Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. This month (for a while) I will be showing pages chosen by you, the readers. Today’s page is from Suuri Kurpitsa #20, which was published in 1988. This page was suggested by AS, who comments here on the blog quite often. Enjoy!
Years ago in my college days, I took a class on the development of English. I became fascinated by language and while I haven’t studied linguistics too closely, I remain fascinated by languages. So I’m naturally fascinated by Finnish, which is one of the few languages spoken in Europe that isn’t part of the Indo-European language group. I know Basque, Hungarian, and Estonian (the latter two are related to Finnish) are three others, and I’m sure someone can tell me others. Indo-European variations are interesting enough, but when you add other language groups into it, it just becomes amazing to think about. But that won’t help us with this page!
AS, who’s Finnish, sent me this first page, which looks nothing like the Katzenjammer Kids that I remember. I’m really curious about the back story behind this strip, because I wonder exactly what’s going on, not on the page, but with the publication of this in the first place. Anyway, this is written by Pauli Kallio and drawn by Sami Toivonen, so that’s that. Let’s consider it, shall we, keeping in mind I have no idea what is being said on the page.
So it seems obvious that in Panel 1, the kid on the left is coming up to hang out with his friends. The one on the right, leading us toward the next panel, seems awfully smug, doesn’t he? He’s carrying a rock, too, so he can’t be up to any good. The boys hurl rocks at the power lines, as boys do, and then in Panel 3 they come upon a clearing in the woods where there’s … some kind of hole? In Panel 4, we see that it’s a well of some sort, and there’s a cat standing next to it watching our three friends. Panel 5 is where knowing the language might help. The boy says something to the other one, but you’ll notice that the two boys without striped shirts on look very similar, so I’m not entirely sure if the boy speaking is the dude in Panel 1 who appears to be the leader or if it’s the follower who ran up in Panel 1. It seems like it ought to be the ringleader, but I’m not completely sure. Then, it appears that the other boy – maybe? – picks up the cat and chucks it in the well. Because both boys are wearing similar clothing and have similar hair cuts and because Toivonen isn’t the most detailed artist, it’s tough to tell. The boy’s hair in Panel 6 looks like the style of the boy who’s running up in Panel 1, but it seems like he wouldn’t do that on his own. Notice in Panel 5, he’s looking down, possibly at the well or possibly at the cat. This is why not knowing what’s being said in Panels 5-7 is frustrating. I’m not going to BabelFish this sucker, because it’s more fun to try to decipher it without knowing, but because the two kids look very much alike, I’m honestly not sure. Obviously, the boy with the striped shirt does not take kindly to the cat getting chucked down the well, but whom does he attack and hurl down himself? It appears to be the boy in the center, the ringleader, but if that kid’s the ringleader, why would the boy with the striped shirt rebel so easily? And because it seems like the “ringleader” didn’t throw the cat down the well but the other boy did, why does the boy with the striped shirt chuck the “ringleader” into the well? So perhaps the kid in the first panel, who looks all smug and confident, isn’t the ringleader. I’m still unsure about who throws the cat in and whom the striped boy chucks into the well. I assume knowing Finnish would help in that regard. It’s not too hard to figure out what happens, of course, and if Kallio doesn’t identify the boys, then it’s on Toivonen to distinguish the two boys who look alike. I imagine the hand reaching for the rock is the other boy, about to take his revenge against Striped-Shirt Kid. Things do not look like they’re going to end well.
It’s interesting how easily it is to read a comics page in a different language, because visually, the tricks are the same. The reason I can’t figure this page out completely is not, I don’t think, because I don’t know Finnish, it’s because Toivonen makes two of the three characters look too similar. Obviously, this is a problem for even the more accomplished artists – if you lined up every John Byrne male character and didn’t let anyone look at their hair color, you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart – but when you don’t understand the language, that becomes a sticking point. It’s an interesting exercise for comic book artists – if you look at your work without any words and people can’t tell the characters apart, perhaps you need to change something.
This was pretty keen. I hope AS stops by and gives us the translation so I can ease my worried mind!
Next: A comic I wish would return. I really, really do! Luckily, there are many other comics out there, as you can plainly see in the archives!