Posts Tagged ‘Zack Davisson’

Manga With Miso Soup: A Mini-Joust

%e3%80%8e%e3%83%8f%e3%82%a6%e3%83%bc%e3%82%a2%e3%83%bc%e3%83%a6%e3%83%bc%ef%bc%9f%e3%80%8f

How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto

By Avery Fischer Udagawa, Bangkok

SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016 featured a manga mini-joust with translators Zack Davisson and Alexander O. Smith, who discussed the work How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto. Yamamoto attended the event in Yokohama as a special guest.

How Are You? is the poignant story of a family’s break-up, told from the perspective of a girl in their neighborhood. The husband in the family is Japanese; the wife is from northern Europe. Their daughter is a teenager. The story unfolds in urban or suburban Japan.

For the mini-joust, Davisson and Smith each translated the same three pages from How Are You? and discussed their approaches, with Smith in Yokohama and Davisson appearing by Skype from Seattle.

The mini-joust by all accounts ended in a draw. Smith, translator of Akira Toriyama’s Dr. Slump and Davisson, translator of Shigeru Mizuki’s Kitaro, presented their work in different formats: Smith with his English text handwritten into the graphics, and Davisson in typewritten text with industry abbreviations: numbers to show which panel, FX for “effects.”

Smith (standing) and Davisson (via Skype) discuss their translations of How Are You? Yamamoto is seated at left in the white sweater.

Alexander O. Smith (standing) and Zack Davisson (via Skype) discuss their translations of How Are You? by manga artist Miki Yamamoto, seated at left in the white sweater.

Here are the three excerpts the translators discussed, each followed by Smith’s translation and then by Davisson’s. Following each excerpt are a few notes.

Excerpt 1

%e3%80%8e%e3%83%8f%e3%82%a6%e3%82%a2%e3%83%bc%e3%83%a6%e3%83%bc%ef%bc%9f%e3%80%8f-%e5%b1%b1%e6%9c%ac%e7%be%8e%e5%b8%8c-p-10 

[Source: p. 10, How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto (Shodensha, 2014). ISBN-10: 4396782055]

Translation by Alexander O. Smith

 how-are-you-trans-alexander-o-smith-p-10

Translation by Zack Davisson

P10

1.1 … she only wants to be like her daddy.

1.2 You’re imagining things.

1.3 I’m not! Dying her hair black …

1.4 Straightening it with an iron …

2.1 Sheesh!

2.2 She’s a pubescent high school girl. That’s all.

4.1 So what do you want for dinner?

4.2 Eh? I’m good with whatever Lisa wants.

4.3 His beautiful foreign wife and charming daughter are like vivid flowers blossoming in a garden from one of his drawings. A typical Sunday for the happy Masaoka family.

AU: The translations of this first excerpt show some confusion about who Lisa was (wife or daughter?). The translators at first did not have access to the full book, so had no way of knowing Lisa’s identity.

ZD: I think this shows how ambiguous translation can be, and how sometimes translators have to make a “best guess” . . .  one that is often revised later down the line when you go back and do revisions.

AOS: At the mini-joust, translator Hart Larrabee suggested that instead of saying “foreign wife” we could use the wife’s nationality (I think it was Danish?), as an alternative to removing “foreign” altogether, which is what I did.

Excerpt 2

 %e3%80%8e%e3%83%8f%e3%82%a6%e3%82%a2%e3%83%bc%e3%83%a6%e3%83%bc%ef%bc%9f%e3%80%8f-%e5%b1%b1%e6%9c%ac%e7%be%8e%e5%b8%8c-p-18

[Source: p. 18, How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto (Shodensha, 2014). ISBN-10: 4396782055]

Translation by Alexander O. Smith

 how-are-you-trans-alexander-o-smith-p-18

Translation by Zack Davisson

P18

1 FX: Chop chop chop chop

2 FX: Chop chop chop

3 FX: Chop chop chop

4.1 FX: Huh

4.2 Oh.

4.3 Crap.

4.4 I think I overdid it.

5.1 Did you get any sleep last night?

5.2 Not really … but

5.3 In case, you know … when he comes home.

5.4 I thought I should have breakfast ready.

7.1 Is this … miso soup?

7.2 Or a bowl of onions …?

8 …. I have to go to school. See you later!!

