Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tuscan History Week

People who've read this story will instantly know what I'm talking about; those who haven't, won't.  This may come to be known as my crowning folly, but for better or worse, here it is.  I've been so close to this damn thing for so long that I am very thankful to be getting it out there, thus exorcising it from my system.

It's my latest translation project.  It is this, a story known as "Messer Papero," though I have given it a rather more verbose title:


(I will reluctantly permit you to call it "Master McDucato" for short.)

It is seven chapters and one hundred ninety pages.  It is a picaresque story about Tuscan* history.  I really don't know anything about its background, but I would be sort of surprised if it wasn't commissioned by some sort of tourism ministry.  That might sound somewhat eccentric, but it doesn't even come close to adequately conveying just how baffling this monster can be.  When I did my version of "Dr. Faustus," I commented that, given some of the content, it would be very surprising indeed if it ever received an official localization.  Well, you ain't seen nothin' yet.  Apart from one bit in a later chapter, there isn't much here that anyone would likely find objectionable per se, but good lord.  Apart from certain infamous stories that promiscuously throw around racial slurs, I don't think there is anything less likely to be published in the US than this.  It's actually a source of some wonderment to me that this thing has ever been published anywhere outside Italy; it's just a testament to how crazy Europeans are about their duck comics, god bless 'em.  And if you haven't read it but think you understand why this would be, YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND WHY THIS WOULD BE.  But you will.  Oh yes.  You. Will. Learn.

*For a very long time, I thought of it as just being about Italian history in general, not having a good grasp of Italian geography (IT'S SHAPED LIKE A BOOT, DAMMIT! WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!?).  But it's not, and that's why the characters never go to Rome or Venice or any other well-known Italian cities outside of Tuscany.
---

 This book seems to include a fair bit of commentary by Alberto Becattini on the story, which I'm just itching to read--no doubt it would at least shed some light on certain aspects of the story.  If anyone reading this knows anything about its background, please do not be shy about filling me in.

"But wait," you say.  "I see from the inducks page that this has never been published in French.  Have you been secretly studying new languages, or what?  I demand an explanation!"  

Fair enough: explanation you shall have.  You may recall that earlier this year, I was enthusing about Giovan Battista Carpi.  Well, when I did this, some German fellow (whose pseudonym isn't hard to find or anything, but that I won't mention here in case he doesn't want it thrown about) commented that, yeah, Carpi's awesome, and if you like him, you've gotta read this "Messer Papero" story; it's totally rad.  Thus did I experience great frustration that it had never been published in a language I knew.

Then, hey, this guy said, I have an idea: why don't I send you scripts for the story and then you can render them into more idiomatic English and then I'll insert them back into it.  That sounds great, I said, but also like an inhuman amount of work for you.  Are you sure?  I asked things to this effect more than once, but he assured me that he was used to this; it was no problem.  So…well, he sent me scripts for the first three chapters, and I rewrote them.  He also sent me preliminary versions of the first two with scripts inserted, and man oh man, did they ever look great.  They still needed some editing, but the quality was real professional-caliber.  Had the story by some bizarre turn of events been officially localized, you would've expected it to look more or less like this did.

So everything seemed to be going great, and…then he abruptly dropped completely out of sight and wouldn't answer my emails (there is a certain congruence with my sorry excuse for a love life here).  There are any number of possible reasons for this; not much use in speculating.  So, there I was.  I had a complete set of scans of the story in German that he had sent me, but I don't read German, and even if I did, continuing this on my own just didn't seem like a tenable prospect.  I simply lack that level of technical skill.

So, I just kind of forgot about it, although this project DID no doubt provide at least part of the impetus for my "Dr. Faustus" translation.  After I was done with Faustus, I was casting around for another project to work on, and this "Papero" thing reemerged.  Dammit, thought I, I thought my script was pretty good; it's a shame for all this work to go to waste (it's also a shame for my erstwhile collaborator's work to go to waste, but nothin' I can do about that).  Well, further thought I, how about pure machine translation?  Will that be good enough that I can understand what's going on?  The technology HAS advanced in leaps and bounds, after all.  

