skip to content or skip to search form

beauty and faithfulness

Ooh, it’s another quick note on translation and comics! There’s a great preview of Hope Larson’s upcoming graphic novel Gray Horses at the Oni website, if you’re willing to click the images to get a good look. Young, French Noémie arrives in the pseudo-Chicago Onion City (with an appropriately Rutabaga Stories name, even) and considers her new environment as she moves through it.

Her thoughts are presented in French with an English translation, not something I think I’ve seen represented like this before. I love the organic flow of the words, more frames than subtitles as they snake in pairs around the images. I’m interested to see how this works through the rest of the book (though I’d be interested anyway) because I can read both languages and do feel myself reading more consciously because both are there. I can’t pay attention to just one because there’s an interplay between the two, nuances on each side.

As a personal aside, I don’t think I can still speak French, come up with sentences on my own, but I can read it pretty fluently and I don’t exactly translate as I read, just understand. I remember asking my Greek professor during the semester I was taking Latin, Greek and French (and one day a week all three back-to-back, which left me unable to understand any language by the end of the last class) whether if I kept with the classical languages I’d ever be able to lie in the bathtub and just read the way I did with my French, and he doubted it. But I also do (I should probably use a past tense verb here, actually) better with Greek and Latin if I read the sentences aloud or at least subvocalized them before translating, which doesn’t seem as necessary with French. The other languages I’ve studied have been with a focus on speaking rather than reading, and I never had any true fluency there.

But back to Gray Horses, it’s fascinating that Larson has moved from the dialogue-free and nearly wordless Salamander Dream to what seems from the previews to be a less-than-wordy book but where what language it has is doubled. I’m interested to find out what the reading experience is like for those who don’t read French (Steven, a hint!) because they, too, will have an awareness that what they’re getting is translation but a different one, one where the “original” is inaccessible. I feel this way when reading manga, but my eyes gloss over the holdover Japanese letters in sound effects and so on. I’m not sure if it’s as easy when there are familiar or seemingly familiar words and letters as in this story.

But basically this post is just a beginning, a placeholder. Someday I’ll hunt down the author at a convention and ask what language came first (if any) and how the words grew out of that, but for now I get to wait to read what I’m even more convinced is going to be a fascinating book.