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Wednesday, July 15, 2020 

Will Asterix undergo political correctness in new US translations?

The New Haven Register reports that Papercutz is going to publish new translations of Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo's famous comic starring a diminutive Gaul, but if the following is correct, there may be moral panics accompanying their editions:
The series seems less dated than its contemporary “Tintin,” which often depicted people of color in racist ways. While the world of “Asterix” is not immune, the new U.S. volumes remove such horrific images and sticks to the original notion that no one people are better than any other.

“Nobody looks pretty in there. It’s all raucous. The Gauls themselves are portrayed as a brawling lot that can’t get together,” Nantier said. “So nobody comes out of it unscathed. Everybody is skewered happily.”
This seems almost deliberately confusing, but it sounds like we may discover that "The Mansions of the Gods", one of the stories that made the most notable anti-slavery statements and beliefs that workers should be paid and be able to earn a living, has been omitted from the entries Papercutz will bring to the US market. All because of how blacks are drawn in a manner not all that different from Ebony White in the Spirit comic strips by Will Eisner. I get the feeling this too will fall victim to the wokeness propaganda of modern times. It reminded me that, 2 years ago, former CBR contributor Augie deBlieck ran the following review of the mid-90s story "All at Sea" on Pipeline, where he took issue with how the black member of the recurring pirate ship crew was depicted, or was addressed by the captain:
And while we’re not getting anything too misogynistic in this book, there is the matter of this sequence.

My jaw dropped. Of course! Use the black guy for his natural rhythm! No, this isn’t awkward at all to read in modern times. Nope. Not at all. Hell, I think it would have been awkward in 1996, too. (Oh, and try to look past the part where the ship’s captain calls him “Boy”. Yikes.)
If it matters, I too find the way the guy's illustrated in questionable taste for this day and age. But while I think deBlieck is a pretty good writer - certainly one of the better ones to work at CBR back in the day - I think here, he's succumbed to political correctness, and certainly in regards to who it is who's using an insulting slang: the pirate captain. Considering the pirates are supposed to be crooks in the tales, does it matter when it's a villain who's the one using the offensive slang? If the heroes of the story stooped that low, that would definitely be something wrong. This reminds me of a fuss that was made 2 years ago regarding how Brian Bendis made use of crass language in Superman, and as awful a writer as he was, that controversy too seemed brought up for all the wrong reasons. If they have to complain about a case where a writer's going too far in handling villains, they'd do better to take a look at some of Geoff Johns' early work on books like the Flash, where he put in heavy-handed allusions to sexual harassment. It may also be worth noting that, while "boy" did sadly wind up as a racial insult, even white adult men don't like to be spoken about that way. It's far different from how a lot of women don't mind being addressed as "girls", as a synonym for "young women", which they see as an affectionate compliment.

deBlieck confirms he's taken issue with the story's character design when he adds the following panel at the end of the review, where a black man is chasing down a Roman officer. So he's allegedly bothered that the character design relies on exaggerated features that aren't considered in good taste these days. But here's the thing: even the Gauls, for example, have some exaggerated features like big round noses. Indeed, that's practically how nearly everyone in these comedic stories is illustrated by the late Albert Uderzo. Yet deBlieck doesn't think it's wrong to depict the Gauls with absurdity? While I do recognize that stereotypical drawing is not above scrutiny, I do have to wonder why it's wrong to illustrate blacks stereotypically, but not whites like the Gauls in this tale. And if All At Sea also served as an anti-slavery metaphor, that's not something to appreciate, just like how Will Eisner depicted Ebony White heroically in his comic strips? This is not the same as Marvel's The Truth: Red, White & Black, where a story you'd think was intended as a serious drama not intended for humor got ruined with ludicrously cartoonish character designs that didn't service the story well, yet the liberal media gave it a free pass as the years went by, because its vision suited their political correctness.

deBlieck even took issue with Asterix & the Secret Weapon, an earlier story parodying feminism:
I kept rooting for it through the whole book, thinking maybe it would go in an interesting place. 1991 was not 1961. Surely, Uderzo knew enough to stay away from certain stereotypes, right?

