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Blake & Mortimer: Is the narration needed?

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cigars of the beeper
Member
#1 · Posted: 14 Jan 2010 22:11
I've been enjoying the adventures of Blake and Mortimer over the past few weeks, thanks to a wonderful publisher which is putting them into English. I find it's rather like finding new Tintin adventures, which is very nice, but there's one thing that gets on my nerves, and that is the narration. Almost every panel in each book has a little colored narration box at the top describing what is happening in the panel, or what happened since the last one. I think that these are unnecessary. What does everyone else say?
Tintinrulz
Member
#2 · Posted: 14 Jan 2010 23:22
I've read one of the adventures and found the same thing. If you're creating a comic, you should not explain what's happening as you show it in your drawings. Your drawings should speak for themselves. That really annoyed me. It seemed that Jacobs thought his audience was stupid or something. He's a great artist (although his characters don't have 'life' and some of his frames are very busy) but the story was dull and over-explained, making for a frustrating read. In my opinion less is more.
2Orangy4Crows
Member
#3 · Posted: 14 Jan 2010 23:32
I would agree. You get panels with captions like "The Yellow 'M' stood on the tower, hands on hips, laughing manically". Erm, yes Eddie, we know because we can see you've drawn a picture of him on the tower, hands on hips, laughing manically.

I find it makes the B&M books quite hard to digest. I find I read each book once just taking in the text to follow the story and then over again in order to absorb and enjoy the artwork whereas with most other comics it's possible to enjoy both simultaneously.

It's not clear to me whether this is a failure on the part of Monsieur Jacobs to understand the principal of "show don't tell" or whether he's deliberately trying to evoke the earliest form of the comic strip before the introduction of the speech bubble in which text appeared below each picture. Rupert the Bear is probably the best known proponent of this style of comic strip today. Perhaps there are others here with greater knowledge of Monsieur Jacobs who can enlighten us?
mct16
Member
#4 · Posted: 15 Jan 2010 00:17
When comic strips first started to become widespread in the early 20th century, many parents and teachers attacked them on the grounds that the brief text in the speech bubbles and illustrations discouraged children from actually learning to read. Thus narrative texts were introduced in order to counter this criticism.

Many artists maintained this kind of approach for much of the fist half of the century though the narratives were sometimes kept brief - Harold Foster's "Tarzan" and "Prince Valiant" are good examples.

Jacobs himself adopted this system in his first full strip "Le Rayon U" ("The U Ray"), published during the war, though he later re-formatted it in order to include speech bubbles - see for yourself at this site.

It could be that he was in favour of the text box approach because it encouraged people to read, but agreed to put in speech bubbles at the insistence of the publishers.
luinivierge2010
Member
#5 · Posted: 15 Jan 2010 00:21
The French in the original versions has distinct literary qualities: Jacobs was a writer (in a dramatic vein) as much as a draughtsman.
cigars of the beeper
Member
#6 · Posted: 15 Jan 2010 00:54
mct16:
Many artists maintained this kind of approach for much of the fist half of the century though the narratives were sometimes kept brief - Harold Foster's "Tarzan" and "Prince Valiant" are good examples.

mct16:
It could be that he was in favour of the text box approach because it encouraged people to read, but agreed to put in speech bubbles at the insistence of the publishers.

It did kind of remind me of Prince Valiant, which I don't like all that much, but I am glad at least that Jacobs did decide to include comic balloons, because things like Prince Valiant are very tedious to read. It is like reading the adventures of silent heroes. Do the Blake and Mortimer adventures which Jacobs did not write have that much narration, or do those all have varying style?
Balthazar
Moderator
#7 · Posted: 15 Jan 2010 01:13
mct16:
When comic strips first started to become widespread in the early 20th century, many parents and teachers attacked them on the grounds that the brief text in the speech bubbles and illustrations discouraged children from actually learning to read. Thus narrative texts were introduced in order to counter this criticism.

I'm sure you're right. I recall reading somewhere (possibly in Harry Thompson's biography of Hergé) that when Hergé's very first Tintin strips were being prepared for print in Le Petit Vingtieme, someone tried to add narrative prose beneath each panel, something that Hergé successfully fought against.

What's odd about Jacobs being so fond of his unnecessary prose panels is that he worked so closely with Hergé on some of the best Tintin books, clearly contributing much to the artistic and visual-storytelling qualities of the adventures. You'd have thought that something of Hergé's brilliant economy and tighness would have rubbed off on him! But maybe he wanted to find way of distinguishing his own stories stylistically from the Tintin adventures.

Your point about Jacob's prose being better written in the original French is very interesting, luinivierge, and may well explain why they jar quite so much to us UK readers. Certainly the B& M English translations (especiallly the most recent ones) often seem rather leaden, in both prose panels and speech balloons, sometimes reading like a laborious and inappropriate word-for-word translation from French, rather than being more freely translated into natural-sounding good English as the Tintin books are.

Personally, I find I can learn to accept and even enjoy the over written prose panels as part of Blake and Mortimer's odd charm, along with Jacob's affectionate but slightly strange portrayal of Britain (such as the fact that all the high-ranking establishment figures, including the heroes, read the Daily Mail!)

But I can never just lose myself in a Blake and Mortimer adventure the way I can with a Tintin book, and I think the way the prose panels constantly intrude, to remind you you're just reading a made-up story may have a lot to do with that.
Tintinrulz
Member
#8 · Posted: 15 Jan 2010 01:23
Yes, the comic book I read was probably translated word for word. It was very clunky and didn't sound natural.
Rupert the Bear and earlier comics had explanation sentences but that worked because either they had no speech bubbles or next to none. Also, there were far less frames and scenarios that happened between the frames were explained, whereas Jacobs writes something and then shows the same thing in his drawings. It's very redundant.
I really found his work a trial and I'm not convinced that I'll be reading any more of his books. Thankfully some of you enjoy it.
starspireite
Member
#9 · Posted: 15 Jan 2010 07:30
What annoys me is when they refer to Britain as "the kingdom", like anyone refers to it as such, it sounds very odd, and is obviously a blind translation.
jock123
Moderator
#10 · Posted: 15 Jan 2010 09:00 · Edited by: jock123
I think we also have to acknowledge that it may be obvious to us now that the pictures can stand without explanation, but that is a position that had to be arrived at by experimentation, it wasn’t self evident.

As Balthazar says, Hergé had to fight to use speech-bubbles without textual under-matter, as he had done with Totor, but that would have been as much because it was an unorthodox idea in and of itself so to do, as because the powers that be wanted children to read more straight text.

I’m sure anyone pioneering in any field has met with this resistance, down through the millenia –
“Put pictures on the walls of the cave? Dumbing down I call it - staring into the flames of the fire is good enough for us…!”
Moving pictures? Still pictures were good enough for the last the ten thousand years - why change now…?”
“Put title-cards on movies? Edison’s “The Sneeze” didn’t need captions, so why should we have them now…??”
“Sound? Sound? On a movie? When there are perfectly good title-cards for people to read…?”
Etc., etc.

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