Alexis Siegel, 師傅 & Maître

January 31st, 2007 § 0 comments

It’s wonderful, as I fly into a new translation for First Second Books, to know I’ll once more have the intrepid and dependable Alexis Siegel on wing, ready to blast any tricky French from the sky before it blindsides me. I call him my mentor, though never to his face; he’d surely decline the title.

The target, this time, is yet another collection from the mind of the ever-zany and hyperprolific Lewis Trondheim. I’ve never seen the Nicktoons import version, though the books are predictably uproarious. Trondheim is one of the great French humorists, right up there with Francis Veber in my book, though my favorite thing he’s done would still be Farniente, a slim book from L’Asso with art by Dominique Hérody: a quiet series of witty, wistful conversations between a husband and wife on vacation, he the pessimist, she, well, une française.

Before I met Alexis, I’d only translated two graphic novels, for a company that’s unfortunately folded since. The powerhouse Anjali Singh put me in touch with him, and I was contacted, while in sunny California with my Mom, by his brother Mark’s publishing house, First Second, about possibly of doing my first Trondheim. I’d been awake for almost a day (a sleepless redeye plus a day at work) when I walked into the Grand Central Starbucks in a Bruce Lee tee (Le Jeu de la Mort!) to meet Alexis, seated at his ThinkPad, deep in annual reports for an auditing firm: the kind of French even most French can’t hack. Did I also mention he full-times at the U.N.? That’s right, a real translator.

Alexis trained me in the arts of comic translation. I’d like to say it required blood, sweat, and something like the thirty-six arcane chambers of the Shaolin, but really it just involved a lot of margin notes, and endless emailing of attachments. I’m happy to report on this reunion occasion that the first book I worked on under his tutelage—the book that brought us together last April—will be out this Spring: Lewis Trondheim’s Tiny Tyrant. It’s a compilation of the best Tiny Tyrant stories, selected from eight French volumes. There’s a nifty preview at their site. Check it.

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