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7 posts from February 2008

February 29, 2008


Yay! Thanks, PW BOOKSHELF:

'Little Vampire' Rises Again
By John Sellers, Children's Bookshelf -- Publishers Weekly, 2/28/2008


February 25, 2008


[From the studio of Mike Cavallaro]


I’ve worked off and on at my own desk or at various studios here in NYC for almost 15 years, but this past spring I took a slightly different step. I rented a separate workspace with five other artists and moved my old art table in, along with a pile of the usual art-making stuff.

The goal was to get out of our cramped apartment workspaces and get in with other people passionate about doing comics. With Dean, Tim, Leland, Joan, and Simon, I was lucky enough to fall in with just that crowd.

We dubbed the place Deep Six Studio. It’s on the second floor of an old commercial loft building on the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, right underneath the F/G train trestle. So, appropriately, it looks like the establishing shot of an Eisner comic.


Making comics is a curious endeavor. There are other jobs like it, but then only to a degree. You’ve got this work you need to generate, and you’ve got a deadline, but you’re pretty much on your own until then. It’s easy to fall off, meander, doodle, check email obsessively, etc., etc. No matter how much you love what you’re doing, there are many pitfalls, and it’s easy to not get things done.

The studio makes falling off somewhat difficult. Checking your email is likely to produce a sarcastic, “how’s that page comin’?” from across the room. Obsessively over-noodling will cause a roomful of verbal whips to crack. For as much goofing around that goes on there, you’re still more likely to get work done than you are to doze off (Dean’s music insures against the latter, anyway).


I’m at Deep Six almost every day. Everyone’s schedules are different, so you never know who else will be there. Since this often leaves us with at least one open desk, we’re fond of having guest artists over for a day of drawing. Sometimes they’re locals who need a break from working at home. Sometime they’re from out of state or out of the country, a friend of a friend, in town on business or whatever. It’s really exciting to have someone new in for a day, and even better if they play ping-pong on the table down the hall, and even better still if I win.

I was a storyboard artist for many years, and in that profession you learn to draw fast, throw it out, and do it again. At Deep Six, having five sets of eyes on your work forces you to look at what you’re doing more critically than if you’re sitting alone in your room doodling. It’s really hard sometimes to see your own work from the perspective of another person, but in the past few months I’ve learned to trust the instincts of the other artists at the studio and to seriously consider their advice and criticisms as they relate to whatever I happen to have on my drawing table at that moment. Sometimes, as in storyboarding, this means scrapping an entire page and starting over. As a result, my drawing and narrative skills have improved in leaps and bounds in just a few months.

People talk about how making comics is this insular thing, but it doesn’t have to be. Things get insular and monotonous when you’re doing the same thing all the time. You lose that feeling you had when you were just starting out and it was ALL new. But watching Tim draw something beautiful with a sharpened stick ( no, really ), or seeing how Simon assembles one of his futuristic cityscapes, or how Dean expertly paces a sequence, serves to remind you that it hasn’t all been done before, and that your imagination’s the limit in how far you can continue to grow and learn as an artist.


I’m well into the work on my First Second graphic novel, and so far it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s totally a product of the environment at Deep Six, where the general community vibe and level of expertise has helped push my work forward in all respects.

Most studios I’ve been involved with have lasted a few years, and then sort of dissolved in one way or another. Right now Deep Six is going strong. I don’t know what the future holds for it, but I hope it continues. I’m having the time of my life, and living a sort of dream I’ve had since the idea of drawing comics professionally occurred to me somewhere back in highschool. I get up, I walk to the studio, and I draw all day. I get to see everyone else’s projects develop at pace with my own. I know I’m in one of those periods I’ll look back on fondly. The desire is to want to stop time and stay here, like being a teenager forever. Of course that’s not possible (maybe not wise either), but I do hope it lasts a while longer.


So here’s to working with other people and doing something you love, opening up our creative processes to the artists down here in the panel gutters with us, and hoping that collectively we can all push our own work and the art form forward in some way. Salúte!


February 18, 2008

In the Studio

[From the studio of Teddy Kristiansen]

My name is Teddy Kristiansen and I am a readaholic.

I read a lot . . . a lot a lot.

Almost any genre, and always with a hungry appetite for more. Biographies, fiction, short stories, essays and so on and so on. . . .

I love reading about the process of creating (writing, drawing, painting, playing etc.)

And about where this process takes place.

Most people will talk about their studio place or the office they go to every morning, to isolate themselves from all and everything.

This makes me think of my own space.


