AWP2015: The Voyage of Graphic Literary Forms

The panel “The Voyage of Graphic Literary Forms” was moderated by Mercedes Gilliom and included Brian Evenson, Diana Arterian, Tom Kaczynski, and Erica Mena. (Information on all the writers, their presses, etc. can be found on Mercedes’ blog: Claire Translation.)

The panel centered around the idea of translation and the challenges of transforming work from one language, or one medium, to another.

Brian Evenson discussed his work translating Incidents in the Night from the French with his daughter Sarah. Incidents in the Night is a series of books (so far 2) that he referred to as “albums in a continuing series.” Later, he referenced this idea again as a way of explaining that tor the author and artist, David B., as well as for other French graphic artists, the organizing principle is not so much a narrative arc as serialization. Evenson discussed the unique challenges posed by “careful integration of text and image in a way that strengthens both.” As an example he discussed word bubbles and how fitting the text to the shape was one of the factors that affected word choice, the length of words, etc.

Diana Arterian discussed the publication of a book, Bindle, a collaboration between poet Elizabeth Frost and artist Diane Cornberg. The collaboration uses both words and artwork, so it presented distinct challenges in how best to transform this project into a book. Arterian wants to bring Fine Art to a literary audience, so her process was one of learning how to preserve the artwork while being able to publish a literary book.

Tom Kaczynski is an artist and the publisher of Uncivilized Books. He discussed the difficulty of publishing books that included multiple text styles, such as cursive and special effects. Figuring out how to represent these text styles added to the time it took to bring the book to print. He also discussed several other projects, including Iranian Metamorphosis, and his own book Beta-Testing the Apocalypse.

Erica Mena translates work from Spanish; her latest project is an apocalyptic science fiction text from the 1950s. She talked about the challenge of translating neoligisms from Spanish, including the title of her latest translation, which she wanted to translate as Eternonaut but will be published under the title Eternaut. Many of the challenges she faced were in securing the rights to the project.

Mercedes presented several questions to the panelists, engaging them in conversations about the most troubling aspects of translation.

Brian Evenson explained that working with people who know less English than they think they do is challenging because they sometimes insist on translations that are not exactly right. The best case, he said, was to work with those who knew no English. Evenson also said that the French texts tend to be wordier than English. Tom K. said that in one case he had to ask Brian to write a longer translation of the French so that it would fill the word bubble.

Erica Mena explained that she found Eternaut via luck. She was translating a poem that was an allusion to the text Ethernaut, so she found it and read it in Spanish. She wondered why it had not yet been translated. Because of her connections at the University of Iowa she was able to get in contact with the heirs. She felt that this was the right time for the project and now it will find the right audience. Now, she says, it can reach the audience it deserves, a literary audience as well as those interested in graphic texts, and those interested in science fiction.

Tom K. discussed how at this cultural moment the comics’ market is moving away from the super hero paradigm and there is amazing work being done.

Diana talked about the compromises she had to make in bringing Bindle to the market. She had to choose a trim size that would make the book marketable, also choose paper that would be affordable, but still look good with reproduced artwork. The artist, she said, did a great job in preparing the artwork for the book. For example, the artist included a shadow in reproductions of the art to give to make it feel “like you are holding an object.”

All the panelists stressed the importance of sending graphic projects to multiple publishers. They also discussed publishers who like graphic work, and translation projects, including Drunken Boat, Pen America’s new project with comics, and presses run by the panelists.

Lynn Kilpatrick’s non-fiction has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, and Ninth Letter. Her first book of fiction, In the House, was published by FC2. She teaches at Salt Lake Community College. 

Visit Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies to browse our recent issues (Fall 2014 and Spring 2015), explore our classroom resources, and to subscribe to the journal (it’s free!).

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