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  • Apr 19, 2018
    The Angoulême International Comics Festival: Taiwanese Manga’s Gateway to the World
    By Nicolas Wu ∥ Translated by Canaan Morse

    Taiwan’s manga artists have always been a vibrantly creative community, and thanks to the wholehearted support of the Ministry of Culture in recent years, their international visibility has increased. For instance, Taiwan has been offered its own exhibit at the Angoulême International Comics Festival every year since 2012; two years after this began, I had the great pleasure of attending this festival and assisting our artists in the licensing of their work abroad.

    Now in its 45th year, the International Comics Festival has opened every year since 1974, drawing almost two hundred thousand comic book fans to a sleepy little mountain town in France and filling its streets and hotels during the last week of January. What distinguishes the Comics Festival from other book fairs is its de-centralized model: instead of grouping all participants together in a single venue, the exhibitions, activities, and lectures are held in small, temporary venues all around town, including the comics museum, courthouse, church, and municipal government offices. Comic book lovers are thereby invited to take in all the wonderful sights of Angoulême as they go from one event to another.

     

     

    Every year’s conference adopts a different theme, which is then developed into an aesthetic perspective. The 2018 theme was “A Market for Fun,” and adopted the multicolored patterning of a traditional shopping back in its visual makeup. The Taiwan pavilion’s interpretation of this theme drew constant attention from festival-goers. Beginning in 2015, Taiwan’s participating delegation has reserved not only a pavilion space but also a seat in the rights center, in order to promote the international sale of Taiwanese manga rights. My job since that time has been to occupy that seat during the three days the rights center is open and exhibit the best of Taiwanese manga to publishers from France, Italy, Spain, China, Korea and other countries.

     

    The Comics Festival has been a great opportunity for Taiwanese artists to make their mark internationally. Both the young artists Wei Chin and Arwen Huang were listed for the recent Prize for Young Talent (Prix Jeunes Talents), while Liu Chien-Fan became the first Taiwanese artist to win one of the Festival’s major awards when she captured a silver medal in the “Challenge Digital,” a tiered award for digital artists. In addition, more and more Taiwanese artists are finding opportunities through the Angoulême International Comics Festival to sell their work abroad. In recent years, comics by Sean Chuang, Crystal Kung, Chen Wen-Sheng, Chang-Sheng, Ruan Guang-Min, Mickeyman, Zuo Hsuan, and others have been sold to markets like France, Italy, Spain, Korea, and many more. These artists’ works are truly worthy of admiration.

     

    Selling Taiwanese rights abroad is significantly more challenging than marketing French rights to Taiwan or mainland China, of course, because it requires establishing new connections. In the past, our strongest international relationships were with rights managers, who generally operate on the “sell side” of the equation. Yet today I also seek the acquaintance of editors, who are potential buyers. Over the past few years, I have searched for ways to build effective, dependable channels of communication with foreign manga publishers, and on the way have learned much about their expectations for manga art from Taiwan. For instance, foreign publishers want work that is palpably different from Japanese and Korean manga, but not something so rooted in the Taiwanese domestic context that it becomes hard to understand. The most internationally popular Taiwanese manga publications in recent years share common qualities: they feature clear and complete plot structures, their themes carry a degree of universal significance, and their authors are unique and therefore easily recognizable.  Sean Chuang’s 80’s Diary in Taiwan, for instance, invoked common memories from French, Italian, and German publishers through its description of a child’s life in Taiwan. Mickeyman’s The Worst Trip To Europe captured the heart of a Spanish publisher, while French editors have been eager to wait for Chang-Sheng’s Oldman and Ruan Guang-Min’s The Corner Store.

     

     

    Of course, when we talk of selling Taiwanese manga rights, we can’t help but mention the incredibly successful sale of French rights to Rights of Returning in 2017. The work generated significant international attention among European publishers that year, and less than a month after the Festival closed, two French publishers entered a bidding war for the French language rights. In the end, the contest was won by Kana, an imprint of the largest publisher on the European continent. This marked a new high for Taiwanese manga as the first time that a mainstream European publisher would produce a Taiwanese work in translation. It was all far more than we dared to expect before the Festival that year.

