By Freddy Milton


Translation has taken up a good deal of my career. For years I translated foreign albums into Danish. It was primarily French comics, which suddenly broke into the Danish market during the seventies, and I was luckyenough to be the Danish voice of ‘Gaston’ and ‘Spirou’ as executed by the legendary comics auteur André Franquin. I continue to do so with ‘Gaston’ now that he has acquired a junior counterpart, ‘Gastoon’ carried forth by younger artists. ‘Blake & Mortimer’ has also been a long lasting acquaintance that exists till this day, where the series is continued by different able creators.

I did not think that this line of job would occupy my mind and my hand for years when we in the line of mathematic and natural science in high school paid little attention to our French lessons. As it happened, French become the only subject I needed later apart from English of course, but that education started back to primary school and lasts until this day...
I have translated more than 400 comics, and you can see the list of the album part of it elsewhere on this site. I was not the only one to do that, of course, since the flow of varied translated cultural goods was abundant in those years compared with the more monotonous output from earlier, which was mostly cheap comic books in a predictable design.

The market had changed. The public grew older and had more money to invest in more lavish looking output. Moreover it had become acceptable to cherish these stories, sustained by the fact that the French stories in versatility were so much more elegant and appealing than the run of the mill English and American comic books following a tradition primarily meant for children and with narrow minded story substance.
Now I found myself giving voice to characters from very different French artists and writers, and you could easily make out that these guys came from a European mindset differing from the American or English tradition.

In my contribution to this process of mass translation I was special in the way that I did my own lettering at the same time. That could save some time writing the text immediately on transparent overlays, and the pay was not that good at the company I worked for, so that was a welcome way of saving time.
This was of course before anything digital had entered the scene. Servicing other translators there were a number of able letterers doing a thorough job that to this day is acknowledged by connoisseurs for the personality contribution superior to the use of any digital font. Some nerdy creators insist on this procedure even today.

The job of translation appealed to me. I had read many French albums before they hit the stands in Denmark. Lately I found my collection of original ‘Iznogoud’ albums, and in these hardcover albums I had still the typewritten manuscript of my translation for each title. These scripts never came into use, however, since it became another publisher who finally translated them, but it goes to show that I also had a lot of fun doing it on my own at selected titles. That kind of fun extended the monetary need in another field, since I had to translate a lot of articles for my magazine ‘Carl Barks & Co’ that I published myself during the same period. It was about funny animals, but not just within comics, my interest covered animation as well and does even today.

This all took place in the time before the spreading of the ‘world wide web’ and you had to pick up all info in print and wait a long time for your snail mail letters to be answered. We were patient fans and finally obtaining results of your diggings was a thrill. Conveying these results to others in print was another joy. The project of launching a Carl Barks index in Scandinavia was appreciated by a lot of people, who also in Europe only knew him as ‘The good Artist’.

When presenting a proper translation job it is known to be preferred that you have a certain affinity to the subject matter. This was the case with me and Gaston. The French text is not always funny if you translate it directly. French is a very polite language, and there are no speakers like the French to indulge in aesthetic accomplished performances handling their native language.
This is not so much the case with comics, though, but usually French dialogue in comics has to be reconsidered and presented in a different way while trying to maintain the main substance from the original. That goes for literature as well, but in comics it is a demand, since it is all dialogue. I often came to think, what might be fun in Danish – and then choosing that version instead, although it might differ substantially from the original.

I was quite privileged in that role. No editor interfered and no foreign publishing house wanted my stuff to be translated back to see if I had delivered a proper job. Later that process was introduced on more prolific series, but that adds to the costs, of course.
In my case it was a matter of trust that I was respectful towards the original tone, and in each case I tried to do my best, though deadlines sometimes were harsh. The whole affair was regarded more like journalism and the volume of the field also suggested more craftsmanship than art.

I walked from a meeting one night with one of the editors. It was in the heyday of the market, and we wondered when this vast expansion round would be over. And then it happened. Over the next couple of years the circulation dwindled and the number of new titles to be translated as well. People had found other thrilling pastimes to occupy their minds.
Computers had come into this world and spread all over. With their digital offerings they distracted people minds from still frame comics and handwritten bubble texts. From then on it was a slide of the market downhill to a level where only grown people with solid wallets can afford to obtain printed comics in small circulations at steep prices.

Even I have shifted my interest to another field, and being hesitant about it at first I have realized that it was a genuine blessing to me to transfer my ambitions to literature instead. What I lost in broad caricature and symbolism I gained so much more in psychological depths and realistic touch.

Actually it was a friend of mine who pushed me along and challenged me to try this new ‘platform’ for my endeavors. I still shared a studio fellowship with my good friend Jussi Adler-Olsen, who was by then trying his wits with a crime series. He had not been satisfied with the sales on his thriller books and said to me, that he might consider dropping the whole lot and do something else with his life. There were many other fields that would pay off much better. That was before his potent breakthrough worldwide.
More than once Jussi had teased me and asked

‘When do YOU write a book, Freddy?’

He was then looking over at my drawing board where I executed my album comics. In front of him he had his trusty ‘Word Perfect’ program with the soothing white letters on a blue background and on his head he had put on his father’s cap to further inspiration – much like Gyro Gearloose, I thought.
I answered that I might think about it. In fact I had an idea of a computer game avatar dropping out of his game and coming into this world helping the game player along with his problems of being bullied in school. I told him about it.

‘What will the title be?’

I answered that I had thought of ‘Questland’ which was the name of the computer game. It also sounded international, in case there would be any need for that.

‘You better register that name, then.’

Jussi is quite knowledgeable with artistic rights. What I did was that I registered ‘’ which is the site where you now can read more about my titles put out in English and German as e-books on Amazon and Apple.

