October 28th 2008 10:15 pm

Middle English Comics

Middle English Comics

Finally, a comic blog that combines my love of comics with my love of the special tongue that was Middle English!  Japes for Owre Tymes takes modern comic strips and translates them:

Newspaper comic strips tend to be stuck in the past. We rail against this fact…but why fight it? This blog translates one newspaper strip per day into Middle English. Why? Because it can…

Allow me to back up just a bit.  Perhaps the greatest poet of all time (imho) in English was the mysterious Pearl Poet (or Gawain-poet), author of one obscure manuscript (Cotton Nero A.x.) from the 14th Century written in Middle English.  The manuscript contains 4 poetic works, copied by the same scribe, which have certain internal voice and stylistic consistencies and are thus attributed to one, albeit unknown, author.  The poems are Pearl, Patience, Cleanness, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight–the author gets his title from the first (or last) poems in the group.

Easily the most recognized, translated and studied of these verses is Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, for good reason.  It is a complex, alliterative poem of 101 stanzas that adds a new (so to speak) twist to the Arthurian mythos–and much more.  When I first read the poem in a modern translation, I was hooked and have been all the more so since I’ve read it (or rather, stumbled through it) in it’s original beauty.

Thus I fell in love with Middle English–not Chaucer’s English, but that 14th Century momentary revitalization of the English of Beowulf and the Exeter Manuscript.

It is important to remember that the bardic poets were an aspect the popular culture of their time.  The best of their verses wove complex heroic tales, riddles and laments from a stock of stressed alliterative terms that could be rewoven and turned upon themselves to delight a king, his court, and crowds of followers in any venue.  They could produce love poems, acidic social commentary, and simple heroic romance all from a relatively small cache of poetic tropes.

For me, the newspaper comic strip is one aspect of a modern popular culture that does something similar.  Comic strips rework cultural idiosyncracies and ideologies through a series of dialogic/scribed tropes. The worst merely recycle cultural and personal cliches, the best take these same scenes and produce social and/or political commentary.  I have become a comics junkie to such an extent that I frequent a comics blog (the Comics Curmudgeon) and several other comics-related sites that further parse, comment on and interact with comic strips and their authors.

Thus, Japes for Owre Tymes.  It’s perfect!

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