     

    ↑ RITES OF RETURNING ↑

     

    In the end, successful exportation of rights abroad relies on the committed efforts of domestic publishers. Neither experience nor personal connections can be built overnight. The hardest part of every undertaking is its beginning, and it appears that sending people to Angoulême is a good place to start.

  • Apr 19, 2018
    “Taiwan’s Great, Just Too Low-Key”: Thai, Indonesian, and Singaporean Translators on the Dilemmas and Opportunities of Taiwanese Cultural Exportation
    By Amber Sheu ∥ Translated by Canaan Morse

    First published on October 30, 2017 by Openbook: 

    https://www.openbook.org.tw/article/p-844

     

    “How do we make Taiwan visible?” is an important question to many Taiwanese. During the Wordwave Festival this past October, a panel of Chinese-language translators from Singapore, Indonesia, and Thailand spoke from their experience as translators and cultural ambassadors about the issues and opportunities involved in the exportation of Taiwanese culture.

     

    If I hadn’t known previously that they had come from far away, I doubt I would have been able to tell immediately that the three guests weren’t themselves Taiwanese. Lee Yew Leong (Singapore), Chi Chi Bernardus (Indonesia), and Anurak Kitpaiboonthawee (Thailand) all speak such excellent Chinese, you have to listen hard to discern any semblance of an accent. Lee Yew Leong explained to us that Chinese is actually his mother tongue, one which he lost contact with after traveling to the United States at age sixteen to attend school. Anurak lived with his family in several countries including Taiwan while he was a child, learning much of his Chinese on the street, and beginning to translate and interpret as young as twelve or thirteen.

     

    Chi Chi Bernardus’s connection to Chinese is even more unique. After graduating from high school, she began her college experience in Bandung as a student of Russian. One day, however, she got an unexpected call from her father, who said that her strongly precognitive aunt had received a strong premonition that Chi Chi ought to study Chinese. Though Chi Chi found the circumstances puzzling, she listened to her father’s exhortations re-took the college entrance exam and entered the Chinese language department. Perhaps because of her love for Hong Kong martial arts movies, dubbed in Chinese and subtitled in Indonesian, she did continuously well, and eventually received a scholarship to study in Taiwan. As her relationship with Taiwan developed, she began to read Taiwanese literature, including novels like Chung Yao’s My Fair Princess. That story had just been adapted into a TV series, which gained significant popularity in Indonesia. An Indonesian publisher that wanted to translate the book established contact with Chi Chi, and the deal was done.

     

    Like Chi Chi and My Fair Princess, Lee Yew Leong and Anurak were also drawn to translation by a Taiwanese work. Recalling the time his friend sent him a copy of Hou Wen-Yong’s Stories of a Spoild Brat, Anurak says: “Because there was no one at home to receive the parcel, I had to take a bus to the post office to pick it up. I started reading it on the bus ride home, and some parts were so funny I couldn’t help laughing out loud. The wrapping was covered with stamps, and I was really moved to discover that the postage had cost more than the book itself.” Those were the days before highly developed e-commerce, when one had to travel all the way to Malaysia to buy Chinese-language books. Later, when he began introducing Taiwanese literature to local publishers, Hou Wen-Yong’s collection was among the first to spring to mind. “Ten years later, I still haven’t looked back,” he says with a laugh.

     

    Lee Yew Leong, who is the founding editor of the international literary journal Asymptote, fell in love with Taiwanese literature while studying in America. “A friend recommended several Taiwanese poets to me, and I began translating some of their work. One of those pieces, by Jing Xiang-Hai, became my first published translation.” Not only has Lee translated the work of several poets (including Jing and Chou Meng-Tieh) himself, he has also curated an issue of Asymptote featuring contemporary Taiwanese literature, thereby introducing the works of writers like Wu Heh, Chu Tien-Wen, Li Ang, and others to international audiences.

