Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Claire Bretécher’s hugely popular strip La Page des Frustés (The Frustrated) which appeared weekly from 1974 to the mid-1980s in France, quickly made its way around the world, translated into many languages. In the UK it was a full page every week in the Sunday Times Magazine, where it was called Frustration. In the USA it was picked up by Ms. magazine, and by the humour monthly The National Lampoon which translated not only the Frustés material but also ‘Salades de Saison’, a similar series Bretécher created for French weekly Pilote. The strips chosen for this book collection are all from Frustés.
The translation and re-lettering of the original French strips for the USA was done completely separately from the work occurring at the same time in Britain. These versions were translated by Valerie Marchant, and Bretécher’s handwritten captions and text were duplicated by John Workman, then art director at Heavy Metal (and now known for his long association with Walt Simonson on Thor, among other titles). Not many people would be that interested in those technical details or find them significant except that these simultaneous translations gave English readers an opportunity to compare approaches to the texts side-by-side, and the changes are fascinating. Apart from the localising of shops, train stations, food and similar daily details, there are different ideas on how to turn French politics and idioms into English. Sometimes the results are so far apart they result in totally disparate strips, as in the famously mangled translation ‘Taking the Mickey’, shown here in the sample page. In the original strip a father sees his daughter reading a copy of the first Tintin book, Tintin au Pays des Soviets, which French readers mostly remember for its super-rare collectors’ item status and its virulent anti-Communist propaganda. The left-wing dad gets distracted from his disgust about Hergé’s politics when he realises his daughter’s flea-market find could be worth a fortune, but it turns out to be a reprint. In the version that appears here in The National Lampoon Presents Claire Bretécher, Tintin turns into Mickey Mouse and the joke about capitalist greed overcoming socialist principles is lost altogether. You can compare it to the more faithful translation that appears in More Frustration, noting all the other little speech quirks that made it across (or not).
This book is out of print. Since it contains the same material seen in Frustration and More Frustration in the UK, it’s not usually found in British bookshops but can be picked up online and in the USA relatively cheaply. It does feature one thing none of the UK books have: an introduction by Bretécher herself.