I prefer to have all the stuff I call home around me (books . . . and books and food) and feel most comfortable in these surroundings.

I have done work sitting in other places (studios) and done just fine, but I do feel more contend and complete in these surroundings . . . home.

My “studio” consists of this:

The tiniest work table, where most of the tabletop is taken up by my computer (imac 24).

This leaves me a cramped space to do my painting and my drawing . . . papers and books in stacks, fighting me every day, trying to take over what’s left of the tabletop.

But I fight back and win back my small space, inch by inch, so I can continue with the work I am doing.

I used to do all my transfers of my rough sketches to the paper I paint on, using a light table, but many years ago, I began to use the window instead.

My old work desk was big but I found out that I actually used most of the table to store book stacks, while actually using a workspace the same size I have today on my small desk.

So my workspace is getting smaller every year, and, I take it, I will end up with a workspace the size of a matchbox.


These days the fight is taken up with GENIUS, a book I am doing with my old pal, Mr. Steve Seagle, which should see the light in 2009.

Now on with the fight!

Which makes me wonder . . . what does YOUR work desk look like?





(more from Teddy Kristiansen at http://teddykristiansenblog.blogspot.com)


February 13, 2008

Three Shadows in NYMag

First Second is publishing Cyril Pedrosa's Three Shadows this April.


Three Shadows (which was recently recognized at Angouleme with one of the prix essentiels) is the story of a father who won't accept his son's mortality.  NYMag is running an excerpt this week. 


Angoulême journal entry

Adding to Gene Yang's entry about the Comics Festival in Angoulême, here's  a ragged little scan from my journal, of a moment shared with Gene and Moebius...


February 11, 2008


[From the Drawing Board of Gene Yang]


I got back from Angoulême two weeks ago and my brain is still reeling from the experience. For those of you who don’t know, the name “Angoulême” refers to two things:

    1. A small town in France, about two hours’ train-ride south of Paris

    2. The Western world’s largest comic book festival (or “convention,” as we call ‘em here in the States) which takes place annually in that town

Dargaud, the French publisher of American Born Chinese, invited me across the pond as their guest, and I got to spend four days rubbing elbows with many of the most brilliant cartoonists in the world. Graphic novels from practically every comics-reading culture were on display.

On my first afternoon there, I sat down at my publisher’s booth to do a signing. I started off signing books just like I do in America: the reader’s name in all caps, a happy little message, my loopy signature, and a quick doodle of the Monkey King’s head to prove I’m the guy who did the book. About five books in, I began noticing that the readers were all walking away with frowns. Had I spelled their names wrong? Did I smudge the drawing with my hand? Was it a French custom that I wasn’t familiar with, frowning at the sight of a newly signed book?

Then I took a good look at what the French cartoonists around me were doing. The one on my right was crosshatching a carefully rendered fight scene on a jacket flap, while the one on my left was finishing up a watercolor portrait of her protagonist on the bottom half of a title page. I realized my little monkey heads just weren’t cutting it. French comic book readers expect sketches that are works of art rather than just sketches, and French creators are more than willing to oblige. In an hour, a cartoonist would sign maybe eight books tops, and everyone was happy about it. The readers didn’t complain about the wait, and the cartoonists didn’t complain about cramped drawing hands. I had to step up my game.

The elaborate sketches were indicative of a general atmosphere that pervaded the entire show. The emphasis of Angoulême wasn’t on autograph collections or limited edition toys or blockbuster movies or skimpy costumes. The emphasis was on the art of comics. Everything else took a backseat, and everyone understood this. Displays of original comic book art adorned the halls, just as they do at American conventions, only in Angoulême these displays weren’t afterthoughts -- they were the main attractions.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love the zaniness of American comic book conventions. I love watching Jack from Jack-in-the-Box and the King from Burger King engage in a light saber duel before a rapt audience of classic Nintendo characters. I love hearing Klingons shout Klingon jokes to other Klingons, and then laugh hearty Klingon laughs. I even love bumping into overweight Optimus Prime as we both search for those elusive issues of The Warriors of Plasm in an endless sea of dollar bins. But to be at a festival where comic books are seen -- not just by the professionals, but by pretty much everyone in attendance -- as an art form in every sense of the word “art”… this was as close to Hicksville (a geeky way of saying “comic book heaven”) as I’m ever going to get.