     

    Lee believes that Taiwan’s marginalization by political and economic forces have kept much of the world from seeing the value of Taiwanese literature. “An American student of Chinese would probably look to translate literature from mainland China, since curiosity about China still runs strong, and American publishers are willing to pay for Booker long-listed authors like Han Han or Yan Lianke. Always a true advocate for Taiwanese literature, Lee states: “Why do I step to the plate for Taiwanese literature? Because so many people are paying attention to China….But if it’s quality literature they’re looking for, they ought to turn their attention to Taiwan.”

     

    Meanwhile Anurak, founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Taiwan-specializing publisher Mangmoom Book, honestly states: “The fact is that the Thai don’t clearly understand Taiwan.” Members of foreign communities frequently have a hard time differentiating between different Sinophone communities, like China, Taiwan, or Hong Kong. Though Anurak has done quite well with his published translations of books by Wan Wan and Jimmy Liao, his readers frequently mistake them for Japanese titles. This combined with readers’ hazy understanding of Taiwan has led him to soft-pedal the works’ national background, relying instead on author name recognition and content as selling points.

     

    Anurak summarizes many years of experience in a single observation: “Taiwan is amazing, but Taiwan is also very low-key.” He agrees with Lee Yew Leong that Taiwan’s “low-key” image has a lot to do with its political situation, which keeps many truly valuable aspects of the nation’s culture from being exhibited abroad.

     

    By Chi Chi’s account, the situation in Indonesia is not all that different. “If you ask the average man on the street what his impression is of Taiwan, he’ll probably say ‘business,’ or ‘computers.’ But he won’t have seen much Taiwanese culture, literature, or fine art, and that’s truly a shame.” Chi Chi laments that there are so many excellent Taiwanese movies, works of art, and literary titles that one has to come to Taiwan to find, and both Anurak and Lee Yew Leong agree. Yew Leong emphasizes that individual and popular support for this project is nowhere near enough, and continued and greater support needed to come from the government.

     

    “Books are a rich, complex record. A single piece of dialogue might depict whole cultural transformations across eras, including every aspect of human lifestyles.” Anurak believes that books as media platforms can provide a clear and nuanced answer to the question, “What is Taiwan?” He points to the book The Hospital, a book that captures scenes from every side of Taiwanese life, inspiring in its many fans a desire to visit the island and connect on a deeper level with the images they first found in the text.

     

    Taiwan’s unique historical background fostered a rich national personality, which expresses itself in a tremendous linguistic diversity in its national literature. This complex of differences stands out as forbidding but beautiful in the eye of the translator. Questions about Hokkien, Hakka, and indigenous dialects, along with the classical poetry of Chung Yao and the classical prose of martial arts novels, and even the street slang of Taiwan’s young people bring wry smiles to the panelists’ faces. Most linguistic questions can be answered through search engines or by asking Taiwanese acquaintances, but what about highly contextual political or historical vocabulary? Chi Chi Bernardus offers Sun Hsin-Yu’s Rice Wine Pudding as an example. “When the book says that a group of ‘immigrants’ came to Taiwan between 1949 and 1965, the translator has to consider the perspective and opinions implied by that word choice.” The translator has to rely on her understanding of Taiwanese history, politics, and culture, as well as the habitual standpoints of native Taiwanese readers, as she selects her own perspective from which to translate that word.

     

    Translation is certainly no easy task; even lines of black-and-white text often hide seemingly insoluble problems within. For our panelists, it is a bittersweet task – made bitter through their lonely battle with words and language, sweetened by the opportunity to lose themselves in the literature they love. Learning Chinese allowed them to make contact with Taiwanese literature; their love for that literature allows them to introduce it to the world through translation, and thereby share their answer to “What is Taiwan?” with the rest of the world.

