25: Tout va mal dans le garage de Jerry 







(episode 26)



The President made her first appearance in episode 21. In the same installment, Grubert asked to be shown to Room 6. In 22, Barnier was waiting on a pier because (as the archer was telling him) he had nothing more to do in the story. Time to get out. The vehicle driven by Cornelius made its reappearance in the twenty-third installment, after a long absence; and the President wanted Sper Gossi in her office, right away. Giraud’s response, in the next installment, to the availability for development of all these strands of plot, was a diversion in more ways than one.



I remember it as one of those “What-the-hell-did-I-miss-something?” episodes. Larc Dalxtré, dressed as a tourist and dispatched (in 20) to Normandy to locate Eric Cornelius, here tumbled into an “ÉPISODE CHEZ DES COW-BOYS”—and the résumé let me know I hadn’t seen anything yet.



Not only had Larc landed in the middle of a western, but the cowboys spoke a language neither he nor I understood. A sudden increase in background texture added to my disorientation. Was this even the same strip? Only an exterior shot with an imposing planet hanging low in the sky reassured me (?) that Giraud hadn’t woken up confused and started drawing Blueberry.

     It’s such a jarring sideways lurch that it might be funny. It’s certainly absurd, and struck me at the time as funny in the sense of “peculiar”. Except the cowboys ain’t the peaceable kind. Looking at it now, the third panel tugs at memory, as if there’s another image behind it, a moment I should recognize. Something tells me Larc’s in the wrong place, wrong time, being played for a patsy.



What made the strongest impression was not so much the language—“SEDiR PONESPIGUE HPORTOBAN VORST”—as the sense of being confronted by an action I could more or less follow, played out in a language I couldn’t decipher. It produced a sense of displacement, and helplessness, a little like not being able to make out what someone’s saying. Giraud was evoking his youthful experience of reading comics in a language he couldn’t understand; and, when I returned to the Garage, it’s one of the things that encouraged me to make the effort to read Giraud in a language I couldn’t understand.



I’ve always been content to rely on—and more, to trust—the decisions made by translators who bring works in other languages within my reach. It’s not absolutely an ideal situation, but, having no great facility with languages, I’ve accepted it, for better and for worse. Having been seduced, however, into the effort of reading in a second language (which, I admit, I do not do easily) I find myself more particular in my relationship with Giraud’s reckless adventure.

     I’m easily confused, and sometimes baffled, so you’re at liberty to doubt whether I’m in any position to make a judgment with respect to the authorized translation into English of the Garage, by Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier; but, having cautioned you against placing too great a reliance on what I have to say, I’ll venture a few remarks




The Lofficiers worked with Giraud throughout his American adventure, for more than a decade, and the collection and presentation of his work was, for the most part, at the time, as good as might be hoped for. I wasn’t paying close attention—distracted by other things—so this is a retrospective judgment; but, looking at it now, their work appears to have been committed, conscientious and capable. What little I have to complain of might betray a meanness of spirit, on my part, were I to set it out at greater length than it deserves.

     The Garage, however, is an extended work, three years in the making; and, though playful and reckless, it’s also rich and complex. Perhaps it’s richer now because it may be seen in the context of the life’s work of an artist no longer with us. One can hardly blame the translators for the difficulty of gauging what, in a playful and reckless work, might be judged (thirty-odd years later) better to have been faithfully respected, and what might serve (with the co-operation and immediate encouragement of an author in the midst of life) as a foundation for further playfulness. The following observations are not intended as complaint, so much as cautionary notes toward a new translation. Allow me to supply


(i) an example of playfulness that misrepresents the original, but makes no difference at all to the story:



In episodes 6 and 9, the beast Grubert is riding was originally a “MALRO”, a name likely derived from the writer and adventurer, André Malraux. In the 1987 translation, “MELVIL” is a half-clever adaptation, though familiarity with the name of Herman Melville hardly recovers for an English-speaking reader the original immediacy of Malraux’s presence in French culture (his writings spanned half a century, he was Minister of Cultural Affairs from 1959 to 1969) and his links to France’s colonial past (he was arrested for illegally removing a sculpture from Angkor, he was an early supporter of Vietnamese independence from French colonial rule). Moreover, it removes Malraux so utterly from view that he may no longer be discovered in Giraud’s text by the reader of English. If the reader should happen to be an ignoramus, or utterly disinterested, then no injury is done, except to the original text: recognition of the allusion is hardly a necessity, and the name of the creature makes no difference to the plot.

     But if it makes no difference, why change it?

     And if it makes no difference, why squawk? What do I lose one way, or gain the other?