ZD: Something I just noticed: The text here only says gohan, and Alex made that dinner while I had it as breakfast! Ah, the choices translators have to make when they don’t have enough information…

AOS: It’s interesting how both Zack and I approached the miso soup part on the bottom right of p. 18 the same way, changing what was a statement in the Japanese (direct translation “but this miso soup . . . has nothing but leeks”) to a rhetorical question. My version hews a little closer to the Japanese, but I find myself preferring Zack’s more in-the-moment take on the line.

Zack Davisson, via Skype from Seattle, and Alexander O. Smith pose with manga artist Miki Yamamoto.

Zack Davisson and Alexander O. Smith pose with manga artist Miki Yamamoto.

Excerpt 3

%e3%80%8e%e3%83%8f%e3%82%a6%e3%82%a2%e3%83%bc%e3%83%a6%e3%83%bc%ef%bc%9f%e3%80%8f-%e5%b1%b1%e6%9c%ac%e7%be%8e%e5%b8%8c%ef%bc%88p-32%ef%bc%89

[Source: p. 32, How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto (Shodensha, 2014). ISBN-10: 4396782055]

Translation by Alexander O. Smith

how-are-you-trans-alexander-o-smith-p-32

Translation by Zack Davisson

P32

1 What if … what if he never comes back?

What if I never learn anything more than this?

I never know why he left. Where he went.

3

What if … this is it? He never comes back. He’s just … missing. And I …

What do I … what do I … w …what am I s..supposed to d..d..do …

Miki Yamamoto has also authored the works Ribbon Around a Bomb and Sunny Sunny Ann. All illustrations in this blog post are © Miki Yamamoto, and used with permission.

SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016 in Yokohama

scbwi-logoBy Wendy Uchimura, Yokohama

October 22 saw two dozen translators gather in Yokohama for SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016. Sessions were held from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., covering a variety of topics and all in a lovely convivial atmosphere.

The day began with a pre-recorded Skype interview with publisher Julia Marshall (Gecko Press) that gave everyone a great peek into the world of a children’s publisher. We learned some of the ins-and-outs of how the translated version of a book comes into print and heard some important tips on how to approach publishers with our ideas for works to translate.

translation-day-2016-julia-marshall-au

Julia Marshall speaks by Skype from Wellington, New Zealand, with Avery Fischer Udagawa.

SCBWI International Translator Coordinator and Japan Translator Coordinator, Avery Fischer Udagawa, then spoke about SCBWI and SWET and gave all the participants the chance to share information on their current projects.

Following right on, renowned translator Zack Davisson joined the group via Skype and was interviewed by Batchelder Award-winning translator Alexander O. Smith. After answering questions from the room, Zack and Alex engaged in a mini translation joust. Their challenge was to translate several sections from the manga How Are You? by Miki Yamamoto, with the extra added pressure that the artist herself was in the room! Given the caliber of both translators, it was no surprise that the result was a draw.

2016-10-22-10-59-39

Zack Davisson, via Skype from Seattle, and Alexander O. Smith pose with manga artist Miki Yamamoto.

The last session of the morning featured translator Ginny Tapley Takemori, who talked about how she got into the craft and her work on The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine by Akiyuki Nosaka and The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui, the latter of which has been shortlisted for the 2017 Marsh Award.

 

 

After a delicious, healthy lunch and lots of chatting, Yumiko Sakuma gave a talk in Japanese about recent trends in Japanese children’s and YA publishing, where the number of new publications is high. Ms. Sakuma focused on 3 themes of high interest in Japanese children’s/YA literature: the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and related Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster; bukatsu, or after-school clubs; and stories of war and peace. Ms. Sakuma recommended a number of titles in these areas and also encouraged us to check out children’s books that have been selected for awards, including the Sankei Juvenile Literature Publishing Culture Award, Noma Children’s Literature Prize and the Japan Picture Book Award.