And then I laughed out loud at where it did go, because it seems so ludicrous these days. It was bad in 1991, but it’s over the top ridiculously wrong today.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present “Asterix vs. Feminism.”
And something's inherently wrong with criticizing feminism, at least as employed by leftists today at the expense of cohesion? That's what this is beginning to sound like. He later notes:
The overall effect is a bit over the top. The example of female empowerment in this book is less about equality and more about angry women taking over and trying to prove men are dolts.
Well see, that's just it - if we look at some examples in more recent years, like how Kathleen Kennedy mishandled the Star Wars franchise, this is exactly the problem: there's alleged feminists out there who believe all males are practically scum. Certainly that's the impression one could get from the way one like Anita Sarkeesian talks. Even worse though, is if universities are indoctrinating women into making defamatory accusations against men over even the most innocuous behavior, and that leads to division in society we don't need. I won't say this comic book pulls off its satire effectively, but that doesn't seem to be deBlieck's point. He seems to think it's wrong to criticize - let alone parody - feminism at all. One of his arguments is:
The blunt truth of the matter is, women weren’t equals in those days in the ways we’d expect today. To try to force that equality for the sake of a gag is anachronistic, but — well, this is “Asterix.” Anachronistic humor is a part of the game. Like the Twilight Zone, when you’re trying to draw a parallel to the modern world, sometimes you have to stretch credulity a bit. The audience has proven in the past it’s more than ready to do that.
Now doesn't this sound more than bit like somebody who's pushing for being "realistic", and can't put aside politics for the sake of surreal humor, despite acknowledging Asterix was built on these kind of modern allusions run through the lens of a bygone era? If there's something it does seem ahead of the curve on, it's the debate whether it's a good idea to have women serve in combat units per se, something that's happened here in Israel too, but recent research has shown that physically, most of the women don't have the strength it takes to deal with all the heavy duty equipment the Israeli military produces, and it's not every woman out there who has what it takes to become a female bodybuilder either (and even they're not immortal). If there is something where this Asterix story could be dated on, it's how there's quite a few feminists today who believe being grotesque and physically unattractive is acceptable. Too bad deBlieck can't consider that.

Which now bring us back the main question: will the Papercutz translations succumb to political correctness? Don't be surprised if they do. Even European comics have fallen victim to it in past years, and this could turn out to be quite a disappointment in terms of what's translated, and what could be left behind back on mainland Europe.

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"Yet deBlieck doesn't think it's wrong to depict the Gauls with absurdity? While I do recognize that stereotypical drawing is not above scrutiny, I do have to wonder why it's wrong to illustrate blacks stereotypically, but not whites like the Gauls in this tale."

The difference is that the Gauls are not being drawn stereotypically. There is no stereotype of the French having big round noses. Drawing them that way does not play into any cliches of ethnic hatred, or comfort racists in their prejudices. When a Frenchman draws his ancestral French characters with round noses, that is just his personal drawing style, absurd but not stereotypical.

"All because of how blacks are drawn in a manner not all that different from Ebony White in the Spirit comic strips by Will Eisner."

Ebony's portrayal, and his New York version of minstrel dialect, stirred up a lot of controversy and protest even back in the 1940s. Eisner sent off Ebony to elocution school at one point, a response to the criticism of his exaggerated dialect, and replaced him with an Eskimo boy named Blubber, only to bring back Ebony with his accent intact after a short while. Later, again in response to criticism, Eisner replaced him with a non-black assistant named Sammy.

I've read most of the older Asterix comics and the only ethnic group that was constantly portrayed in a terrible way were the germans/goths (who are portrayed as violent neanderthals), something that has to be primarily related to being written relatively near WWII in France. The Norse in Asterix, for example, have similar violent and bullying tendencies to the germans/goths, but are drawn much more refined way by comparison. While the Africans are drawn stereotypically, they are also often portrayed as sympathetic characters in the stories. Point being, yes there are some stereotypes in Asterix, but that's because its a capsule of its time period, and most of the stereotypes are more comical than harsh (the britons or spanish for example). There are still new Asterix books being created, so if people really need books without negative stereotypes, I'd imagine those are more what they'd want to look at. Doesn't justify censoring the originals at all by dishonest translations.

This is not something that began with political correctness; in the 19th century, the english translators of The Three Musketeers removed or altered the anti-English comments of the French original. When Ballantine Books reprinted the Tarzan series in the 1960s, they removed some racist lines from them; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was changed in the 70s to remove the racist characterization of the Oompa-Loompas. Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None had an uglier title when it was first published; even then, the British title had to be changed for the American publication.

I wonder about the pirate calling the black man 'boy'. That is offensive in English; but in the French original, it would come across as very different.

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