     Very little, as it happens. The naming of the creature may signify nothing beyond Giraud’s momentary decision to make a pun on Malraux’s name. On the other hand, in Inside Mœbius, Malvina at one point calls Grubert “George” (Georges), and the Major responds by insisting his name is “André”. If I’m prepared to entertain the possibility that the latter was his name in the Garage, then it becomes clear what I’m looking at in episodes 6 and 9 is André on his malro. And since Malraux’s full name was Georges André Malraux, it would appear Giraud was still advertising this whimsical detail a quarter century later.

     In order to demonstrate that this was not a unique instance of playfulness in the translation, I shall provide


(ii) a further example of playfulness that makes no difference: 



In episode 7, the SQUARE DE “LA FEUiLLE DE RiZLA” was bombed. Rizla was (and still, apparently, is) a brand of rolling paper for tobacco (or other substances). Its brand has long been identified by the lettering RIZLA +, the name being made up of “Riz” for rice-paper, and the latter part representing the name—“Lacroix”—of the family behind the company.

     In the translation, it became “THE SQUARE OF THE MAY-POLE LEAF”. The replacement is a piece of mischief (“may-pole leaf” from “maple leaf”) Giraud may well have appreciated, but it appears to have been done for reasons nothing to do with the story. Whether in order to remove a reference to a brand name, or to remove an allusion to the smoking of cannabis I don’t know. I don’t intend to waste time wondering about it.

     The act of translation, after all, is rarely free of problems, both major and minor, that are difficult of solution and necessarily involve compromise. To illustrate this, I offer


(iii) an example of the difficulties of translation: 


In episode 16, Larc Dalxtré was left in a kind of limbo. At the beginning of 20, I discover, when reading the French, that he’s been “FOR SEVERAL HOURS iN A KiND OF iNTERMiNABLE BOWEL...

     This has always been visually obvious, but 1987’s translation of “iNTERMiNABLE BOYAU” as “ENDLESS TUBE-SHAPED TUNNEL” is rather drab and entirely opaque. (It’s also potentially confusing; on the following page “MACHINE À TUYAUX” is translated simply as “THE TUBE”, and maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t refer to the same thing shown on the first page.)

     Alas, translation operates under constraints: where the French “boyau” is not only a “bowel” but potentially a hosepipe or a narrow road or a communication trench, English struggles to find the same connotations. We might find a way to indicate that Larc is in the bowels of the ship—the Ciguri—which is to say, in its depths, its inner parts; but even if this were the case (and I’m not sure of this), it would misrepresent the original by situating Dalxtrey, whereas neither he nor the reader ought to know, at this point, where he is. To propose he’s been following an interminable “N-TRAIL” might be amusing, but the invention is not simply unwarranted; it also would add an illusion of known-ness to his obscure predicament. We might put him in a “NARROW ARTERY”, but this is entirely the wrong kind of passage in the body. “PASSAGE” is the best I can come up with: tighter than “TUBE-SHAPED TUNNEL”, it at least allows (if it does not suggest) the corporeal pun pictured for the reader. (In addition, “PASSAGES” has already been used to translate “MOYENS DE COMMUNiCATiON” in episode 9, where the “ways of communication” involve physical access.)

     Plainly, a literal translation is neither possible nor desirable in every case; but at the same time, if deviation from the literal allows for more pleasant and natural reading in a second language, it also risks obscuring an original intention, and altering subtext along with text. A perfectly transparent and readable translation is an unattainable ideal, but an essential question is: how much can be retained, and at what cost, as against how much is lost, and whether it matters? By way of illustration, I present 


(iv) two instances where a more nearly literal translation might also have been more accurate: 


In the same brief caption discussed immediately above, the 1987 translation is “FOLLOWING HIS INSTINCTS, HE RESOLUTELY FORGES AHEAD...” To describe Larc as resolutely forging ahead makes him sound rather noble; but, considering he got into this situation first by following orders, then by following his dick, and considering he’s about to come out at the shit end of a tricky assignment, this hardly seems appropriate. Nevertheless, “RESOLUTELY” faithfully translates “RÉSOLUMENT”.

     Not so faithful is the translation of “” as “FOLLOWING”. To follow one’s instincts allows the possibility that one recognizes and takes account of them, and decides whether to act in accordance with them. Larc, by contrast, is rather a hapless character, more likely to be led, driven or pushed—as he’ll be pushed into the matter transmitter in the last panel of this installment. For this reason, I think he ought to be “MOVED BY iNSTiNCT”—in which case his “resolution” acquires a proper and more clearly ironic character.