2016-10-22-13-47-08

Yumika Sakuma introduces a picture book by Kazu Sashida about the 2011 tsunami.

The final session of the day was an opportunity to have Ginny critique our previously-submitted translations of selected excerpts (anonymously, of course!). It is rare to receive feedback on our work, and it was interesting to see how everyone had approached the texts: The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui and Graveyard of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka.

As always, this event was a valuable opportunity to meet with others involved in the translation of children’s literature, learn more about activities in the field—from the perspectives of both publishers and translators—and get ideas about how to improve our work.

translation-day-morning-group-photo

Participants in Translation Day 2016 at the end of the morning. The slide shows works by Akiyuki Nosaka and Tomiko Inui, both translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

 

Announcing SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016!

Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka, to be discussed in workshop by Ginny Tapley Takemori at Translation Day 2016

Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka, to be discussed in workshop by Ginny Tapley Takemori at SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016

The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators presents

SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016: Japanese Children’s Literature in English

A day of presentations, critiques, and conversation for published and pre-published translators of Japanese children’s/YA literature into English, including prose literature and manga.

Date: Saturday, October 22, 2016 

Time: Registration 8:30 a.m. Sessions 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Place: Yokohama International School, Yokohama, 2F Pauli Bldg

Fee: Advance registration 3,500 yen for current SCBWI or SWET members; 5,000 yen for nonmembers. At the door 4,500 yen for current SCBWI or SWET members; 6,000 yen for nonmembers.

Advance registrations and translations of texts for workshop with Ginny Tapley Takemori (see below) due by Friday, October 7, 2016. 

Registration:  To reserve your place and request workshop texts, send an e-mail to japan (at) scbwi.org

This event will be in English, with one session in Japanese.

 * * * * * * * * * * *

SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016 Schedule

8:30 Registration | 8:50 Opening Remarks

9:00-9:30 Julia Marshall: How to Publish “Curiously Good Books From Around the World”

The founder of Gecko Press and a translator in her own right, Julia Marshall publishes world literature for children in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK, and the US. Marshall describes how Gecko Press works and its recent Japan titles, such as Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa, translated by Cathy Hirano. (Pre-recorded Skype interview.)

9:30-10:00 Avery Fischer Udagawa: SWET, SCBWI, Submission Opportunities and Speed Share

As SCBWI International Translator Coordinator and Japan Translator Coordinator, and a longtime SWETer, Avery Fischer Udagawa shares about SCBWI and SWET and leads participants in a “speed share” of their current projects. She also shares about submission opportunities for participants in Translation Day, from interested publishers.

10:00-10:45 Zack Davisson: Convergence and Divergence in Prose and Manga Translation

As translator of The Secret Biwa Music that Caused the Yurei to Lament by Isseki Sanjin and the two manga seriesand Showa: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki, Zack Davisson discusses his craft and engages in a mini-joust with Batchelder Award-winning translator Alexander O. Smith. (Via Skype.)

11:00-12:00 Ginny Tapley Takemori: Historical Fiction for Middle Grade and Young Adult Readers

As translator of The Whale That Fell in Love with a Submarine by Akiyuki Nosaka and The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui, Ginny Tapley Takemori has delved into Japanese narratives of World War II and delivered them movingly to young English-language readers of the 21st-century. She shares gleanings from her journey.

Lunch—Bring a lunch, and “talk shop” with fellow translators in the event room or nearby Minato-no-Mieru Oka Park.

1:30-2:15 Yumiko Sakuma: Japanese Children’s and YA Publishing, Present and Future

As a critic, editor, professor and translator of more than 200 books for the Japanese children’s market, Yumiko Sakuma knows the industry inside-out. Here she gives an overview of Japanese children’s/YA publishing since World War II, a look at recent trends, and information on how to scout out promising new titles. (In Japanese.)