So…I typed every goddamn line of text in chapters four through seven into google translate.  And yes!  It DID work quite well!  Sure, there were some mangled bits, but fewer than I had feared, and it was always possible to figure everything out from context (I suspect this technique would not be as effective in translating Hegel).  I had to start over from the beginning with the insertion process; obviously, I couldn't use any of the work that had already been done--so you're stuck with my amateur-hour stuff.  Them's the breaks!  However, even if this other fellow's presence is not explicitly felt, without him, there's no way that this project ever would have come to fruition, so I want to thank him, and also say, hey, if you're reading this, feel free to start commenting again.  We don't hold grudges hereabouts.

"Enough of this self-indulgent babbling," I hear you growl.  "What about the story itself?  Is it any GOOD?"  Hmm.  Well, it used to be towards the bottom of the inducks top 100; as of this writing, it's dropped to number one oh nine, but that is still nothing to sneeze at, and puts it in the very top tier of stories as chosen by inducks voters.  I don't know, though.  Don't get me wrong; if I hated the story, I wouldn't have done all this work, but I frequently find it, let's say, exasperating, for reasons that I will duly enumerate in the coming week (also, Carpi's art, while recognizably Carpi, is nonetheless a bit underwhelming, though it has its moments). 

I think there's an extent to which the story transcends our notions of "good" and "bad," and if that sounds to you like a huge cop-out…well, I won't argue with you.  I would not blame you one bit if you end up hating this story a lot, but if you do, you'll hate it for different reasons than you've hated any other Disney story you've read.  That's gotta be worth something, right?  I do think the guy who introduced me to it rather seriously over-sold it to me; I would, again, be extremely interested to hear from anyone who read it in one of its official printings and rates it really highly.  What's your perspective?

I followed basically the same translation philosophy I did with "Faustus;" my hope is that even if you don't like the story itself, my script can still provide some degree of amusement.  Rest assured, I did not excise any of the history; that's the whole point of the story.  It may be, however, that I do get a mite sarcastic at times, because seriously, sometimes there's just no other way to react to this stuff.  You will note--well, maybe you won't, but I'll certainly point it out to you--that there are more than a few chronological discontinuities and outright historical mistakes here.  Some of these I could have "fixed" in translation, but I elected not to, because I'm not wholly convinced that they aren't intentional, and even if they're not, I feel they add a certain je ne sais quoi to the proceedings.

You'll also notice that the printing/coloring quality isn't the best.  Hey, what can you do, I assume this printing was in a cheap digest.  I actually did a little bit of cleaning up here; to the extent that the margins and speech bubbles aren't littered with random blobs of ink, you can thank me.

Anyway, it's going to work like this: starting today, I'm going to release a chapter of my translation every day for the next week.  Starting tomorrow, I'm going to write a blog entry about one entry 'til I get to the end.  That way, anyone who wants to has the chance to read the chapter in question in advance so as to follow along with the entry.  It'll be fun, dammit!

Here's Chapter One.  I should note that even by the eccentric standards of this story, the first chapter is pretty…slow.  Not a huge amount going on.  There will, I promise, be at least somewhat more incident in later installments, though I could not say whether you will find it to be sufficient, or of the right sort.


Chapter I->

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8 Comments:

Blogger Chuck Munson said...

Wow, this is both fascinating and great - and the so-called "self-indulgent" bits about how this all came to pass were, for me, as interesting as the story may prove to be (haven't continued yet). I was about to offer to be a source for semi-fluent German translations when I read your passage regarding the proficiency of the online translations, which do appear to be improving with time. I commend your efforts, hoping that this does not run afoul of a certain large entertainment company who does not seem to care one whit whether fans in one part of the globe get to experience product not sold/offered in another if monetary advantage of a certain level is not achievable.

Take care and I shall be reading on!

October 6, 2012 at 3:08 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Thanks, and thanks for your hypothetical offer of help--I was actually thinking of putting a request out there, but the ego-maniac in me was all like "no! grrr! must do entire thing by self!" Hope you like the series, or at any rate find it interesting.