     Impulse also plays its part in an earlier incident, in episode 3:




This is the 1987 translation of:




On the face of it, it’s a simple caption. A translation as literal as possible might be




     The gun itself requires translation. In Heavy Metal it became a “REVOLVER ”—a simple (and inadequate) substitution. Considering both its effect and the traditions of sf, I might opt for “BLAST-GUN”, but the Lofficiers’ “CRACKERGUN” is a legitimate and defensible invention.

     Both the Heavy Metal and Marvel translations, however, opt to ask the question, “WHAT MADE HIM DO THAT ?” rather than “WHY DiD HE DO THAT ?” Even if one insisted on reflecting the contruction of French “POURQUOi”, it would be “WHAT DiD HE DO THAT FOR?

     Perhaps it’s the Marvel translation that comes off worse, for while Heavy Metal retained the caption’s original word order, as Barnier “IMPETUOUSLY ” draws his gun, the Lofficiers elected to change both word order and word: “ON AN IMPULSE,” he draws his gun. If it appears, as a consequence, that the concluding question has therefore already been answered, it is, however, no more than appearance. An impulse doesn’t make us do something. We give way to an impulse, or we don’t—unless, of course, we are impetuous, which is to say, yes, impulsive, but also possibly thoughtless, or reckless, or undisciplined, or emotional and volatile. In other words, to write that Barnier acts “ON AN IMPULSE” neutralises (by reducing to a specific occasion) the original adjective, “iMPETUEUSEMENT”, that reflected on his character rather than explained his action.

     Moreover, in the original, the question asking why Barnier did what he did alerts us to a range of possible anterior causes in a story about which, as yet, we know almost nothing. From among those causes, Barnier’s freedom is not excluded; but “WHAT MADE HIM DO THAT ?” carries us insensibly into the realm of determinism. It’s the question of a child wanting to be reassured that no one ever chooses evil. Perhaps the child’s question deserves to be answered, but it’s not the question asked by the original; and a commitment to determinism will not absolve you from taking personal responsibility for your actions.

     If this strikes you as a needless excursion into the metaphysics of the self, on the pretext of arguable but barely perceptible shades of meaning, a later exchange involving Barnier may be found to support the relevance of the point. I shall examine  


(v) a further example of the difficulties of translation:



The archer’s response to something Barnier says in episode 22 has always struck me as impressive—




—but partly opaque. An engineer might be viewed as the model of a practical or rational individual; or, by extension and exaggeration, as someone committed to a mechanistic view of things; even, hyperbolically, as an embodiment of the idea of humans as machines. But, avoiding speculation, and simply looking at the story, it may be seen that Barnier is an individual fleeing from the consequences of his impetuosity. It may be worth noticing that, in French, “ingénieur” (engineer) is not at all far from “ingénu” (ingenuous, unsophisticated, artless).

     But what does it mean to say the actions of his will are “UNMOTIVATED”? A more literal translation might indicate that engineers like Barnier aren’t prepared for actions of the will “SANS DESiR”—without desire, or without desiring. So, possibly:




and fill in the blank with: (a) UNWANTED; (b) UNPREMEDiTATED; (c) UNLOOKED FOR; or (d) SPONTANEOUS. Indeed, (d) might seem the appropriate choice: it’s entirely reasonable to suppose Barnier was unprepared for the impulses—Giraud’s—that underwrote his rash actions and led him to flee. It’s also a declaration, by Giraud, in defiance of any possible incomprehension, of the manner in which he’s making the story.

     But are any of these what was actually meant? What if it should be, more literally:  




To quote Sri Aurobindo, “There is a place for will and aspiration, not for desire.” It may be that the archer is indicating to the uncomprehending Barnier that, in order to behave well, he must behave rationally; and that in order to behave rationally, he must set aside desire.

     It’s an open question whether Barnier will learn this lesson, and it’s possibly no concern of the story; but there may be a recurrent tendency in the 1987 translation to reassure the reader that all is well, or as well as might be hoped for, in a story in which everything is going badly. Allow me to submit, for your consideration,


(vi) an example of the way imprecision softens a hard text: 


What Barnier said that elicited the archer’s problematic consideration of actions of the will was translated in 1987 as “I’M SO SORRY I KILLED THAT GUARD ...”; yet a more literal “HOW I REGRET HAViNG KiLLED THAT GUARD ...” would be more accurate, keeping in view (rather than disguising) Barnier’s self-concern. He may well regret his action and its consequences, yet still have no real concern for the guard he killed.

     Of course, it might be pointed out that Giraud often signaled an emotional investment in his stories, but this is hardly an argument for introducing into the translation a display of sentiment more pronounced than that of the original.