2:30-4:00 Ginny Tapley Takemori: Translation Workshop

Ginny Tapley Takemori critiques participants’ translations of selected excerpts from literature for young adults. The excerpts will include text from Grave of the Fireflies by Akiyuki Nosaka.

Translation Day participants must submit their translations of the selected text for this workshop by October 7, 2016. To request the text and register for Translation Day, send an e-mail to japan (at) scbwi.org

4:00-4:30 Discussion/Q & A and Closing Comments

* * * * * * * * * * *

SCBWI Japan Translation Day 2016 Speakers

Ginny Tapley Takemori is a British translator based in rural Ibaraki Prefecture, who has translated fiction by more than a dozen early modern and contemporary Japanese writers. She studied Japanese at the universities of SOAS (London) and Waseda (Tokyo) and earned her MA in Advanced Japanese Studies from The University of Sheffield. She has translated the middle grade historical novel The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui, and the young adult short story collection The Whale That Fell In Love With a Submarine by Akiyuki Nosaka. She has another children’s project in the works. Her book translations for adults include The Isle of South Kamui and Other Stories by Kyotaro Nishimura and Puppet Master by Miyuki Miyabe, as well as From the Fatherland, With Love by Ryu Murakami, co-translated with Ralph McCarthy and Charles De Wolf. Her fiction translations have appeared in Granta, Words Without Borders, and a number of anthologies. She has also translated non-fiction books about Japanese art, theater, and history, and worked as an editor of translated fiction, nonfiction, and illustrated books at Kodansha International. Earlier on, she worked in Spain as a foreign rights literary agent and freelance translator from Spanish and Catalan. She describes some of her children’s/YA work here: https://ihatov.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/an-interview-with-ginny-tapley-takemori

Zack Davisson grew up in Spokane, Washington, and did freelance writing for a JET newsletter and expat magazines in Japan, before earning his MA in Advanced Japanese Studies from The University of Sheffield. He rewrote his thesis as the book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost, and subsequently translated a novella from classical Japanese: The Secret Biwa Music that Caused the Yurei to Lament by Isseki Sanjin. He has since translated the landmark manga series Showa: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki and is at work on a seven-volume series of Mizuki’s classic yokai comic Kitaro. The Birth of Kitaro, published in May 2016, and Kitaro Meets Nurarihyon, forthcoming in October 2016, are the first volumes in this collection. Davisson has collaborated with Mark Morse on an original comic, Narrow Road, and has written a much-commented-upon translation essay: www.tcj.com/confessions-of-a-manga-translator. He describes his career path and publications here: https://ihatov.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/an-interview-with-translator-zack-davisson

Yumiko Sakuma was born in Tokyo and worked as an interpreter and in-house editor before becoming a freelance editor, translator, critic, and professor of Japanese children’s literature. She has translated more than 200 children’s books into Japanese, and her work has garnered many awards, including the Sankei Juvenile Literature Publishing Culture Award. She also researches African literature and runs a project promoting African children’s books in Japan. Her blog and website provide valuable information about Japanese children’s titles: http://baobab.way-nifty.com/blog/ and http://members.jcom.home.ne.jp/baobab-star/. Her essay “What Exactly Is Translation?” is available in an English translation by Deborah Iwabuchi: www.swet.jp/articles/article/pianyan_little_keys_and_yumiko_sakuma_2/_C30

Julia Marshall grew up on a farm in Marton, New Zealand, and worked in Sweden for 12 years at a Swedish publisher of multi-language company magazines and web communications. She then returned to New Zealand (Wellington) to set up Gecko Press in 2004. Gecko Press “translates and publishes award-winning, curiously good children’s books from around the world [specializing] in English versions of award-winning children’s books by internationally well-established authors and illustrators.” Titles from Japan include The Bear and the Wildcat by Kazumi Yumoto, illustrated by Komako Sakai; Hannah’s Night by Komako Sakai; and Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa, illustrated by Jun Takabatake; all translated by Cathy Hirano. www.geckopress.co.nz

