Editors Notes: Kim Thompson on The Cabbie Vol. 1

The Cabbie Vol. 1 by Martí

[In this installment of our series of Editors Notes, Kim Thompson interviews himself (in a format he's dubbed "AutoChat") about The Cabbie Vol. 1 by Martí, now available to order from us and at a comics shop near you. – Ed.]

Okay, then… so, a couple of weeks after an ultraviolent crime thriller by a French cartoonist (Like a Sniper Lining Up His Shot), you're releasing an ultraviolent crime thriller by a Spanish cartoonist. Is this a trend?

More like a coincidence. Of all the foreign books we're releasing this year, they're really the only two who fall into this category. The next few things I'm working on are about as far away from that as you can imagine. (Although Jason and Joost Swarte do have a violent crime story or two in each of their anthologies, actually. Hmm.)

The Cabbie has been released in the States before…

Yes, we're treading well-trod ground here, I have to admit. Catalan Communications released their edition of The Cabbie back in 1987, after RAW had run a couple of Martí stories if I recall correctly…

Did RAW publish every significant 1980s Euro-cartoonist? Between Mattotti, Martí, Swarte, and Tardi, it seems like all of Fantagraphics' 2010 releases are consisting of RAW's sloppy seconds.

It certainly seemed that way (and thank you for that lovely image), although we've also been doing 1990s L'Association-type books and classic 1960s Belgian books. But Spiegelman and Mouly, let's face it, they just had insanely good taste; in fact, there are still more European cartoonists they published in RAW we're planning on getting around to.

from The Cabbie Vol. 1 by Martí

Why did you see the need to reprint Martí's work specifically?

First of all, I love it. And the Catalan Cabbie has been out of print for a good number of years. And for obvious reasons it seemed like a European project that would be pretty accessible to American audiences (I'm still skittish about going too "European" on these, to be honest). And let's face it, in terms of translation, lettering, and production the Catalan version wasn't up to today's standards. Moreover, Catalan published only the first volume; there's a whole second volume that has never been published in English, which we're going to release in 2012.

Is that the stuff that ran in that Ignatz title?

No, the Calvario Hills "Cabbie" story was the first chapter of a projected third Cabbie volume which unfortunately, in part due to the failure of the Ignatz line, Martí has set aside.

Is the cover on your edition new? That painterly style is something we haven't seen much from Martí before.

There's a couple of old El Vibora covers along those lines, as I recall (that's where it was first serialized). But the vast majority of his covers have been line drawings, yes. My understanding is that it was some sort of private commission for which Martí kept a scan or a transparency, just in case, as all smart cartoonists do. And when I mentioned that I wasn't really wild about any of the covers that had been used for the Spanish editions (they're great drawings, they just didn't seem to work well for our purposes), he pulled it out of his files. So far as I know it hasn't been published before. Most Martí fans I know were a bit taken aback by it just because it's so outside of his normal range, they're used to those evil, black Chester Gould brush strokes and giant slabs of black — in fact, I was a little startled at first myself, but it's really grown on me. Martí has promised that he'll do a new cover for the second volume in the same style, which is fantastic.

from The Cabbie Vol. 1 by Martí

Between Swarte's faux Hergé style and Martí's faux Chester Gould style, one could be forgiven for thinking that European cartoonists routinely pick up someone else's style and run with it.

There is a bit of that going around. Ted Benoît is another Hergé-derived cartoonist, Conrad (of Les Innomables fame) did a number of albums in a style cribbed from Lucky Luke's Morris, and my old friend Freddy Milton rocked a Carl Barks style for years and years. Yves Chaland. And don't forget Dinosaur Bop

Oh my God, was that that insane Jack Kirby-ish prehistoric thing…?

Yeah… Jean-Marie Arnon. We really should collect that someday. But yes, Europeans have a pretty relaxed attitude about picking up and repurposing a classic style for their own uses. There are cases in the U.S., of course, like the Air Pirates (particularly Bobby London's exemplary faux Herriman, which has served him well). But Martí and Swarte are particularly interesting because their work really is both a subversion of and a commentary on the original — as Spiegelman himself points out in the introduction to our book, of course.

The Cabbie Vol. 1 by Martí - detail

The Cabbie is far more violent than Dick Tracy

Actually, not that much. You must not have looked at vintage Dick Tracy recently. When I was leafing through IDW's (excellent, highly recommended, buy one today — hello, editor Dean Mullaney) Tracy reprints looking for Gould panels to run in the intro, I was shocked by just how grisly and twisted the original Gould Dick Tracy was: bullets ripping through bodies, pools of blood, people burned alive — the infamous flagpole impalement of the Brow was actually pretty much the norm, not some excessive outlier. Martí does take it a step or two further, but only a step or two (and he does add in the sex). Nor am I sure that any scene in The Cabbie is worse than the Tracy sequence I stumbled across where the villain slowly strangles a dog to death over an entire week. I'm not kidding!