     Before we leave episode 22, I might as well adduce


(vii) yet another example of the difficulties of translation:  



In this installment, the airplane that had earlier appeared in episodes 7, 8 and 10 reappears, and is named three times, in three separate panels, as “L’AEROPLANE DU DESTiN”, “LE TERRiBLE AViON” and “L’AEROPLANE DE L’iNNOMABLE”. These were translated in 1987 as “THE AIRPLANE OF DESTINY ”, “THE DEADLY PLANE” and “THE UNMENTIONABLE AIRPLANE ”.

     The first is plainly unobjectionable, but the other two don’t quite hit the mark. If not the English “TERRiBLE” for the French “TERRiBLE”, why not? And if not, then why not “FEARFUL” or “DREADFUL” rather than “DEADLY”?

     The mistranslation of “L’iNNOMABLE” is perhaps a more serious fumble, but at least there’s an excuse in that it presents more of a problem. It may seem at first that this is not so: if the Airplane of Destiny is a vehicle whose second descriptive is properly “TERRiBLE” or “DREADFUL”, then surely the third ought to be “UNSPEAKABLE” rather than “UNMENTIONABLE”.

     But “L’AÉROPLANE DE L’iNNOMABLE” is, literally, and more accurately, “THE AiRPLANE OF THE UNNAMEABLE”, and this presents not just a parallel in form to “THE AiRPLANE OF DESTiNY”, but possibly also an equivalent or closely related meaning.

     Potential clues are to be found elsewhere. References to Sri Aurobindo and Indian philosophy (episode 6), to “THE SECRET OF SiLENCE” (episode 15 of the revised version), and to the Nagual who “REMAiNS iMMOBiLE AND MUTE AT THE CENTER OF THE WEB OF TiME” (35) and “DECiDES THE DESTiNiES OF MORTALS !” (36) all suggest the possibility that the “UNNAMEABLE” is the fullness of that which gives us being—and which, in its fullness, eludes full expression.

     Ill equipped by nature to adopt a metaphysical outlook, I take this to mean that while what we understand is a part of our experience, it can never encompass the whole. If you wish to quarrel with my density on this point, it is not impregnable. Anyway, if we equate “DESTiNY”—the unchangeable or inescapable given of our lives—with “THE UNNAMEABLE”, then “UNSPEAKABLE” (like “TERRiBLE”) would not be altogether wrong in an instance where it wears a destructive or malign aspect, even if its largely negative connotation, in English, overshadows a reading (open to the French) of “iNEXPRESSiBLE” or “iNEFFABLE”.

     Not every mishandling of the text is as fateful. Consider, for instance,


(viii) an example of the difficulty of reproducing in English, in a satisfying way, what was already playful in French:


In episode 11, Grubert wondered if he was “PERDU” in the maze of passageways in the lower city of Armjourth. The résumé in 12 informs us he is “ÉGARÉ-PERDU”. The résumé in 13 describes him as “ÉGARÉ”, and his new companion, Ardant Echoy, subsequently takes this up, telling Grubert he is “UN PEU ÉGARÉ” and “ÉGARÉ, PERDU!..” A little later, Ardant is jabbering to a guard, saying Grubert is “PERDU” and “PERDU !.. PERDU-ÉGARÉ !..

     “PERDU” is simply “lost”. In French, as in English, it can suggest, among other things, that one is unable to find one’s way. Likewise “ÉGARÉ”—so these words, in conjunction and close proximity, may have a parity of meaning that is close to redundancy.

     Yet words meaning the same thing in separate languages have separate histories; while the range of their connotations may overlap, they’re rarely identical. In English, “lost” also signals ruin, defeat, destruction or death, as does “perdu” in French. “Égaré”, on the other hand, tends to indicate displacement or confusion.

     It’s for this reason, among others, that a translator feels under no obligation to translate a French word, every time it occurs, by the same English word. In this case, however, some part of the original’s mischief is lost if this dance involving two words is not reproduced. If it cannot be reproduced without undue strain, then it must be lost.

     In 1987, the steps of this merry little dance came out as:


            (a) COULD I HAVE BECOME LOST...? [PERDU]

            (b) NOW HE’S MISLAID...LOST. [ÉGARÉ-PERDU]


            (d) ... YOU GOT A LITTLE CONFUSED... [ÉGARÉ]

            (e) YOU’RE MISLAID...LOST! [ÉGARÉ, PERDU]

            (f) ... HE[ ] GOT LOST... [PERDU]

            (g) HE’S LOST!... MISLAID--LOST...! [PERDU!.. PERDU-ÉGARÉ!..]


Discounting a minor reversal of terms in (g), “PERDU” is translated consistently as “LOST”; and where “PERDU” and “ÉGARÉ” are brought into conjunction, “ÉGARÉ” is translated as “MISLAID”. Where “ÉGARÉ” occurs on its own, however, it is translated first as “LOST” and then as “CONFUSED”—both defensible on their own terms, though the little frolic is now fairly destroyed.