Alexander O. Smith is the founder of Kajiya Productions Inc., co-founder of Bento Books Inc., and based in Kamakura. His translation of the YA fantasy novel Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe earned the Batchelder Award in 2008. He translated the parable in verse “Wings on the Wind” by Yuichi Kimura for Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. www.bentobooks.com

Avery Fischer Udagawa lives near Bangkok. Her translations include the middle grade historical novel J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani and the story “House of Trust” by Sachiko Kashiwaba in Tomo: Friendship through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories. She serves as SCBWI International Translator Coordinator and SCBWI Japan Translator Coordinator. www.averyfischerudagawa.com

japan.scbwi.org

ihatov.wordpress.com

An Interview with Translator Zack Davisson

Birth of Kitaro Shigeru Mizuki Zack DavissonBy Alexander O. Smith, Kamakura

The recent death of Shigeru Mizuki (1922-2015, eulogized here in The New Yorker and here in The Comics Journal) brought deserved attention to this artist’s remarkable life, and to his manga about Japanese folklore and history. His works often appeal to children and young adults. A major translator of Mizuki’s manga, Zack Davisson, agreed to an interview here about his career and approach. His latest Mizuki translation, The Birth of Kitaro, is forthcoming in May 2016.

Hello Zack, many thanks for agreeing to do this interview for us. To start us off, could you give us a little bit of your background, and tell us what you’re currently working on?

I’m a translator and writer who specializes in Japanese folklore and yokai. I wrote my MA thesis on yurei, which I turned into my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost. I currently translate several manga series, and am working on a new seven-volume collection of Shigeru Mizuki’s classic yokai comic Kitaro. The Birth of Kitaro, due out in May, is the first volume in this collection.

Literary translators often have two stories to tell about how they got where they are: the story of their growth as a translator, and the story of their growth as a writer. How did you develop your skills on both sides of the Pacific?

Growing up in Spokane, WA, writing was something I was always good at. Like some kids were good at sports, or math, words held no mystery for me. But I never thought about writing seriously—I wanted to be an artist. It took me four years of art school to come to terms with the fact that I would never be anything other than a middling talent. Certainly not able to compete on a professional level. But I still wanted to do something creative, and living in Japan in my thirties sparked the idea of doing freelance writing. I started out small, writing for my local JET newsletter. When that was well received, I moved up to paid magazine gigs for Japanzine and Kansai Time-Out. Then when I was doing my master’s degree with the University of Sheffield, at their Hiroshima branch, I got into the idea of turning my thesis into a book. A book I ended up rewriting completely about 5-6 times.

Translating was an extension of all this. I did translation assignments for my MA, and I found I liked doing them. We translated a broad spectrum of works, from short story science fiction to news articles to blog posts, getting a feel for how to change styles to suit the source. My first translations were terrible; clunky and laboriously faithful to the source material. But I started to feel my way around in how to put the words on the page.

Birth of Kitaro Sample Zack Davisson Mizuki ShigeruAnd then manga translation was just pure love of comics. I’ve been a comic fan for as long as I can remember, including owning a comic book store with the massive collection that that entails. It was something I wanted to do, so I learned how to do it. I also took an already translated manga—Dr. Slump—and I went through it volume by volume doing my own translation, then compared it to the published work to see what they were doing and how they did it. [Translated by our interviewer, Alex! –ed] It was excellent practice and something I recommend to anyone who wants to translate manga.                                   Page from The Birth of Kitaro courtesy Zack Davisson

I subscribe to the 10,000 hours theory, that you need to endure a period of hard ass, grindstone practice before you become fluent in a skill. The ones who don’t make it through that particular crucible never reach the professional level.

You’ve written about supernatural Japan in Yurei: The Japanese Ghost and on your website, hyakumonogatari.com, and your translations of Mizuki Shigeru’s Kitaro comics are filled with yokai. What drew you to this genre?

