박민규의 지구 영웅 전설카스테라

Park Min Gyu is a Korean author that has been recommended to me by several people, independent of one another. After hearing about my novella “Wonjjang and the Madman of Pyongyang,” Stephen Epstein recommended Park’s book 지구 영웅 전설, which I’ll render here sloppily as World Hero Legend or, a little less sloppily, as The Legend of the Earth’s Superheroes, a novel featuring a Korean supe who supposedly sets out to become a superhero and ends up calling himself “Banana-man” and ends up being a kind of gopher or page for American heroes like Superman and Wonder Woman (who sends him out to buy maxi-pads or tampons at some point, if I remember the gag correctly). It is, obviously, a satirical look at the hegemonic narratives inherent in superheroes, but Park is one of those writers who covers such ground only while making his reader howl and guffaw like mad.

Castella (the Spanish word sounds better than the English “sponge cake,” see below) is a somewhat different book, containing short stories that pursue the same mix thoughtfulness and humor. The story I was told about, by the translator (and my friend) Insu Hong, involved a guy who basically grappled with impermanence by putting things into his fridge: his parents; his girlfriend; China… everything goes into that metaphysical fridge. Insu told me it was funny and sad and wonderful all at once.

Well, I’m not equipped to do translation on my own, but Miss Jiwaku and I have been talking about trying our hand at working on something and sending it out, to see what happens. I know zilch about the legalities of translation, of course — at what point in the process one approaches the original author, for example — and something tells me that the copyright issues might become an issue with the novel I mentioned at the top of this post: satire is one of those areas where copyright doesn’t quite apply, but as we all know, the American legal system is set up so big companies can still throw their weight around by suing even when they’re sure to lose, since they can afford it, and sometimes do so just to jealously protect copyright. What I’m wondering is whether publishers would be willing to consider publishing a translation, given the risk.

So maybe we’ll try one of the short stories first… it seems a wiser move anyway, given that it’s an experimental collaboration and all. No idea when we’ll get around to it, but it sounds like fun. Now, if only I had time to get back to writing my own fiction!

By the way, I’ve never eaten anything called “castella” but it’s explained here that it’s just the Spanish name (update: see comments) it’s the Japanese name for what we in English call “sponge cake.” Somehow the Spanish word was Koreanized into “castera,” which is the Korean title of the book of short stories mentioned above.

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6 thoughts on “박민규의 지구 영웅 전설카스테라

  1. Gitte,

    After I posted that, I was thinking (on the train) “Wait, doesn’t ‘Castella’ sound a bit like ‘Castille’?” So it makes more sense being a non-Spanish word referring to the Spanish, and yeah, I shouldn’t trust Korean websites. Or any websites, really…

    And now I also realize I’ve had castella but was underwhelmed by it…

  2. There is a fair use exception in US copyright law for parody, but not for satire. In Canada there is no such exception, but if Bill C-32 passes both parody and satire will be considered as fair dealing under certain circumstances.

    Park’s book (which sounds hilarious) is further complicated because namebrand superheroes are usually protected by trademark, which is not subject to fair use-style exceptions.

    As for approaching authors about translation, it is best to do so before translating anything more significant than a paragraph or two for the purpose of criticism.

  3. Thanks for the info, Jack! Good to know all of that… I think we might try a few translations without approaching the author first, just to test out the process and see what we think of it, and so on. If the translations are unusable, well, but they were mostly for practice anyway… and as unknowns, it might be better to have something in hand when approaching someone.

    And yeah, trademark, damn, I forgot about that. I wonder if I could get away with rendering the names as romanizations of the Koreanizations, or some fanciful equivalent. (Or perhaps by vague epithets… a soft translation where Wonder Woman is referred to as “The Amazon” and Superman as “Mister Shoopah” or S-man or something. I doubt such tricks would be render me, or the publisher, safe from litigation, though, but at the same time it would detract from the quality of the translation. Hm.

    Maybe the solution would be to translate and publish it with a Korean press? I presume that way the legalities would have to proceed in Korea… and chances are that between a giant American comics company and a Korean publishing company, Korean author, and Korean co-translator, DC wouldn’t stand a chance… especially in terms of copyright and trademark issues, I know of a few precedents in Korea where smaller Korean companies won against giant Western ones (like Starbucks).

    With enough finagling, maybe one could even wangle an ebook release for the book, since the English-language market in Korea is so small. Hmmmm.

    (And yeah, the book sounds hilarious… I’ve been too busy to try read more than a page or three, though, so I’m counting on hearsay here!)

  4. Yeah, translating for the drawer is fine. If you want to build up your portfolio before approaching someone, you might try to clear permission to do a few short stories by the Korean SF writers that you already know personally. See if you can get ’em placed in some English-language magazines or websites, etc. That’s usually a low-risk way to get a portfolio together.

    I was thinking about the trademark issues in the same way after making my first post. A resemblance to a trademarked character is usually OK as satire/parody so long as the differences are clear — that’s why you can write about Ultradude but not about Superman. I’m pretty sure that you would be in the clear in that case, but IANAL, and the major comics concerns are very aggressive in policing trademark rights.

    At any rate, I would strongly counsel against using the superheroes’ real names in English, even in a Korea-only publication, without first doing some serious lawyering. You’d also want to be very careful in your contract to make sure that liability in the event of a lawsuit falls on someone else!

  5. Jack,

    Yeah, I was kind of figuring on that too. I have a few collections of stories with works by friends and acquaintances in them, and it’d be easier to start with that anyway. As well as fun, in terms of sending out their stories to different places. :)

    Thanks for the heads-up on the legalities… yeah, the comics industry sure has changed since the wild and woolly early days. Though at least the people publishing them now actually like comics, at least from what I’ve read.

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