Upcoming talk: Japanese art in the contact zone

Not directly comics-related, but hopefully relevant to anyone interested in manga readership outside Japan: later this week, I’m going to give a talk titled “Japanese Art in the Contact Zone: between Orientalism and ‘Japansplaining'” at the 3rd International Conference for PhD Students and Recent PhD Graduates in Belgrade on “Migrations in Visual Culture”. Below you’ll find the abstract as I had submitted it; in the meantime, I cut the examples of Takashi Murakami and manga/anime mentioned therein and made some other changes.

Hat tip to Nicholas Theisen on whose weblog What is Manga? I first encountered the beautiful word “Japansplain”!

Japanese Art in the Contact Zone: between Orientalism and ‘Japansplaining’

Whenever migrations of works of art and other artifacts become the subjects of scholarly analysis, those that originate in one culture and end up within a different culture are the ones that generate the most interest. Scholars who study such cross-cultural migrations operate within a methodological paradigm that has been shaped by theories such as Fernando Ortiz’s transculturation and, building upon it, Mary Louise Pratt’s contact zone.

These theories suggest that artifact-based communication between different cultures – including the reception of works of art – often takes place „in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power“ (Pratt). Such contexts have been strikingly examined by postcolonial studies, which identify these relations between colonising and colonised cultures, First and Third World countries, etc. Most famously, Edward Said located such a relation between Occident and Orient. The Far East, however, is where we find an example (though probably not the only one) that does not quite fit in this paradigm.

After WWII, Japan has come to be perceived as economically and politically on eye-level with its former enemy nations. The Japanese cultural industry is nowadays largely self-sufficient: as a rule, its products reach Western markets through a ‘pull’ rather than a ‘push’ mechanism, i.e. (some) Western consumers demand Japanese products, but Japanese producers and distributors are not desperate to break into an American or European market. Therefore, one cannot say that the Western reception of Japanese artworks takes place within a context of an asymmetrical power relation. Yet, this context is far from homogeneous. From the imagery of Takashi Murakami to the films of Akira Kurosawa, the photographs of Nobuyoshi Araki to manga and anime, Japanese artworks seem to divide European and American audiences into those who admire them, and those who cannot make sense of them.

In a way, these two audience groups reiterate the context of asymmetrical power relations, but in contrary ways: on the one hand, the ‘worshippers’ of Japanese art perceive it – and, by extension, the whole Japanese culture – as vastly superior to their own, up to the point where Japanese pedigree in itself becomes a decisive quality. The mode of reception in this group places Japan as the dominant culture, and its own Western culture as the subordinate. On the other hand, the ‘sceptics’ of Japanese art perceive it as inferior because they find it less accessible, thus reversing the power relation. The phenomenon of ‘Japansplaining’, i.e. attempting to explain Japanese culture (often in order to help make sense of Japanese works of art), works in both of these ways, and is at any rate an indicator of the perceived foreignness of Japanese art. This paper seeks to discuss this and the other aforementioned concepts related to the idea of the contact zone, and on that basis to critically examine the theoretical and methodological foundations underlying the study of cross-cultural migrations in visual culture.


Article “The Task of Manga Translation: Akira in the West” published

task

My conference paper from 2014, which so far had been only published in German and in print, is now available online and in English:

de la Iglesia, Martin 2016, ‘The Task of Manga Translation: Akira in the West’. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship 6(1), http://dx.doi.org/10.16995/cg.59

There’s also a PDF version.

Abstract:
Translated editions of Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s manga Akira played an important role in the popularisation of manga in the Western world. Published in Japan between 1982 and 1990, editions in European languages followed as soon as the late 1980s. In the first US edition (Epic 1988–1995) the originally black and white manga was printed in colour and published in 38 issues, which were designed not unlike typical American comic books. The first German edition (Carlsen 1991–1996) marked the beginning of Carlsen’s manga publishing efforts. It was based on the English-language edition and also printed in colour, and combined two American issues in one.

This article analyses the materiality of these two translated editions with a focus on three main issues – the mirroring (or ‘flipping’) which changes the reading direction from right-to-left into left-to-right, the colouring of the originally black and white artwork, and the translation of different kinds of script (sound effects, speech bubble text, and inscriptions or labels) – before concluding with a brief examination of their critical reception.