Ghosts and the supernatural are something that I have always found interesting. As a kid in the 70s I used to watch this show called In Search Of, and I pored over books like Time Life’s The Enchanted World and a great gnome book that I can’t remember the title of. I liked the concept of a mysterious world of folklore. I lived in Scotland for a bit and toured around, going to the Brig o’ Doon and the fairy bridge on the Isle of Skye. I even had a Loch Ness Monster sighting.

Going to Japan was like hitting the jackpot. The country was alive with folklore and magic and mystery and lived with it in a day-to-day way that I hadn’t imagined. I was fascinated by everything, and wanted to decipher every character on every temple wall or shopkeeper’s shelf and figure out what it all meant. And when I discovered Shigeru Mizuki—that was life-changing. His characters and work were everywhere, but I had never heard of him. And the more I plunged into his world, the more I wanted to know, both about the yokai world and about Mizuki himself.

There was this whole wonderful, hidden world locked tightly in a box of which language was the key. I made it my mission to take up the torch from Lafcadio Hearn, and through translation and writing make more of this exquisite awesomeness available to an English-speaking audience.

Yurei_Japanese_Ghost_CoverOne challenge YA authors whose work spans multiple cultures grapple with is how to introduce concepts from a culture that may be unfamiliar to their readership in a way that will inform and develop a sense of place without leaving their audience behind. You’ve chosen to leave words like yurei and yokai in Japanese. What informs your choices about what to leave “unlocalized,” and what strategies have you used to introduce these terms?

I had some back-and-forth about that with my editors, but I felt strongly about keeping those words in Japanese. I think this is also part of the art of translation—knowing when to not translate a word. I read older translations from the 1800s where samurai was translated as knights and yokai as faeries, and the translations are horribly dated. They don’t read well because they are overly localized to resemble Western fairy tales. I’ve read similar translations of Arabian Nights where they did their best to scrub the “Arabian” part, going so far as to introduce Christian parallels.

That said, there has to be a reason for leaving a word in the native language. You are essentially introducing a new word into the English language. But that reason has to be beyond exoticism. Or laziness . . . like you said, it is that balance of sense of place and readability.

For me, it was that the precedent had been set centuries ago for world folklore—you don’t translate monster names. Leprechauns are leprechauns. Banshee are banshee. Penanggalan are penanggalan. These are very specific, culturally bound terms that are not possible to translate. It’s better to educate.

I used a few strategies to introduce these terms, mostly my beloved em dash. You can drop that in to give a quick clue. “We’re surround by yokai—monsters everywhere!!!” I’m not a huge fan of Translator’s Notes. If possible I want to give clues in the main text so readers don’t have to flip back and forth. I also write Yokai Files for every volume of Kitaro. The Yokai Files highlight all the yokai in each volume, and help readers get acclimatized to the names. But I think of those as “bonus features,” instead of required for the main text.

At the end of the day, you have to trust readers, even young ones. I ultimately made the argument that if kids could handle Pokémon and Pikachu, then they wouldn’t stumble over Nurikabe and Nezumi Otoko.

The Secret Biwa MusicYour work spans literary translations from classical Japanese, such as The Secret Biwa Music that Caused the Yurei to Lament, to translations of much more modern material. How does the age and style of the source material influence your creation of a style or authorial “voice” in the translation?

That’s something very important to me. I translate works from different eras because I enjoy reading from different eras. I love Charles Dickens and Nathanial Hawthorne. And when you translate works from those eras they should reflect the literary style of the times. The prose was more patient. The vocabulary was more verbose.

Translating from different eras flexes different literary muscles as well, which I enjoy. Although I can’t overdo it. I spent a couple months doing some very early Edo translations, and it made my brain hurt. I needed to do some modern manga as a break after that!