As Spiegelman points out, Martí's attitude toward his hero is also ambiguous…

Yes. Gould's hero's were 100% good and brave and moral, and Martí simultaneously mocks and empathizes with his hero. He's a bit of law-and-order fascist and kind of a dunce… but he has a good heart. And everyone else in the book is much, much worse!

from The Cabbie Vol. 1 by Martí

You didn't translate The Cabbie.

No. As we've ramped up our translations I've found that I can't do all of them, being only human and all, so I've been building up a group of translators, including Helge Dascher, who does King of the Flies, and our former intern Jenna Allen. I found Katie LaBarbera more or less by chance: She's Kevin Huizenga's wife, and… in fact, I'll let her tell the story:

I was interested in getting into translating, and was asking Kim for some advice.  I certainly didn't think he'd give me a shot at a whole book! Even as I was working on the first chapter to get a feel for it, I looked at it as a practice exercise. But Kim's been great throughout the entire process. One thing I really like about working with him is that you always get a little something extra, a bit of movie trivia, a quote, or his own made-up back story for the characters!

I definitely struggled with how close I should stay to the original without having it sound stilted and weird. Kim's advice early on to just put it away for a while and then look at it with a fresh pair of eyes was really helpful. For the first draft I didn't even realize that I had to pay attention to how much text would fit in the word balloons.

Actually, I don't worry overly much about that myself, I always figure we'll fix it in the editing. Generally English is a more succinct language than any European language so you don't get into trouble very often — and if we did, you can always discreetly Photoshop yourself a bigger balloon with that newfangled digital technology.

But Katie was terrific, and some of the original Spanish wasn't easy…

Yes, I had trouble with some of the slang, but St. Louis cartoonist Max Vento was good enough to help me out with a few nasty phrases (one or two that made me blush!). It was a bit easier once I caught on to Martí's sense of humor and got immersed in the story. And luckily my life experiences, so similar to those of the Cabbie's, really helped me to get into his mindset. It's an amazing book, and the cartooning is great – I especially like the Cabbie's mom, with the gaping, black holes for eyes.

It was a fun working experience. You know, if I had my druthers, all my translating jobs would be collaborations, or at least strong translator-editor combos. (I'm having a great time working with Diana Schutz on a Manara project for Dark Horse; she's so razor sharp, and I hope I'm half as good when I wear my editor hat working with any of "my" translators.)

from The Cabbie Vol. 1 by Martí

I thought it was interesting that you changed all the names to Anglo-Saxon ones.

That was a debate I had with myself, and with Katie. Martí's names were all deliberately generic Spanish names like "Pérez," and I realized that the Cabbie's universe isn't specifically Spain per se, it's really one of these "global" environments that isn't particularly beholden to any one culture…

Like King of the Flies.

Exactly. So keeping everyone Spanish was in its own way more distracting than just picking similarly bland, generic English names. There are books where you want to keep the taste of the original language/country — on that Manara project I purposely kept all the "Signoras" and such to anchor it more firmly in Italy (I do that with Adèle Blanc-Sec, too, she's always "Mademoiselle") — a bit like the translations of Scandinavian crime fiction, which keep things like "Frøken" ("Miss") for local flavor – but The Cabbie seemed international – and in fact somewhat American if anything.

You seem to be building up quite an extensive staff for these things.

Yeah. In addition to my translator du jour, I have our computer wiz Paul Baresh, who created all the non-dialogue re-lettering (signs and sound effects) based on Martí's own original lettering (the dialogue lettering we did with a Martí font left over from Calvario Hills); two interns who keyed in the dialogue and captions; Gavin Lees, my go-to guy for calligraphy on things like hand-written letters and notes (another former intern, incidentally); Jim Blanchard, who did that awesome license-plate logo; and of course our designer Alexa (also an ex-intern), who did some sweet work on the title page, intro, and back cover. What can I say, it takes a village to put together one of these furrin Fantagraphics comics. One mostly populated by interns and ex-interns.

The Cabbie Vol. 1 by Martí - title pages

What's the next translation, then?

Jason's Athos in America I'm wrapping up next week, then the Joost Swarte book, and then I'll be hopping back and forth between our Nicolas Mahler and Guy Peellaert books for a bit. And as always, the next Tardi looms. No rest for the fatigué.

The Cabbie Vol. 1 by Martí - detail