     But the real problem is the translation of “ÉGARÉ” as “MISLAID”. One doesn’t describe a person, like an object, as having been mislaid. One especially doesn’t tell someone they’ve been mislaid. It’s simply the wrong word. If the French can’t quite be reproduced, and Giraud’s hyphenated conjunction (ÉGARÉ-PERDU) won’t make sense in English, even so, better might be done. For instance,


            (b) NOW HE’S ASTRAY, LOST. [ÉGARÉ-PERDU]

            (d) ... YOU WENT A LiTTLE ASTRAY... [ÉGARÉ]

            (e) YOU’RE ASTRAY...LOST! [ÉGARÉ, PERDU]

            (g) HE’S LOST!... LOST, ASTRAY! [PERDU!.. PERDU-ÉGARÉ!..]


The first instance, (b), makes sense. What Ardant Echoy says in (d) sounds natural; and if it sounds less natural in (e) and (g), that’s okay, because Ardant is just repeating himself and babbling.

     In addition, this allows me to offer you


(ix) an example of a translation that is acceptable, but might be improved


Such examples might be multiplied indefinitely, in that no translation is ever perfect, but the résumé in episode 13 comes out as




It’s not a disaster, but I don’t think it quite does justice to the original. For one thing, the two strangers are not disturbing the Major. Are we, as readers, disturbed? Or should we be something closer to the original—disquieted, for instance? That the two watchers are “STRANGERS” is an observation smuggled in by the translators; the original is more restrained. Nor, I think, is “OBSERVING” strictly accurate; but in this case I recognize a difficulty, and if I propose an alternative, I won’t insist the Lofficiers don’t have the better of it. I do, however, prefer the original word order, and the selection of “ASTRAY” as a translation for “ÉGARÉ” would allow for




     Of course, what might be considered an improvement, or a misjudgment, is often a matter of opinion, or of taste; but I’ll confess to having been baffled by some of the decisions made in 1987. I lay before you


(x) two small examples of translations that baffled me:


In episode 16, when Cervic shows Malvina the original of the photograph she first saw part of in episode 5, she exclaims, “LÀ !  C’EST BiEN LE MAJOR, N’EST-CE PAS?..

     It might be simply translated as “THERE ! iT’S SURELY THE MAJOR, iSN’T iT ?

     Instead, it becomes, “THAT MAN, THERE !  IT’S THE MAJOR, ISN’T IT...?

     She’s pointing at him. There’s no need to add “THAT MAN”. The words are not only superfluous, but flatten the immediacy of the recognition, the urgency of her address to Cervic.

     Something similar occurs in episode 3, when Barnier, disappointed to find the engine of his motor vehicle won’t start, says, in French, “BiZARRE”. That’s also a perfectly acceptable word in English, but it appears to be more common in French, so the substitution of the more common word in English—“STRANGE”—is perfectly reasonable.

     But why does it become “THAT’S STRANGE! ”?

     The addition of an exclamation point makes it declarative, whereas in the absence of punctuation it might be read as a more contemplative, subdued end to Barnier’s misadventure in this installment. More importantly: is it beyond the power of the reader to understand what Barnier’s saying without adding some indicator of “THAT” to which he refers? As engineer Barnabus said in 1977, when the Garage first appeared in Heavy Metal, “THAT’S WEIRD...

     But where the Heavy Metal translation was in places free and rather reckless, I suspect a contrary intention—an essentially honorable one—may underwrite some decisions taken ten years later. Am I wrong in supposing there was a deliberate effort to make things clear and comprehensible to the reader of English, in places where they might otherwise have seemed obscure? In order to test this hypothesis, I shall briefly examine 


(xi) an instance where the translation operates in a way that dispels or restricts the appearance of obscurity:



Episode 16 was in 1987 headed “16th EPISODE: “NOTHING MUCH HAS HAPPENED””. That reads rather like a résumé, but the résumé immediately follows; so this is actually one of the few episodes with a title.

     But is it the right title?

     To be fair, the original French is “16eme ÉPISODE “MINE DE RIEN””—“mine de rien” being a notoriously elastic phrase whose translation will very much depend on context. It means, literally, “appearance of nothing”—in the sense, perhaps, of a face that gives nothing away. But what is the context in this case?

     If the original gives nothing away, the translators have opted to preserve readers from suffering a mystery by telling them “NOTHING MUCH HAS HAPPENED”. I think they were wrong to do so, not least because if they’d simply called it “NOTHING MUCH” the reader would have remained free to wonder: nothing much what?

