In November, Montreal French-language comics publisher Pow Pow Press initiated a Kickstarter campaign to fund the translation of its books to English. The crowdfunding campaign was a success, and the resulting first four titles will be launched this weekend at the Toronto Comic Arts Fair.
Q&Q spoke to Pow Pow editor Luc Bossé about the translations and the impact of Kickstarter on the press.
Why did you decide to start publishing translations? Pow Pow had reached a point where it needed to expand and tap into a new market. As a French-language publisher, our most obvious option was to score a distribution deal in France. But since I only had a few contacts in Europe, as well as an ocean to cross, I started thinking about the English-speaking market: the rest of Canada as well as the United States were actually closer, and since Montreal is a bilingual city it only felt natural to translate our books. Over the years, I’ve had a lot of people coming up to me during events, asking if they were available in English. I guess I just grew tired of telling them they weren’t.
Were you surprised by the response on Kickstarter? You never know how it’s gonna go. Weeks before the Kickstarter started, I’d go from being convinced it would be a hit to thinking it would fail miserably in a matter of minutes. So I’m not sure I can even answer that question, since I can’t say for certain I had any actual expectations going in. However, I can tell you we worked a lot before launching the campaign. We came in highly prepared, and in the end I really think that’s the best thing you can do in order for it to be a success.
What impact did crowdfunding have on your project? Few people knew about Pow Pow outside of Quebec, obviously. The Kickstarter was a good way to attract some attention before even launching our first books in English. We got pledges from people that weren’t just friends of friends or hardcore comic-book readers. I think it helped spread the news that these books existed, and that word of mouth really is a great form of free advertising. Since we have no budget to pay for ads, we constantly have to look for new ways to get people to learn about the books – and Kickstarter ends up being a great way to get some of that attention.
Much to my surprise, it did stir up some more interest for Pow Pow back in Québec. Some people were really excited that we were actually trying out this translation thing. They encouraged us financially by purchasing more books in French, for example. Publishing can be hard. You never know if you’ll be able to keep going. Sometimes, you get the feeling that no one reads books anymore. Getting this kind of enthusiastic support, from readers who actually want more people to be able to discover these books that they really like, makes it all seem worthwhile. It’s motivating.
How did you decide which titles to translate first? Mile End and For As Long As It Rains were our two best-selling titles but Vile and Miserable is more of a cult hit, if you will. Vampire Cousins hadn’t even been released when we decided to add it as a stretch goal, so there really was no way of knowing if it would be “popular.” My goal was to showcase Pow Pow’s diversity as a publisher. Vile and Miserable is an all-out comedy, whereas For As Long As It Rains is much more dramatic. They’re both adult-oriented titles, while Vampire Cousins is pretty much all-ages. It’s an homage to old-school horror movies, while Mile End is an autobiographical book.
Who translated the books? Samuel Cantin, Michel Hellman, and Alexandre Fontaine Rousseau translated their respective books themselves, with our corrector Kathleen Fraser fine-tuning their first drafts a little afterwards. Zviane’s English is a little rougher, so we hired the amazing Helge Dascher to translate For As Long As It Rains. She has done a lot of work for Drawn & Quarterly, and really knows how to make dialogue sound right.
What do you think is the cultural impact of this project? As far as cultural impact is concerned, obviously, we’ll have to wait until the books have been available for a while. I do hope a few of our authors, and the Quebec comics scene as a whole, get a little more attention outside of the province through this initiative. There’s a lot of great work being made right now that is sort of halfway between the European tradition of bande dessinée and American indie comics. I think it offers something new, something that’s a little different from what English readers are used to seeing. I do hope it serves as some sort of bridge between cultures.
What are your future plans? Any books you’re thinking of translating next? We have quite a busy schedule in French: new books by Zviane, Michel Hellman, Samuel Cantin, Pierre Bouchard, Alexandre Simard, and myself. Basically, I now have to deal with two separate publishing houses with their own publishing schedules. So, at first, we’ll just see how it goes with these first four – try and see what kind of shelf life they have. Distribution works quite differently in the English network. We have to adapt, and we don’t want to rush in, either. I do want to translate Chroniques du Centre-Sud by Richard Suicide. I’d also like to translate 23h72 by Blonk, which recently won an award in Quebec for best first graphic novel.