Cinebook began publishing English translations of Franco-Belgian bandes dessinee graphic novels in 2005 and, with well over 100 titles now available, have succeeded in bringing many characters familiar to European audiences to the English speaking world either for the first time with series such as Clifton and Orbital or with multiple releases of series that had previously only had a few books translated like Lucky Luke and Thorgal.
One of the series that falls into this second category is the spy/mystery series XIII from writer Jean Van Hamme and illustrator William Vance which had only previously had the first three of its nineteen albums translated by both CatCom and Marvel in the US. downthetubes' Jeremy Briggs talked to Cinebook publisher Olivier Cadic and XIII translator Jerome Saincantin about the series.
DTT: XIII began in issue 2408 of Spirou magazine in 1984 before being complied into the first album Le jour du soleil noir (The Day Of The Black Sun). When did you both first come across the series?
Jerome Saincantin: XIII was one of the few comics that my father wasn’t buying religiously back then, so my first contact must have been around 13 or 14, when I began going to the local library after school – mostly because I’d run out of new stuff at home! I remember liking it a lot for the “real world” feel it had, something I’d only found in Yoko Tsuno thus far. But XIII was a lot grittier than Yoko, or the other BDs I was used to – Asterix, Achille Talon, Lucky Luke or even Valerian. While I always enjoyed reading it when I could, for a long time it remained a series I’d catch up on at the library or through my friends. It’s a problem – you can’t buy everything!
Olivier Cadic: It was our readers who asked me to publish XIII. I’d never read it back then.
DTT: What do you think sets XIII apart from other spy or mystery series?
Jerome: Well, the obvious answer is its quality. The art is consistently fantastic and didn’t lose anything over the years; and Jean Van Hamme really IS a master storyteller – it’s not just a sales pitch! He can weave suspense, action, humour and a great deal of plot seamlessly into a single story, and there’ll be something for everyone and no one will feel left out – that’s an incredible talent, right there. Not to mention the plot is actually intelligent and consistent. There are many other spy/mystery series available, some of them quite brilliant; but I don’t think any of them have that broad an appeal. Plus, at least for me, it was the ORIGINAL spy/mystery series. The very first! Maybe older readers would have a different take, of course, but as far as I’m concerned, new series get compared to XIII. It’s the reference.
Olivier: The outstanding quality of Van Hamme’s storytelling, combined to Vance’s unique art style.
DTT: Was the fact that the first three albums had previously been published in English in the States an issue in deciding to publish XIII?
Olivier: We had published other series by Jean Van Hamme - such as Thorgal, Largo Winch and Lady S. At first, readers believed that, like all other publishers before, we’d give up quickly. But seeing that we were in fact successful, they began asking us, week after week, to publish XIII. They were very frustrated at having only the first three volumes available. That’s what convinced the French publisher and the authors to sell us the rights.
DTT: The first story arc runs through the first five XIII books. Are there similar story arcs throughout the rest of the series?
Olivier: Buy your XIII book every two months to get the answer. ;-)
DTT: Rather than pause at the end of each series story arc, the Cinebook plan for XIII then is to publish the nineteen books of the series at the rate of one every two months over the course of 3 years to be completed in, appropriately enough, 2013. The only other Cinebook series to get the same speedy releases is the very popular Lucky Luke. Was this ambitious schedule part of your original plan when you were looking to license the series for English publication?
Olivier (left): One visitor at the Bristol Comics Expo had told me: “Never try to publish XIII. It’s cursed. No publisher’s ever gone past volume three.” My answer had been: “If Cinebook publishes XIII, it’ll be blessed.” So, when we got the opportunity to negotiate for the rights, I decided to show both authors and readers that it was Cinebook’s calling to let them find each other. The readers had awaited the rest of the series for too long. We wanted to present all those who believed in Cinebook, and had been waiting to discover the entirety of XIII, with a gift. To do that, it was necessary to let them know when the end would be published—so they’d know for sure that we intended to go the distance. The authors loved my idea: everyone will know who XIII is in 2013!
DTT: Have you had any feed back from writer Jean Van Hamme or artist William Vance about the Cinebook versions?
Jerome: I haven’t met William Vance, though I hope I get the chance at some point. I did meet Jean Van Hamme at Angoulème this year. He’s a bit of a formidable character! The man is quite nice, but he also has a no-nonsense, I-have-paid-my-dues-and-will-not-take-any-crap attitude that discourages the lowly translator from asking outright if he’s happy with the work done! I was afraid I might get eaten, you know! Joking, of course. He’s not an ogre! It’s just that I’m still in the “I can’t believe I’m working in this field” phase and am easily intimidated by celebrities! As far as I know, he has made no complaints about our translating work – and he does speak English. So I’ll take this as an endorsement!
Olivier: Jean Van Hamme came to London for the launch of XIII by Cinebook. We’d organised the launch in a club at midnight. I’d told our distributor that, exceptionally, Big Ben would strike thirteen times. They believed me - and luckily enough, no one went and checked!
DTT: The work of a translator, like that of a letterer, is often taken for granted - a good translation passes unnoticed but a poor translation is very obvious. The translation of XIII is so natural that it feels as if it was originally written in English. Did you find the series easy to translate in comparison to other albums or books that you have worked on?