     Nothing much of consequence, perhaps.

     And yet, if I were translator, wouldn’t I feel bound to wonder in what context the phrase might be accurately translated? And would an accurate translation not, therefore, place me in difficulty, since the capaciousness and elasticity of this small phrase is surely betrayed by something too exclusive or too precise? Even so, I might come up with something not too precise, like “NOTHiNG TO SEE” or “APPEARANCES NOTWiTHSTANDiNG”.

     Later (in another section) I’ll clarify the very precise context in which these suggestions are offered; but I’ll not remind you there of what I’ve written here—and I trust you’re not reading so carefully now that you’ll remember. In this way, I undertake a small act of fidelity to the mystery (and the clue to its possible solution) which the 1987 translation merely diverts us from.

     Meanwhile, let me concede it’s probably inappropriate to attempt to make something clear by advertising an obscurity. I’ll try to make up for this by presenting


(xii) an example of how some things have been clarified—even when they’re already perfectly clear:


In episode 2, the faithful Jasper is trying to contact Jerry Cornelius. A translation of their initial exchange might be





In 1987, this became





I draw your attention to the words “COME IN! ”, which appear to have been added as insurance against the possibility you might otherwise be unable to work out this is an exchange mediated by radio.

     If sometimes you are easily confused, you may also be forgetful or inattentive. I draw your attention to


(xiii) four occasions when the translators clarified to whom the text or dialogue refers:


In the example cited immediately above, you are also reminded to whom Cornelius is responding by the addition of that final “JASPER”.

     The caption immediately following, which ought to have been something like, “FOR WEEKS, HE’S BEEN TRAVELiNG...”, became, in 1987, “CARNELIAN HAS BEEN DRIVING FOR WEEKS,,,

     A couple of episodes later, Samuel L. Mohad is telling his companion, “THE MAJOR’S WORRIED ABOUT BAKALITE VENGEANCE, OKANIA...” It was the translators who slipped in Okania’s name.

     And there’s another intrusive reminder in episode 7, where the translation of “OUi!  N’EST-CE PAS! ” ought to be simply, “YES, iSN’T iT! ” rather than the needlessly flat “YES, OKANIA, IT IS

     The effort to prevent misunderstanding also betrays, here and there, a concern for your possible confusion that may be rather exaggerated. I direct you to


(xiv) a further example of clarification where clarification is unnecessary:


In episode 21,  Grubert’s peremptory “GiVE ME ROOM 6! ”, becomes “GIVE ME THE KEY TO ROOM 6! ”—as if you might momentarily suspect Grubert is expecting to be handed a room. No, you silly goose, what he actually wants is access to a room whose door is locked. He’s in a hotel, yes?

     Silly as this may seem, the textual result is here unobjectionable; but the effort to ensure that the text is always clear and forthright appears also to have resulted in a willingness to add needless emphasis. I present:


(xv) three examples of needless emphasis:



In episode 4, Sam originally told Okania he was on “A SPECiAL MiSSiON”. In 1987, he’s on a “A VERY SPECIAL MISSION”?

     In episode 5, the original résumé let the reader know “Everything’s going badly” (“Tout va mal”) in Jerry’s garage. By 1987, “EVERYTHING’S GOING VERY BADLY”.

     In episode 13, Grubert says, “I SLEPT REALLY WELL...” The original is “J’Ai BiEN DORMi! ” and would have been sufficiently represented by “I SLEPT WELL! ” He is not conveying how well he slept, to companions who might be pleased to hear it. It’s a performance to persuade two suspicious individuals he’s unaware one of them was pointing a gun at his head in the previous panel.

     As the effort to clarify may be related to the intrusion of needless emphasis, so may the habit of emphasis in turn be related to the allowance of unwarranted qualification. I provide


(xvi) three examples of unwarranted qualification:  


The first is structurally similar to the examples of emphasis given above. When episode 2 appeared in Heavy Metal in 1977, Jasper told Cornelius the affair involving Barnier and the cableur had “TURNED OUT BADLY ”. Ten years later, it “TURNED OUT RATHER BADLY”.

     The second example is rather more diffuse. In episode 5 (1979 revision) what Grubert thought might be translated as




In 1987, this became:




The clarifying “NOW” appears to give rise to the answering “EVENTUALLY”; and the qualifying “AT LAST” is almost inescapable.

     Is this signalling of the passage of time entirely unwarranted? It depends upon what one allows as a warrant. In the original version of episode 5, Grubert wondered, “HOW DiD THEY PiCK UP OUR TRAiL AFTER ALL THiS TiME!..