Manga talks at the 2015 ComFor conference

detail of the 2015 ComFor conference poster

A surprisingly large number of papers on manga were presented at this year’s conference of the German Society for Comics Studies, which was held in Frankfurt last weekend. Unfortunately I couldn’t hear all of them (among the ones I’ve missed were Sven Günther’s paper on Thermae Romae and Sylvia Kesper-Biermann’s on Barefoot Gen), but here are brief summaries of the ones I did attend:

  • Rik Spanjers spoke about Shigeru Mizuki’s Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths. In this classic manga set in the Pacific War (as well as in his other manga), Mizuki employs a distinctive art style in which cartoonish characters clash with photorealistic backgrounds. Spanjers explains this art style with Mizuki’s attempt to adequately represent the horrors of war. For instance, the opposition between these two distinct art styles mirrors the opposition between life and death in the story, etc.
  • Marco Pellitteri presented results from a survey on the arrival and impact of manga in several European countries. He attributes the success of manga in Europe mainly to two circumstances: the adoption of the ‘authentic’ tankobon format for translated editions, and the simultaneous broadcasting of anime series on European television channels.
    (Naturally, there is some overlap with my own PhD research, but also one major difference: when one tries to identify similarities and differences between so many different comic markets and within such a long time frame – 1970s to today –, the perspective is necessarily much wider, and the results coarser. Which doesn’t make it less valid, of course.)
  • Lukas Sarvari introduced three manga drawn by Kazuo Kamimura: Shinanogawa (1973-74, written by Hideo Okazaki), Furious Love (Kyōjin kankei, 1973-74, written by Kamimura himself), and Lady Snowblood (Shurayuki-hime, 1972-73, written by Kazuo Koike). Each of them is set in a different period of Japanese history: Shōwa (1926-89), Edo/Tokugawa (1603-1868) and Meiji (1868-1912), respectively. However, Sarvari’s hypothesis is that these manga tell us more about the time in which they were made than about the time in which their stories are set. Thus they convey views about the nihonjinron discourse, Japanese exceptionalism, and fascism that readers today might feel uneasy about.
  • Christian Chappelow identified similar elements in two manga about Adolf Hitler: Hitler (Gekiga Hittorā, 1971) by Shigeru Mizuki and Adolf (Adorufu ni tsugu, 1983-85) by Osamu Tezuka. Both manga can’t really be regarded as anti-war stories and lack a critical stance against nationalism, militarism and fascism. Chappelow suspects that this is the reason why Mizuki’s Hitler hasn’t been translated into a European language yet.

Conference paper “Akira im Westen” published

panel from Akira by Katsuhiro Ōtomo

Last year at a conference on “the translation and adaptation of comics” in Hildesheim, Germany, I gave a talk on the first English and German editions of Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s Akira . The conference proceedings have now been published as a book, albeit with most of the papers in German, including my own. I’m working on making an English-language, Open Access version of my talk available soon. Anyway, here’s the bibliographic data:

de la Iglesia, Martin. “Akira im Westen.” In Comics. Übersetzungen und Adaptionen, edited by Nathalie Mälzer, 355-373. Berlin: Frank & Timme, 2015.

The ISBN of the book is: 978-3-7329-0131-9


“Presence in Comics” article published

detail of a panel from The Ultimates #3 by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch

Remember the conference paper I announced on this weblog in 2012? It took some time, but now this paper has been published as an article in Studies in Visual Arts and Communication – an international journal and is available online for free: http://journalonarts.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/SVACij-Vol1_No2_2014-delaIGLESIA_Martin-Presence_in_comics.pdf

Here’s the abstract:

The term ‘presence’ is often used to denote a trait of an artwork that causes the feeling in a viewer  that a depicted figure is a living being that is really there, although the viewer is aware that this is not actually the case. So far, scholars who have used this term have not explicitly provided criteria for the assessment of the degree of presence in a work of art. However, such criteria are implicitly contained in a number of theoretical texts. Three important criteria for presence appear to be:
1. size – the larger a figure is depicted, the more likely this artwork will instil a feeling of presence.
2. deixis – the more the work is deictically orientated towards the beholder, e.g. if figures seem to look or point at the beholder, the higher the degree of presence.
3. obtrusiveness of medium – if there is a clash of different diegetic levels within an artwork, the degree of presence is reduced.