And here comes the second part of my essay on translation. Now it is my own stuff being translated to foreign languages. Dwight Decker has helped me earlier with one new album translation each year for which I had sent him some Danish pocket comics, but for a more substantial revision on my English language book translations I had to pay him a regular fee. Actually the German version came first. I had come in contact with a German from Berlin, who had taught himself Danish just for fun. The fun part was the motivation. He was chairman of the German club of ‘Olsen-Banden’.
‘Olsen’ in Germany before the rise of Jussi Adler-Olsen (the hyphen was added to be up front in alphabetical listings of authors as well) was connected not to two Danish brothers winning the European song contest in 2000 but to a leading character, Egon Olsen, appearing in a series of crime comedies making it big in Eastern Germany in the seventies and eighties before ‘Tear down this wall’ became effective.
Decadent western culture was frowned at under communism, but the funny Danish film series was accepted, since it was so innocent – and besides the villains were evil capitalists - as evil as they can be described in Denmark, which does not amount to much more than general silliness.
Guido saw my Olsen Banden test drawings on my site and contacted me and obtained the rights to reprint them in a celebration book he intended to publish in German on Olsen Banden. Benevolently I granted him that, and he visited me in my garden one summer.

‘We can talk for a while and I can brush up on my Danish’.
‘Yeah, tell me about it’, I said.
‘I will’, he answered.

But Guido surprised me. For almost three hours we talked in Danish with no problems. The guy had taught himself Danish to be able to appreciate the Olsen Banden movies so much more and Danish culture in general. It kind of reminded me of a Dutchman who had done the same earlier to get the full experience of the humor in Robert Storm Petersen’s oeuvre. There was a valid reason for that, though, since Storm Petersen is not well known outside Denmark. But why Olsen Banden? Those characters are even dubbed into German. This indicates a special German angle on the matter of translation that I must offer some comments here.
When British comedian John Cleese remembered a visit in Germany in the wake of his appearance in the ‘Monty Python’ comedy series a guy next to him pulled off equal applause.

‘Who’s that guy?’ John asked. He was immediately informed about it.
‘He is your German voice!’

At the afternoon coffee table I gave Guido a printed version of my first book, ‘Questland’.

‘Would you like to have a try with giving a German voice to this piece of literature?’ Guido had a look at it.
‘I don’t know if I can manage such a serious project…’

In Germany everything cultural is regarded with seriousness, and a major part of the people handling this have an academic doctor’s degree.

‘Don’t give it a thought, it’s pretty adventurous.’

After that Guido was lured into translating three more titles, which is now also available as e-books on Amazon and Apple. Before launching them Guido had some reservations.

‘I must go back and redo Questland. I’ve learned so much more since then that I would like to present a better version’.
‘You go right ahead, Guido, I won’t be able to check out the improvement myself.’

This is not the case with English, though. In fact I translated all four premiere titles on ‘’ into English, but I knew it was not good enough. If I presented them as they were, someone among the public would notice my incorrect wording, or maybe not quite incorrect, but a wording an Englishman or an American would not have chosen.
Precisely like my essays in English on this site. I avoid the green arrows underlining my first attempt, but that is not enough. You will be able to understand it, but it would have sounded different written by a person having English as his native tongue. Mark Thompson expressed it very precisely when asked about it.

‘It’s okay, but it ain’t native’.

That’s the whole matter in a nutshell. No author would like the reader to laugh his head off or shake his head or cramp his toes while lingering too long with a funny wording that is not meant to be funny. That unfortunate distraction draws away attention from the important matter - the flow of the storyline.
So Mark Thompson, Dwight Decker and Jenifer Lloyd have upgraded my translations to a level of acceptable lingo. Jenifer is a tenant with me now but a professional translator and she delivered also a version of my script indicating with red all the changes she had made in my first draft.
It was painfully discouraging for me with such much correction job, but when reading her version of ‘The Prince and the Loser’ I said to myself ‘Yes, that is precisely the way I would have liked to write it in the first place!’ But redhead Jenifer with kinfolk from Wales and nowadays relatives in Texas and California also had her problems, since her immediate roots were American. She once had a job offer from an advertising agency in London. When she submitted her text she was told, that they could not use it. It was not British enough. And it was not just a matter of writing ‘color’ instead of ‘colour’. So life ain’t always easy among translators.

There was another matter that worried me in my books, and that was the humor bit. I tried to insert some equivalent substitutes for humorous dialogue, dialects and funny wordplay, but I knew they did not come out well in my preliminary version. Mark however captured my intensions and inserted parallel wordings that served the same purpose as was meant in my original Danish text.

I had a complaint from Dwight, though. In the first ‘Questland’ book there is a guy called ‘Kasper’. If that was supposed to be ‘Casper’ he would thoroughly object. Since ‘Casper – the friendly Ghost’ appeared on the scene many years ago that name has been impossible to use in the USA. Another tricky name was ‘Waldo’. I had to maintain that use, since it is the name of the funny guy in a white and blue striped shirt that children are supposed to find among scores of other people within the detailed pictures. He is named ‘Holger’ in Danish and thus in my book as well.

I have been asked about the validity of this strange ambition of mine launching my titles in foreign languages. Will they not completely be lost in a black hole among the enormous number of e-books available out there?
I have had the same thought. Fortunately I am not carrying out this whole venture because I believe this to be a worthwhile success. I only do it because I feel that these books are not particular Danish. They are thought out and executed in a way that I feel is more in line with what you from tradition has learnt to appreciate in English.

The whole genre of fantasy crossovers spawn from English literature and there are prolific examples from way back that still hold up in today’s field of books. That’s why I have been tempted to come out and wave my little flag. But I might get to feel like a ‘Waldo’ out there and just hope that some eager beavers find it worthwhile to look for that silly character in the striped shirt...