     The third example appears to consist of copy-editing rather than translation. Grubert’s next thought is a decision to confront the invading forces, “LEVEL BY LEVEL!..” In 1987 this became “LEVEL BY LEVEL, IF NEED BE !”—the reasoning being perhaps that, if Grubert didn’t yet know whether all levels had been invaded, he couldn’t definitively decide to confront Cornelius on all levels. I’ll let it stand here as an unwarranted qualification of Grubert’s private thoughts, but I acknowledge it might also be classed as a clarification.

     Qualification, in these instances, does little more than render the original text less sharp; but it also becomes, on occasion, more obstructive. Here is


(xvii) a further example of unwarranted qualification:



In episode 4, Sam, at the controls of Star Billiard, spies a tomb-robber. He explains to Okania that the mummified bodies in the nearby pyramid form its larder: “JE SAiS QUE C’EST HORRiBLE. MAiS VOUS CONNAiSSEZ LES GOÛTS DU MAJOR POUR CE GENRE DE DETAiL.

     That might be represented as




and I remember being puzzled, many years ago, by this information. It seemed odd the Major might have such a taste. Why should he? Why did he? What justified it? And what did it mean that these two subordinates were familiar with his tastes in this regard? And, more to the point, when Sam says “THAT KiND OF DETAiL”, what other examples was he thinking of that might be ranged alongside it, as “THAT KiND”? Indeed, what kind of detail is it?

     The 1987 translation of what Sam says is fair enough, except that a small adjectival plug fills a hole that wasn’t there, and suffocates this tantalizing mystery. “THAT KiND OF DETAiL” becomes “THAT KIND OF GRISLY DETAIL”—a characterization that hides the possibility it might actually be some other kind of detail, and leaves readers disinclined to wonder what it might be. A lucid translation is under no obligation to provide an answer to every question, so long as it faithfully represents the questions posed by the original.

     The characters also are questionable in this wandering story, and in this regard, too, an originally revealing sharpness is sometimes muffled. In order to show what I mean, let me set before you


(xviii) two occasions when the translated dialogue is less forceful than the original: 


I pointed out earlier how, in episode 22, Barnier’s regret had been softened to sorrow, disguising his self-concern. What he said immediately beforehand was, “ARCHER, FAiS-MOi SORTiR D’iCi...”—“ARCHER, GET ME OUT OF HERE...

     In 1987, this became the less panicky, less peremptory, “I HOPE YOU CAN GET ME OUT OF HERE IN TIME, ARCHER.

     Is it really possible the translators thought Barnier ought to be more polite, in view of what the archer was doing for him? Possibly it was just a small failure to capture the original tone, as when in episode 24 they have the President say, “I WANT SPER GOSSI IN MY OFFICE RIGHT AWAY! ” More forceful and, I think, more accurate would be “BRiNG SPER GOSSi TO MY OFFiCE iMMEDiATELY! ” That’s an order, not a request.

     And yet, the softening is pervasive. I draw your attention to


(xix) three further instances where translation blurs and softens character: 



In episode 16, when Cervic (in the 1987 translation) tells Malvina, “THIS SO-CALLED ARDANT ECHOY IS, IN REALITY, SPER GOSSI... HE’S AN AGENT OF THE TAR’HAI REVIVAL MOVEMENT”, the meaning is clear enough. All it would take to make the dialogue more accurate and less flabby would be the removal of “SO-CALLED” and “HE’S”. Malvina’s response, however, betrays the original. It ought to have been something like




but in 1987 it became




In French, Malvina knows what needs to be done, and is in a position to order it. In the English of 1987, by contrast, she leaves it to Cervic. “DO WHAT’S NECESSARY” would have been acceptable, but “WHATEVER” is not at all the same thing as “WHAT”. The unwarranted “MY GOOD CERVIC” also interferes with her authoritative tone, disguising the fact she’s in command; and when she asks about the document, she sounds as if she’s simply curious, rather than demanding an update.

     An earlier coddling of Malvina’s character may be detected in episode 5, where her effort to discover something she hasn’t been told—“AND WHY iS THAT SO WORRYiNG, DEAR?”—will almost certainly be read in the 1987 version as an expression of concern for Grubert: “WHY DOES THIS CARNELIAN WORRY YOU SO MUCH, MY DEAR?

     Do I share her concern? No I do not. I’m more concerned about being decoyed. By introducing Carnelian (Cornelius), the translators have narrowed Malvina’s query. I’m invited to wonder about the intruder, and diverted from what the Major has on his mind. He is, let me remind you, a thoroughgoing scoundrel with a lot on his conscience—if he has a conscience.