October 6, 2012 at 5:45 PM  
Anonymous TlatoSMD said...

I'm so, so terribly sorry Geox! To make a long story short, by the time I disappeared from your sight I had been procrastinating about a tiny change you'd demanded in chapter I for two or three weeks, when I was suddenly getting evicted from my place on short notice, which eventually ended up with all my stuff being dispersed over lotsa places, including my computer and all my hard drives, and with me tied up in lotsa legalese red tape to find a new place and get settled in.

And by the time the dust settled after a few months and I'd gotten access to my stuff back, I was feeling so ashamed for having let you down on this that it's taken me until this very night to even just have another look at your invaluable blog (all this time fearing I'd find you being mighty pissed off at me, and reading your reviews of each chapter before I read your introduction here, it felt at first like you were panning the story exactly because of that) because I've been googling for Carpi scans to show them to somebody who's never heard of him.

Now, having read your reviews of the individual chapters in the story, I see you mightily dislike the script by Martina, and you or somebody else has speculated the reason for its high INDUCKS rating would only be because of many Italian members and because of the story being about how great Italy is and so on.

Don't you remember I told you even before we started our project that I've always cared more for the visual aspect of Disney stories, rather than the writing? Also keep in mind that these are stories meant for kids, and I've been treasuring this story as much as I did reading it when I was 5, for its visual splendor and historical references (yes, yes, I agree that in places, they coulda pulled it off better by *SHOWING* rather than just telling us, and having read your reviews, I agree it shoulda seen a few more revisions already in the design stage for that, but still...).

I can also see how somebody having grown up especially on an American Scrooge will hate Martina's dickish and even assholish Scrooge. But you see, we continentals have grown up with him for decades and see nothing weird about him. There are some Barksist purists who think of the Italian comics as trash for that very thing, but they're a small minority among continental Donaldists.

February 1, 2014 at 10:26 PM  
Anonymous TlatoSMD said...

I'm so, so terribly sorry Geox! To make a long story short, by the time I disappeared from your sight I had been procrastinating about a tiny change you'd demanded in chapter I for two or three weeks, when I was suddenly getting evicted from my place on short notice, which eventually ended up with all my stuff being dispersed over lotsa places, including my computer and all my hard drives, and with me tied up in lotsa legalese red tape to find a new place and get settled in.

And by the time the dust settled after a few months and I'd gotten access to my stuff back, I was feeling so ashamed for having let you down on this that it's taken me until this very night to even just have another look at your invaluable blog (all this time fearing I'd find you being mighty pissed off at me, and reading your reviews of each chapter before I read your introduction here, it felt at first like you were panning the story exactly because of that) because I've been googling for Carpi scans to show them to somebody who's never heard of him.

Now, having read your reviews of the individual chapters in the story, I see you mightily dislike the script by Martina, and you or somebody else has speculated the reason for its high INDUCKS rating would only be because of many Italian members and because of the story being about how great Italy is and so on.

Don't you remember I told you even before we started our project that I've always cared more for the visual aspect of Disney stories, rather than the writing? Also keep in mind that these are stories meant for kids, and I've been treasuring this story as much as I did reading it when I was 5, for its visual splendor and historical references (yes, yes, I agree that in places, they coulda pulled it off better by *SHOWING* rather than just telling us, and having read your reviews, I agree it shoulda seen a few more revisions already in the design stage for that, but still...).

I can also see how somebody having grown up especially on an American Scrooge will hate Martina's dickish and even assholish Scrooge. But you see, we continentals have grown up with him for decades and see nothing weird about him. There are some Barksist purists who think of the Italian comics as trash for that very thing, but they're a small minority among continental Donaldists.

February 1, 2014 at 10:26 PM  
Anonymous TlatoSMD said...