The draftsmanship of the French creators certainly reflected this attention to craft. I watched in amazement as fully-formed scenes spilled out from their pens without a single pencil sketch line to guide them. I met cartoonists who had mastered a half dozen media to tell stories in a half dozen genres. The panels that make up their graphic novels resemble small, carefully-composed paintings, with conscious thought evident behind every brush stroke and color. There is much that we Americans can learn from the French.

Of course, the reverse is also true. After all, Will Eisner and Charles Shultz were Americans.

And maybe that’s why I feel so lucky to be working in comics right now. The three major comics traditions of the world -- Japanese, French/Belgian, and American - are in the midst of a Great Cross-Pollination. More often than not, cartoonists today can trace their influences around the globe, to other cartoonists with whom they’d barely be able to sustain a verbal conversation. And yet, through this medium that combines the universal communication of pictures with the specific communication of words, we’ve found a profound way to share with one another.

It’s an exciting time to be in comics. As a friend remarked to me recently, it’s like being at the birth of rock-and-roll.


Angoulême the town


Angoulême the comic book festival


Me trying to step up my game


Lewis Trondheim, me, and Christophe Blain


February 04, 2008

Bridges of Translation: Adapting Graphic Novels for a New Audience

[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.


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!


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.


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 add, it's seasonally appropriate) translators – Edward Gauvin and Kathy Pulver.

In fact, those Asterix translations that I admired as a kid, amazed at how the English versions contained different puns but worked in the same witty way as René Goscinny's brilliant original, were also done by a team (Anthea Bell, the co-translator with Dereck Hockridge, has an interesting article on her experience with Asterix here).


(In French, a drunken Obelix said "Farpaitement!" in case you're wondering).

Bridging Cultures

Whether I'm working alone or with a colleague, I'm fascinated by how you have to adjust to a new cultural mindset if you want a story to work in the target language.  I had an interesting case on my hands when I was called in to fix the translation of an early story from the Sardine in Outer Space series.  Those zany and fast-paced adventures, part of First Second's offerings for kids, are full of rollicking fun, cheesy puns and good-natured warmth.  But the story that rang alarm bells in its initial translation didn't match that feeling.  In it, Sardine the plucky 9-year-old swashbuckler and her crew arrive on Planet Totocalcho, a planet inhabited by anthropomorphic dogs who speak with Italian accents, love good food and their mammas, and have a passion for a kind of soccer game.  The sense in French was that the story made a few gentle digs, with plenty of endearment, at a neighboring country whose quality of life, sense of family and passion for soccer (the Totocalcio is the Italian lottery based on the outcomes of soccer matches) are viewed positively in France, if not shared. But in the early version of the translation, the attempt to render an Italian accent was indistinguishable from a Hispanic accent, and the overall feeling became one of offensive mockery. Mixed with the image of dogs, it hit a raw nerve. So in the end I decided that the only way to make the story work was to move away from all the Italian/Latin puns and names and simply go to town on dog puns and references. I even had fun naming the advertising banners in the stadium where the climactic soccer game takes place: Starbarks Coffee, Dachshund & Dachshund, etc.

Interestingly, after having had to tamp down what could appear to be prejudice in that translation, I needed to play up prejudice in another one.

When I had the good fortune to translate into French Gene Yang's wonderfully profound American Born Chinese, I came up against the problem of how to portray the ordinary anti-Asian racism that is a key thread of the book, because it's fairly unknown in France. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not claiming that the French have any less talent for racism and prejudice than any other culture. It's just that Chinese immigration is very recent in France and hasn't given rise to the kind of stereotyping shown in the book. I had to rack my brains to find equivalents for the racist slurs in the scene below:

Alexis_image_5 Alexis_image_6

For the first kid's text balloon, I used the pun of "débridé", which means "unbridled" but has an echo of "bridé", the neutral term used to describe the curved eyelids of Asians.

And I had the second one say not "la chair de poule" (goose bumps, except they're chicken bumps to the French) but "la chair de canard laqué" (Peking roasted duck bumps). 

And when the character of Chin-Kee, a fusion of all infuriating anti-Chinese racist stereotypes, breaks into a spontaneous song-and-dance routine of the Ricky Martin song "She Bangs", I had to find an equivalent that would work in the French context.  I chose to adapt it by using "Alexandrie, Alexandra", by the 1970s French singer Claude François, because I felt it had a similar power to irritate by tying into each reader's many painful experiences of it in karaoke bars and at parties.


So it's never-ending, what you learn about different cultures through the experience of translating graphic novels, and accordingly I could go on and on with many more examples, but already I see your eyes glazing over and your hands reaching for a rope.… So I'll sign off and head back to my translations.


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