Friday, May 2, 2008

Blue Beetle en Español: El gran experimento

As an experiment, the all-Spanish Blue Beetle #26 works.

People are talking about it, which is good for the unfairly struggling title, and the story by Jai Nitz keeps the focus on what's special about Blue Beetle — the character's family and friends. The artwork by Mike Norton is fun and expressive, and I wouldn't have a problem with him doing the book on a permanent basis if regular artist Rafael Albuquerque dropped out for some unholy reason (please don't drop out for some unholy reason, Rafael Albuquerque).

It is a fill-in issue, though, and it feels like it. The story's light, and a lot of stuff is glossed over: What was Parasite, who's normally a Superman foil, doing in El Paso? Did he target the Posse on purpose, or did he just stumble across them?

Regardless, it's not holes in the plot that's got people talking — it's the español.

I've talked about the use of Spanish in Blue Beetle before, but I should be clear about something; my Spanish is what could be called "not so great." Like a lot of second and third generation Latinos in the United States, I learned English as my native language because my parents didn't want me to struggle like they did. (Dad would be beaten for speaking Spanish in school, even in conversation, and that was in the '50s.) Add a grandmother who wanted to practice her English instead of teaching the kids Spanish like she was supposed to, Grandma, and you have a Latino who doesn't speak the language nearly as well as he should.

Still, I was able to read Blue Beetle #26 without much trouble, though there were a few words here and there that threw me off. With that in mind, I called in an expert opinion — my wife. Since she's originally from Mexico City, was raised in Juarez, and has worked professionally in both the Spanish- and English-language media and as an English/Spanish translator, I figured she might know what she was talking about.

And as soon as she picked it up she looked at the cover and said, "'Destrailló?' What's that mean?"

Not a good sign for El Escarabajo Azul.

It turns out Kevin's customer was right; the Spanish isn't very good. Like a lot of media going from English into Spanish, the problem's with the translation. It's technically correct, but as my wife put it, "It's clunky. It's almost a literal translation, like it was done by someone whose native language is English but who also knows some Spanish. You can 'hear' that the phrase was in English first."

In other words, people who speak Spanish wouldn't talk like that. The thing that jumped out at my wife was the scene (page 9, panel 2) where Jaime's abuelita tells him to "make us proud," but the way the line is phrased in Spanish actually comes across as (roughly), "make us prideful." There's a subtle but important difference there. Someone who speaks English and Spanish would probably understand what was meant, but someone who primarily speaks Spanish might be confused by that wording.

For my part, I had a problem with inaccuracies in the text. There are parts here and there that just made me say, "But that's not what he said!" once I read the script provided in English. None of it is really anything that impacts the story, but I don't feel it's fair to readers who don't speak a language to get sloppy with the translation.

For example, when Jaime meets some cousins (I'm guessing) at the family cook-out, this is what they say (5.1):

According to the translation, the first kid asks, "Why don't you have a ride?" But what he actually says is, "Why don't you have a car?" And then the second kid ends his little dig with, "You suck." (Again, according to the translation). But the phrase "te sales" would actually be used to say "you've gone too far" — the closest approximation I can think of in English would be "what's up with that?" If you wanted to say someone sucked you'd call them "sangron," which literally means something along the lines of "bloodsucker" (yeah, Spanish slang is weird) but in this context would basically mean "one who sucks."

Anyway, there are examples like that throughout the issue, and again it's nothing that affects the story, but it does affect the tone of the dialog and the feel of the story itself. I was also sorry that there was almost no slang in this issue, because brother, El Pasoans love them some Spanish slang. No slang? Chale, güey!

One more thing: I was disappointed to see Traci basically pushed off-stage in favor of the by-the-numbers dust-up with Parasite. I would have been a lot more interested in seeing more of Traci interacting with Jaime's family, and how everyone dealt with the language barrier. It would've been nice to see Jaime explain to Traci what it's like living in a border city, too, so I think an opportunity to flesh out Blue Beetle's background was missed.

All this sounds nit-picky and fairly negative, but I still enjoyed this issue and I like the title as much as ever. And I really have to give credit to DC for Blue Beetle #26: It wasn't perfect (what comic is?), but the important thing was that it was done at all. The Spanish-language issue was a low-risk experiment that brought some attention to a book that needs it, and it reaches out to a mostly ignored and untapped U.S. market; hopefully, regular readers will see it as a chance to experience something a little different and have fun with it. Best of all, the issue moved the overall story forward, even if it was just a little.

All in all, I'd call that a success. Even if the cover blurb should have said, "El Parásito Desatado!"


rob! said...

don't let Lou Dobbs hear about this!

Maxo said...

If he does he'll want to send me back where I came from — and I don't want to move to L.A.!

R said...

For what it's worth, I grew up speaking Spanish before English, we only spoke Spanish in our household and "haznos orgullosos" is how they always said the equivalent of "make us proud." That being said, I haven't read the rest of the issue yet so there may be some atrociousness in there. But Spanish is a language with many different dialects and idioms, depending on where you're from, so it may just be the case of your wife never having heard things phrased this way.

Big T said...

I'm with the angry wife (is she still angry?).

The grandma would have actually said, "Pártele su madre a ese cabrón!"

To which El Esungabacho Azul would have replied, "Recorcholis!"

It's a fact, Jack.

Maxo said...

R: I tend to trust my wife's extensive knowledge and familiarity with how Spanish is spoken within Mexico, but that doesn't you aren't right, too. As you mentioned (and as I briefly touched on in a previous post), Spanish definitely changes from country to country, region to region and even from state to state.

I think the key is that, from our perspective, the phrasing isn't necessarily incorrect but it doesn't necessarily reflect the way the language would be used in conversation either, especially in El Paso/Juarez.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

Big T: See, right there's a example of the difference just in neighborhoods — in the Lower Valley Blue Beetle would've let loose with an, "Ay güey!"

Maxo said...

Ugh ... of course I meant, "... an example ..."