Tell me about what’s it’s been like working on Mizuki Shigeru’s comics. His output spans a wide range of genres and readership ages. How aware are you of your target audience’s age when you translate, and what do you change, if anything, when translating for younger readers?

Absolutely I am aware. I didn’t translate Showa: A History of Japan with the same vocabulary that I used to translate Kitaro—nor did Mizuki write them at the same level. That’s one of the things I love about Mizuki, is that he offers such a broad range of depth and styles in his work. I did a translation of some of his art commentary, and people were amazed that the same person who wrote Kitaro was capable of such poetic language. Working with Drawn & Quarterly is great in that they want to present a complete picture of Mizuki as an artist, and have allowed me to work on some things that I never thought would get English translations.

With Kitaro, the goal is “kid friendly.” That means I follow the basic reading level rules, use simpler vocabulary and shorten the sentences. But I don’t dumb down the concepts, and every now and then I throw in a word that kids might have to look up. I think that’s important. When I was a young reader, I liked books that challenged my vocabulary. I want to pass on that feeling of accomplishment.

Narrow Road Zack Davisson CoverYou collaborated with artist Mark Morse on an original comic, Narrow Road. Where did the idea for that project originate? How did you divide storytelling duties between yourself as the writer and Mark as the artist?

I think many translators eventually have the itch to do something of their own. My collaboration with Mark was kind of dipping my toes in those waters. I had seen him on Twitter and was really taken with his art. I reached out to him, and he was open to collaboration. We had similar ideas, of doing something with Buddhist traveler’s tales in a non-didactic way. So we did a test story and found that we enjoyed working together.

With comics it is hard to say how the storytelling duties are split. I give him a full script, which includes panel-by-panel breakdowns and art suggestions, but he has plenty of room to improvise. Sometimes I will insist on things, especially if they affect the pacing of the story, or the timing of a gag. But his sense is great and he always improves on the initial ideas. I have only had him go back and redraw something once, but that was because I had a new idea once the art was done.

We hope to keep going. The reception has been good, and doing the work is rewarding. I just sent him the next script yesterday. We’ll see where the Narrow Road takes us!

Have you collaborated with other artists/editors/translators/writers? What different arrangements have you tried, and how did they work out? Anything to recommend to YA authors or translators contemplating collaborative projects?

My experience with editors has been 100 percent positive. I don’t know if that is just luck, but it has been good experiences all around. My personal goal as a translator is to get as many of my words on the page as possible. I generally get everything up there, with only a word or two changed for a 500-page comic. But even then I go over the finished version to see what changes were made and try to learn from that.

A new collaboration is always tricky, as you have to sort of feel each other out. I am starting a new project with an Italian artist, as well as doing some work with different editors at a new company, so that will be interesting.

If possible, it is nice to establish a relationship over time. When I first started with Drawn & Quarterly, there was more back-and-forth with editorial, especially on how to present Mizuki’s language. But having worked together for years now we are in synchronicity, and have developed a wonderful level of trust. You’ll see the fruits of that in the latest Kitaro, where I was able to add quite a bit of additional content to the main text. It’s a lot of fun!

Showa-A History of JapanMany YA authors/translators teach, edit, or write outside their main genre. Is translation/writing your full-time occupation?

Unfortunately, writing and translation does not pay enough to serve as my sole occupation. I have a full-time job on top of my translation/writing work: writing and editing for a big company. I try to keep my day job private, although everyone at my office knows about my “other life.” It’s a tough balance—I essentially have two full time jobs, and that means sacrifice.

When I started tackling Mizuki’s manga Showa: A History of Japan, I knew that I would have to make changes to my life if I wanted to be successful. So I cut out a lot of things that people do for fun in favor of long stretches of isolation propped over a keyboard with a tankobon (paperback) propped open. Sometimes I wish I could just chill out and play a video game or something, but I don’t have the time. I haven’t played a video game since about 2008.

On the plus side, my regular job gives me the luxury of only taking on freelance work that I am personally interested in. I don’t have to do crap work just to pay the bills. And each manga I translate or book I write is an individually hand-crafted work of love.