And there's yet another, now major difference between American and Italian Disney narratives which I think has caused a grave misunderstanding here. Italian Duck stories never were too strong on the logic part or necessarily consistent about historical facts. They're more like fairy tales, or, as you've correctly assumed in your last review, like dreams taking a few known characters and events, totally mixing them up at random and throwing them upon our well-known Duckburg and Mouseton residents. Prior to the 1990s "Once upon a time in America" series, "Messere Ducato" was even something like a highpoint on more-or-less accurate, but creatively jigsawed historical references when it comes to Italian Disney comics (they even used the correct names of famous people! which is rare enough), and combined with the epic narrative and the amazing Carpi visuals, many, many German Duck fans also love this series, considering it the Italian Disney equivalent to Medieval and Renaissance literature.

After all, what matters with the Italian spirit of doing Disney comics is not logic. The strong points of the Italians are, first and foremost, slapstick, and then, as you've correctly began sensing over the course of your reviews for "Messere Ducato", the better artists know how to create an immensely immersive sense of mood and atmosphere by mere visuals that at their very best (particularly with Carpi and Cavazzano) may even, especially due to panel and page compositions, evoke a sense of poetry and poetic beauty.

In short, if you're liking the Italians even into your adult years, you're not in it for the logic, you're in it for the trip, for the quick emotional pay-off and funny relief, the lush, immersive visuals, in a typical mindset which can have a pretty short attention span and go on seemingly needless errants just as long as they look funny or pretty or whimsical. Call it an infantile or a psychedelic mind, it's what the Italians do so well and it's what separates their Disney comics so much from American Disney comics and those from elsewhere in Europe.

All this, taken to the extreme for half a century, has resulted in vastly different narrative conventions in our cozy little boot of a country isolated all around by high Alps and the Mediterrean Sea, than with American and even Northern-European Disney comics, almost as radically different as Asian mangas are from Western comics (but you and me are immensely lucky that at least Italians share our Western script direction from left to right, which is fundamental for image composition!).

And it doesn't end with characterization there. Italian Duck stories are like the complete antithesis to Rosa's hyperrealistic stories constructed with stoic logic, accurate physical science, and accurate historical facts. If you only compare Rosa to Barks, Barks may be more "fairy-tailish", but even Barks is utterly logic and coherent compared to the Italians. Over the decades, thousands of colorful supporting characters have come from Italy, some to come and go within a few panels, some to have stuck around for years, and sometimes they suddenly pop up again without any notice or much of an explanation after a short stint decades ago (though usually with Donald and/or the nephews shortly relating the events from the prior story). It's things like these, this wholly different philosophy and approach, why many little details in the "Messere Ducato" series will look as weird to you as mangas do to me, but I'll try to explain for each chapter separately.

February 1, 2014 at 10:27 PM  
Anonymous TlatoSMD said...

I don't complain that you've been playing with the wording a bit and even inserted some modern pop-cultural references. It's often a lot better than trying to stick to the literal words, and especially so with this story. First, it's in the alogical, creative, leaps-and-bounds, almost stream-of-consciousness Italian Disney style and spirit to begin with, and b.), the whole story is made up by a modern Donald and Scrooge, after all, so anything is possible when it comes to modern references.

And believe me, you'd get even more mangling than with Hegel if you'd try to Google Translate my favorite philosopher, Theodor W. Adorno! ;)

February 1, 2014 at 10:28 PM  
Blogger Regular GeoX said...

Hey, don't worry about it. We all have our ups and downs. I hope everything's worked out for you. I'm glad to see you've resurfaced. I'm not sure it's so much that I "disliked" the script as that I was completely BAFFLED by it. It's undeniable that I've had my differences with Mr. Martina, but if you look at some of my later writing on his work, including my more recent translations, you'll see that I also have some positive things to say about him.

Anyway, I look forward to whatever commentary you want to post. It's always insightful.

February 2, 2014 at 1:14 AM  
OpenID jill-rg said...

there's an extent to which the story transcends our notions of "good" and "bad"

Meaning "so bad, it's good"? Irresistibly intriguing despite unenjoyable? Well, you got me curious...

February 24, 2016 at 3:20 PM  

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