  • Jan 14, 2018
    The Agent’s Battle, the Translator’s Cultivation: Notes on “Secrets of Chinese-to-English Translation: The Arts of Translation and Editing”
    by Chen Yu-Haw ∥ Translated by Canaan Morse

    First published on November 30, 2017 by Readmoo News

    https://news.readmoo.com/2017/11/30/171130-books-from-taiwan-01/

    Once more, the annual Taipei Rights Workshop convened in our capital city. Its introductory event, held at the Yueyue Bookstore, was a lecture and discussion on the translation and sale of Chinese works of literature abroad. Interestingly, both non-Chinese guest speakers (one from Germany, the other from America) discussed their passion for the poetic charm and beauty of Chinese literature in fluent, Beijing-accented Chinese.

     

    From Discovery to Cooperation: The Agent’s Art of the Deal

    “My Chinese is not…particularly good,” stated Lena Petzke, her words chosen with humility and care. Lena came from Germany to China with an undergraduate background in Chinese to get a Master’s degree at Renmin University; she is now an acquisitions editor for Penguin-Random House North Asia, in charge of English translations of Chinese titles.

     

    Having already published the translated works of literary heavyweights like Mo Yan, Bi Feiyu, and Ge Fei, Lena’s primary responsibility is acquisition and rights negotiation: “From title selection, to purchasing rights, to sourcing translation and editing…all the way to critical aspects of communication and manuscript editing.” Lena’s description of her work begins with the search for Chinese titles that might make waves on foreign markets, or that bear canonical literary merit. Yet in her view, the most difficult aspect of selling Chinese literature in translation may very well be achieving proper communication between author, publisher, editor, and translator.

    “[We consider] differences in sentence structure and meaning, along with whether or not to add explanatory text to the translation, and the accuracy of the style….” Simply translating a Chinese novel back to front, sentence-for-sentence will not necessarily make it saleable. The translator may create new orders from language the author wishes to preserve, the source publisher may not agree to small details on the contract, or any number of other situations may arise that require Lena to move repeatedly between author, translator, and editor as a negotiator, like the famed wandering advisors of the Warring States period, who traveled between many royal courts to explain, interpret, and persuade into cooperation.

     

    The Translator’s Challenge: Always the Poetry That Disappears

    According to Lena, the most ubiquitous problem one faces in the course of translation involves communicating the meaning of the source text in language intelligible to an English reader; style, plot, and logic must all be clear. The second speaker, Canaan Morse (translator, editor, and poet, and also English editor-in-chief of Books from Taiwan) also admits that the most basic yet most essential task of translation is exposing readers in the target language to the linguistic context of the original.

    Canaan notes that writing itself is an act of translation, as the author expresses non-lingual ideas and images on the page through writing. Therefore, a secondary transformation of those ideas through translation requires the translator to focus not on re-constructing information but on received context. “A good translation is a text with a shadow; a good translator stands next to and not in front of the author.” Thus the translator is a “servant of two masters,” standing between author and reader, doing her best to understand the needs and intentions of both.

     

    Meanwhile, “the translator has the final word on his own draft.” Canaan explains that “when I find an ambiguity in the draft, I check it against the source text, but I always allow the translator the last word.” His words exemplify his own professional ethics: maintain loyalty to the source text. Even when employing an artist’s creativity to the crafting of the translation, one does not try to overcome or pass the source text, but allows it to say what it has to say.

    Translation’s Final Objective: Expanding the Reader’s Imagination

     

    “Only through translation can we transmit global cultural and artistic knowledge across borders.” Canaan believes that by daring to step beyond a linguistic comfort zone, the literary translator assumes responsibility for cultural development and transmission. Lena expresses a similar passion for her own work, noting: “Crafting books that will expand Western readers’ understanding of Asia is truly a worthwhile endeavor.”

     

    During the discussion section, an audience member asks whether a translator’s experiences living in the homeland of the source language will affect his translation. Both speakers strongly confirmed that this was the case, with Canaan adding: “We’re currently translating the Taiwanese collection A Ga, and if the translator doesn’t understand Taiwanese culture, or can’t understand Hokkien, there’s no way you can bring that flavor out.”

    One of the most popular questions was: among the tens of thousands published every year, how does a particular book get translated, and become an influential presence in a foreign market? To this, Lena smiled mysteriously and replied: “When we see it, we know,” leaving the audience to ponder untold possibilities.