Some YA authors/translators struggle with self-promotion. You’ve been a presence at many conventions, such as Comicon and Sakuracon. How important has it been to you to attend cons, either as a presenter or an attendee? Any other promotional activities that you would recommend to others?

Zack Davisson Bio PicI am a huge extrovert, so self-promotion is part of my package. I tell publishers that when they hire me, they not only get the translation but they get my enthusiasm as well. To me that is a key part of the work, especially conventions. I just did Emerald City Comic Con, and put over a hundred copies of Mizuki’s works into hands of people who had never heard of him before. Those are people who would have never tried his work if I hadn’t been there.

I also do presentations, which is something I personally enjoy. I am trained as a public speaker and taught for years, so standing up in front of an audience is something I am comfortable with. I also publish articles on various sites, like my recent Confessions of a Manga Translator article for The Comics Journal, which got a surprising amount of attention. Each article or presentation serves dual function as an advertisement. Getting your name out there is important to generating sales, as well as getting new work opportunities. Networking is essential. I just today signed a new contract for a translation that came directly from a conversation at Emerald City Comic Con.

Recently I have been trying to build my Twitter network of translators. After the “Confessions of a Manga Translator” article, I have been hearing from fellow professionals and it has been great. Twitter is a great tool for making connections with people that you are geographically separated from.

Did you face any early challenges to finding success in your translation and writing?

Getting someone to take a chance on that first work is the greatest challenge. Until you have your first published work—until you make that move to professional—you are a gamble for publishers. They don’t know if you can meet deadlines. They don’t know the quality of work you can deliver. They don’t know if you will make their jobs easier or more difficult.

I told Drawn & Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros that he changed my life by giving me my first job translating Showa: A History of Japan. Everything has built on that initial chance he gave me.

Kitaro Meets NurarihyonYou work on Japanese material, but live in the US. What challenges and advantages does your choice of location present, both in “keeping in touch” with both cultures, and in finding and developing projects?

My wife and most of my friends are Japanese, so I still feel very much surrounded by the culture. We speak Japanese at home. My wife works at a Japanese restaurant. It’s very much a little bubble in the greater society. Obviously I don’t have that immersion like when I lived in Japan, but I never feel far away from it. And my translation work keeps me into the language.

The thing I am most out of touch with is pop culture. I don’t know what’s cool anymore, or what the catch phrases are. Fortunately, I specialize in classic manga and Edo period ghost stories so that usually isn’t too much of an issue!

The same thing happened when I lived in Japan. Coming back to the US required me to relearn what had been going on in my native land while I was gone. I’m nostalgic for the times when I had no idea who the Kardashians were or Justin Bieber.

A nostalgia I think we all share! Well, this has been fascinating getting a glimpse into your work and interests. Thank you very much for your time. I’d like to finish up by having you tell us about any other upcoming projects you’re excited about.

I am most excited for the new Kitaro series from Drawn & Quarterly, and Queen Emeraldas from Kodansha. Those are both dream projects for me. Leiji Matsumoto, creator of Queen Emeraldas, is really responsible for me even doing what I do, because seeing his Galaxy Express 999 and Star Blazers (Space Battleship Yamato) years ago completely enamored me of Japanese culture and language. So getting to work on his comics is a huge deal. And Kitaro . . . that’s the reason I got into manga translation.

A good decade ago I stood on a friend’s bar in Osaka and made a drunken vow that I would bring Shigeru Mizuki’s work to English, and finally holding a printed copy of The Birth of Kitaro in my hands feels like a fulfillment of that vow.

Above: Kitaro meets Nurarihyon, second volume in the Kitaro series, is due out in October 2016.

Alexander O. Smith is translator of thirty novels from the Japanese, including Brave Story and The Book of Heroes by Miyuki Miyabe, The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, and the Guin Saga series by Kaoru Kurimoto. He is also known for localization and production of video games, and is cofounder of publisher Bento Books.