Profuse thanks are offered to all who helped.” – plenty, abundant.

raga-like – p. 14: “[…] with raga-like stories that may continue for thousands of pages” – maybe Schodt means, ‘as lengthy as an Indian epic (raga)’?

satori-like – p. 21: “his face lit up in a satori-like realization” – (Buddhist) enlightenment.


* On the other hand, this little exercise can also be seen as a tentative reflection on the serious topic of academic writing style and the way in which we, as scholars, communicate our findings.

Upcoming talk: “Akira im Westen”

 

3 panels from Akira by Katsuhiro ŌtomoI’m looking forward to present some more preliminary results from my PhD research, more precisely on Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s manga Akira and its first English and German editions, at a conference on Übersetzungen und Adaptionen von Comics / The Translation and Adaptation of Comics” at Hildesheim University, Germany, from October 31 – November 2, 2014. Information on where to read this paper to follow.


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