Comic Spotlight

Zits Around the World

By Jeremy Meltingtallow

They tell us Zits appears in 27 countries and 15 different languages, which we try not to think about. If I start wondering what would make an Estonian teenager laugh, or for that matter, his parents, I roll up into a tight little ball and wet myself. It’s best to just draw and write for the people we know. Somehow it translates.

The Zits foreign book publishing program has always been a bit of a mystery to me. But from time to time I receive books in the mail with familiar drawings and foreign words where I’m quite sure I lettered English ones. How this is all accomplished I really don’t know. Translators and calligraphers must be involved, of course, but there must also be foreign editors in charge of random changes.

For example, who names these things? This book was published in the US as Zits Supersized.

In Sweden, our strip was renamed Jere. For years, we learned later, the Swedish syndicate was having all of our strips re-colored for newspapers and making Jeremy’s hair red and his shirt green. Do purple shirts mean something subversive in Scandinavia? And surely the Swedes are familiar with blondes.

I don’t know what language some of these are. “Jeremi” feels like it must be from some small insecure island nation in a cold part of the world. I could be wrong.

Our friends at Gradiva put out some very handsome books in Portuguese, we think. Which leads to the question, do all of these jokes make sense in Portuguese? We once asked a publishing agent what they do when a strip relies on a cultural reference that wouldn’t make sense in another language. “We make something up,” he shrugged. Okay then.

In Finland, Zits had its own comic book for awhile. Even better, our publisher was called Arctic Banana. The Finns prefer to get their comics in comic book compilations every few weeks, so a bunch of strips are gathered together under one of the titles and stapled together just like we bought Little Lulu and Richie Rich off of drugstore racks back in the 1950s. Lately, Zits runs in the Beetle Bailey comic book in Finland, which the editor in charge of random changes retitled Billy. You heard me right — Beetle Bailey is called Billy in Scandinavia. And when Mort Walker goes to Goteborg to sign books they have to shut down streets to handle the crowds. All of this is true.

As far as I can tell, we also have books in Italian, German, French and whatever this language is.