Jerome (right in white with Orbital artist Serge Pelle): It’s important to note, first, that I’m the PRIMARY translator for this series and several others – but that every translation job is team work. I translate; the first draft is looked over by a first person in the UK for easy mistakes, then corrected by a professional proofreader in the US. It goes back to me, and back and forth as needed until we’ve reached a consensus on everything. Then it’s re-read yet again by a couple of fans in the UK for a fresh look. I think that’s one of the reasons for Cinebook’s success – from the beginning, Olivier decided to do things properly, not half-baked. So, thank you very much indeed for the compliment! But I will accept it on behalf of the whole team, not just me!
Now, about the actual question here - XIII is indeed one of the easier series to translate. I’m naturally at ease with fluid, familiar register dialogue, especially in “American,” and years of reading Tom Clancy and Stephen Coonts novels have given me a passing familiarity with the worlds of military and intelligence. The most difficult sometimes was to stick to the age limit, especially in SPADS – snippets of Full Metal Jacket and Heartbreak Ridge kept pushing their way into the dialogue, stuff that made even me blush!
In comparison, some series are difficult, or bordering on the nightmarish. Long John Silver is an absolute joy, but requires extensive research into period speech and naval vocabulary; The Bellybuttons had me delve into whatever language teenagers find “hip” these days which wasn’t always easy. And of course, there’s our collective bogeyman: Blake and Mortimer… Whole slabs of very formal, very British, 50’s text… Sometimes, when I’m working on B&M, at night, I curl up and cry… :p
DTT: How far ahead of the publishing schedule are your translations and how long on average does it take you to translate a book?
Jerome: I’m currently working on the September/October batch, for example. So I’d say 3 or 4 months in advance. The publishing side of things isn’t my department, so mostly I translate when I’m told! Speed of translation varies widely, depending on my schedule, on how inspired I feel by the comic at the time, and of course on difficulty and research needed. On average, though, I’d say it takes about a week of actual work to produce a proper first draft, then maybe another week or two of back and forth for an almost-final version. Last typo-catching sessions can still take place a lot later. That’s for normal comics of course. Blake and Mortimer, now… *shudder*
DTT: Since Jerome is not credited as the translator in the Cinebook versions of the first three books, did the Cinebook versions use the previously published translations those three books?
Olivier: Erica worked from Catcom’s version.
Jerome: Yes; the texts were given to Erica, our American proofreader, first, to check the language; then I was asked to read them to make sure there wouldn’t be any conflicts with the following volumes – on choices of names, for example, or the meaning of acronyms (SPADS), etc…
DTT: XIII Book 1: The Day Of The Black Sun was available free with issue 5 of Comic Heroes magazine. How did this come about?
Olivier: They contacted us and came with this great idea. I love great ideas!
DTT: The original covers that the XIII albums were published with have been updated with new illustrations by William Vance and Cinebook are using the new versions. Was there an option to use either the old or new covers or does original publisher Dargaud prefer that all foreign editions standardise on the current French covers?
Olivier: We use most of the new covers. We were free to decide which one we preferred.
DTT: There are French live action TV series and films of many of the Cinebook titles including Largo Winch and Iznogoud while XIII was made into a mini-series XIII: The Conspiracy in 2008 starring Val Kilmer and Stephen Dorff and broadcast in the UK on channel Five. Have either of you seen it and is it any good?
Jerome: I must confess I haven’t watched it yet. Not out of doubt as to its quality, but because I don’t want to muddle my own (and by now, established) “sound” of what XIII is like with the movie’s take on it. I also have a backlog of DVDs to watch that’s bordering on the ridiculous!
Olivier: The Largo Winch movie is really great. The special effects are worthy of the effort, and our blue-jeans wearing hero was perfectly cast. The Iznogoud movie didn’t fare quite as well. It takes enormous talent to adapt Goscinny’s humour. But the fans can see their heroes ‘live’, and that’s always nice. I found the XIII mini series with Val Kilmer and Stephen Dorff really outstanding. I’m not surprised NBC decided to broadcast it twice, a year apart, in the USA.
DTT: The main XIII series concluded with the nineteenth book however there is a sister series entitled XIII Mysteries currently running to three books and a 20th main series title due later this year in France, all of which have been produced by different creative teams. Could you tell us a little about these and if Cinebook might consider translating them in the future?
Jerome: Well, as far as publishing it, I cannot tell. Regarding the spin-off XIII Mysteries, I haven’t looked at it yet. I’ve lived in Ireland for ten years, a country where finding comics – especially European BDs – is akin to looking for snow in the Serengeti. I’ve been back in France for a year, but the backlog of comics I missed, and sometimes didn’t even hear about, is quite extensive. I’ll get to it eventually! As for volume 20, I just heard about it, and I’m very much looking forward to it! Youri Jigounov is an excellent artist who should be a good successor to William Vance. And I want to know what’ll happen to XIII – he’s a bit of a personal friend by now!
Olivier: The XIII Mysteries series is a massive success and I found the books really great. There’s every chance we’ll include them in our schedule for 2014 onward.
DTT: Olivier and Jerome, thank-you both for your time.
Jerome: Thank you kindly.
Olivier: Thank you!
There are more details of the English language XIII titles at the Cinebook website.
There are more details of the original French language XIII titles at the official XIII website (in French).
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