My first exposure to the world of Tintin – the famous cartoon reporter of Belgian author Hergé – was in French class at age 9. Tintin was an icon of Francophone culture, a hero of inquisitive young people and nostalgic adults alike. For the next five years, I associated him exclusively, and erroneously, with France, its language and its modern history. When I was 14, however, I traveled to the Basque Country with my father, and there I found something that fascinated me: Basque translations of Tintin. I bought copies of Flight 714 to Sydney and The Tournesol Affair, and thus began my multilingual Tintin collection.
Since my first acquisition, I have accumulated 14 more titles in 12 languages: French, Spanish, Catalan, Hungarian, Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Japanese, German, Scottish Gaelic and Welsh. Some are very common, while others are quite rare. My Arabic copy appears to be unauthorized. Others, such as the Spanish and French versions, are available in any major bookstore in Madrid or Paris.
Tintin is both the clichéd hero of childrens’ imaginations, and the unique product of the life and work of his creator, Hergé (the alias of Georges Prosper Remi). As Tom McCarthy’s work Tintin and the Secret of Literature wryly explores, behind the adventures of the young reporter, his dog Snowy, and a cast of buffoons, clowns and villains, lie Hergé’s hopes, anxieties and disappointments. Abandonment, latent homosexuality, frustrated grandeur and visions of success are all palpable in the otherwise trite shenanigans of an overly curious young man who travels to countries near and far, real and imagined.
Hergé’s work is characterized by idiomatic and pregnant language, and multiple versions of the same comic allow me to compare translation strategies in dealing with his expressive style. As many of these editions were produced without the author’s input, it is a fascinating study of whether the translator caught the author’s intention and, furthermore, whether she found it appropriate, or possible, to convey it in the target language. It is more than just Hergé’s neuroses, however, that need to be transferred. So too must Tintin’s, and Hergé’s, sordid pasts, replete with examples of colonialism, racism, misogyny and fascism. There is no escaping the blatant inferiority with which characters of colour are imbued in works such as Tintin in Congo or Tintin in Tibet. Nor can one ignore the stereotypes inherent in the greedy but stupid Rastapopoulos and the flighty, vapid Bianca Castafiore. How does one carry such concepts into languages and cultures in which they do not exist or, worse yet, against whose speakers or members they are directed? Does the act of translation then become one of subversion, or is it merely submission to the hegemonic discourse of the metropole? These issues are tackled in different ways in different environments, from Basques in San Sebastian to Egyptians in Cairo, and their strategies all come together in my modest collection of the perils and pleasures of a boy and his dog.