These criteria can be readily applied to a single image like a painting or a photograph. A comic, however, consists of multiple images, and the presence of each panel is influenced by the panels that surround it by means of contrast and progression. Another typical feature of comics is written text: speech bubbles, captions etc. do not co-exist with the drawings on the same diegetic level, thus betraying the mediality of their panels and reducing their degree of presence. A comic that makes striking use of effects of presence, which makes it a suitable example here, is the superhero series The Ultimates by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch (Marvel 2002 – 2004). The characters in this comic are often placed on splash pages and/or seemingly address the reader, resulting in a considerable experience of presence.


Some notes from the 33rd Kunsthistorikertag, Mainz, March 24-28, 2015

photograph by Peter Pulkowski from www.uni-mainz.de

Kunsthistorikertag, the conference of the German society of art historians (VDK), takes place every two years and is one of those huge events with hundreds of participants and up to four parallel tracks. I won’t even try to sum up all the talks I’ve heard. Instead I’ll just pick one ‘highlight’ from each of the five conference days with some connection to sequential art and/or Japan.

  • Tuesday: One of the three parallel talks that kicked off the conference was Miguel Taín Guzmán on “The views of the cities of Spain drawn by the Florentine artist Pier Maria Baldi [ca. 1630-1686]: the codex of the journey of prince Cosimo III of Medici in the Laurenziana Library” (one of the few presentations in English by the way). The codex consists of a written account of the prince’s journey, interspersed with 86 ink drawings of cities and other stations of the journey. Some of these drawings not only depict the place, but also a specific situation at the time of the prince’s visit: Cosimo’s travel procession, camels at Aranjuez, a thunderstorm over Santiago de Compostela, etc. In this huge book of 60×100cm, the drawings are arranged on double pages with two drawings on top of each other. As the placement of the drawings corresponds to the chronology of the journey, one could speak of juxtaposed images in deliberate sequence… Some of the digitised drawings can be seen at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Pier_Maria_Baldi, and there’s also a huge PDF of a book reprint.
  • Wednesday: Irene Schütze examined the exhibitions of Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami and Joana Vasconcelos at the Palace of Versailles in 2008, 2010, and 2012, respectively. It was the only talk at the conference, at least of the ones I heard, that mentioned manga: apparently, Murakami “learnt about Versailles through the girls’ comic book Rose of Versailles” (Riyoko Ikeda’s ベルサイユのばら / Berusaiyu no bara, also known as Lady Oscar), a quote (published in various places, e.g. The Independent) which has been used against him by his critics.
  • Thursday: Christian Berger re-introduced the almost forgotten conceptual artist Douglas Huebler (1924-1997). Many of his works consist of photographs accompanied by writing (or vice versa?). Compared to other conceptualists, the form in which he presents his images and texts is much more important and might even be considered as the artwork itself, not merely a documentation of some photography performance as the ‘actual’ work. Location Piece #5, for instance, is a series of ten pictures of patches of snow next to a highway, taken on a road trip in specific distances, as the text explains. Talk about juxtaposed images in deliberate sequence again.
  • Friday: Helmut Leder and Raphael Rosenberg presented results of someone else’s study which tracked eye movements of people from Austria and Japan who where looking at a digital reproduction of the same painting. The paths of the eye movements and the areas on which they focused were similar within the group of Austrian participants on the one hand and within the group of Japanese participants on the other hand, but there were notable differences between the Austrian and the Japanese average. For Rosenberg, this proves the cultural influence on perceptual physiology.
  • Saturday: On the last day of the conference, several field trips were offered. I joined the one to Tadao Andō‘s sculpture museum in Bad Münster am Stein. It consists mainly of Andō’s signature concrete blocks with their characteristic hole pattern, but the building is unusual for him in that it combines an old, relocated half-timbered barn with the new concrete parts. The guide at the museum suggested the concrete blocks were modeled after tatami mats, which might be true for their measurements (90×180cm), but the pattern in which they are arranged in the museum walls differs from traditional Japanese tatami floor layouts.

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.