The Icelandic cartoonist, Hugleikur Dagsson, is infamous and cherished in equal measure for his darkly humorous comic strips—so dark, in fact, that some international publishers are unwilling to print his jokes in their original form.
Dagsson’s style of black humour has often been described as darker than an Icelandic winter. He is, without doubt, the island’s chief broker when it comes to creating laughter out of difficult situations, a position that has made him beloved both here at home and abroad.
Of course, not all cultures are quite as liberally minded as Iceland, lacking an appreciation of the funnier side of life’s tragic moments.
His first published collection of comic strips, Elskið okkur (English: Love us), contains one image of a figure lying dead and bloody on the floor, having shot himself with the gun that still rests idly in his hands Two other people hover over him, one with a speech bubble reading “Wanna fuck him?”
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This joke, in particular, was considered to be a little too coarse for publication in France, as Hugleikur recently discovered through his French-speaking followers on Instagram.
In fact, the joke was changed in its entirety, compelling Hugleikur to post on Facebook “I don’t want people to read something I didn’t write in a speech bubble I drew.” and wondering what else the French publisher changed.
In the French translation, this caption has been changed to “I think he really needs a hug.” This glaring alteration is still blue comedically, posing the question as to why the translator felt the original joke was unsuitable.
Translators have a notoriously difficult time interpreting jokes that work in one language but have no cultural context in another. While Hugleikur translates his work from Icelandic to English, he must rely on others to bring his work to life in new languages.
The difficulty here is that a single captioned strip leaves no room for interpretation. It changes the meaning of the image, of the joke itself, and thus creates a distance between the artist and the work itself.
Hugleikur has no plans to have the French translation changed, however, satisfied that complaining to the internet will allow his followers to “take care of the righteous anger”.
Are you interested in the artistic side of life in Iceland? Check out our article A Profile of Erró, One of Iceland’s Greatest Artist and Iceland’s Abandoned Farms: Twenty Years of Photos.