     Were the translators being evasive, on this point? Episode 5 offers


(xx) an example of evasiveness:


The title of episode 5, “LE MAJOR SE DÉROBE” was translated as “THE MAJOR’S EVASION”; but when Malvina thinks to herself “IL SE DÉROBE!...” this was translated as “HE’S BEING EVASIVE !

     So why not, for the title, “THE MAJOR’S BEING EVASIVE” or “THE MAJOR IS EVASIVE”? Why not tell us something about Grubert, the dog, instead of pretending his evasiveness, in this instance, is nothing more than a decision, a strategy, a hesitation of the moment, rather than an aspect of his character?

     Speaking of dogs, here is


(xxi) a further instance of softening, with respect to Malvina: 


In episode 16, when Malvina points out that, aboard the Ciguri, there’s no shortage of courageous young officers devoted to her, Cervic’s response is “LA BiOCHiMiE, N’EST PAS FAiTE POUR LES CHiENS” This was translated as “BIOCHEMISTRY’S NOT FOR THE BIRDS AFTER ALL! ”

     Since “for the birds” is a phrase that indicates something’s not worth bothering about, this may be read as meaning, “BIOCHEMISTRY’S NOT [USELESS] AFTER ALL”—and that represesents a fair translation. But a level of irony is perhaps displaced in the English, because if French readers read, idiomatically, that “BiOCHEMiSTRY’S THERE TO BE USED”, they also read, literally, that “BiOCHEMISTRY’S NOT MADE FOR DOGS”—and the latter is, strictly speaking, wrong; doubly wrong in a case where Malvina uses sexual attraction to manipulate an ardent young member of the Ciguri’s military guard.

     Something like “AFTER ALL, BiOCHEMISTRY’S THERE TO BE USED” would lose the original play on meaning, and the retention of play is rather clever; but the change from a canine to an avian reference hardly underlines the fact that Malvina’s leading on the bird-brained Larc by pretending to be a bitch in heat. I’m willing to admit, however, that this one’s a judgment call, and won’t insist the translators were displaying a misguided respect for the character.

     But what of their treatment of the Major? Why were they so willing to disguise his questionable character and problematic past? I offer for your consideration


(xxii) three further instances where the translators are evasive, with regard to the Major’s true character:



In episode 23 the President advises her subordinates to be careful, because “THE MAJOR IS NOT SOME PETTY GRUMOUS THIEF!

     The word “grumous” I found a distraction. It’s not a word I recognized, and has a dimly Lewis Carroll feel, as though the President has been rummaging among slithy toves and borogroves for her vocabulary. When I looked up the definition (it concerns texture) it appeared to make no sense.


     I’ve come across nothing to suggest that, in French, “VOLEUR DE GRUMES” is at all common; but if it’s literally someone who steals cut wood, then it may be the President is reminding her subordinates that Grubert is not to be regarded as a mere opportunist, and “PETTY THiEF” is a plausible translation, while “GRUMOUS” is a hangover (nonsensical in English) from the original. But it’s a notable failing of the 1987 translation that it’s not clear that the President, from the moment she first appears in episode 21, is in charge of a police operation directed against Grubert. In that context, a warning to police that the Major is “NOT A SiMPLE PETTY THiEF” makes sense.

     But does it also bear the sense that the Major is “NOT JUST SOME PETTY THiEF”?—echoing other indications (partly effaced by the 1979 revision, and further ameliorated or confused in the 1987 translation) that Grubert is no common criminal.

     It may seem an entirely disconnected point—simply one more example of unwarranted qualification—that in episode 16’s résumé, the reader of English is told that, with the aid of his expansion generators, Grubert was able to make an immense and complex world out of “ANY INSIGNIFICANT ASTEROID FROM SOMEWHERE WITHIN THE BELT”. A more accurate translation would be simply




By an addition, the 1987 text stresses the insignificance of the selected asteroid, and hence directs the reader’s attention to Grubert’s creative power. By an omission, the 1987 text disguises an essential quality of the asteroid—its lostness—a misdirection that prevents the reader from understanding why it mattered to Grubert.

     This was already hinted at in episode 4’s résumé—or would have been had the translation not softened the hint by referring to Grubert’s “FORMER HIDEAWAY”. One might imagine this describes a holiday retreat, or a place to which Grubert returned to relax and recover when adventuring palled; and, since it’s later identified with what was once (in Le Bandard Fou) Lady Kowalski’s pleasure asteroid, maybe that’s not so far off the mark.

     But the French—“SON ANCiEN REPAiRE”—might be better served by a more direct translation as “HiS OLD HiDEOUT”. As my French-English dictionary has it:


repaire  [rəpɛ:r], s.m.  Den ; lair (of wild beasts) ; nest (of pirates) ; haunt (of criminals).