Most comic book content is culture-specific, which is one of the reasons why comic book translation is often a complex process. Translation is essential for literary enjoyment and understanding comic book stories old and new, from the perspectives of foreign authors, widens your knowledge of other cultures.
There are several constraints and limitations when doing comic book translation, which we will discuss later. Before we delve into the difficulties comic book translators are likely to face, let us look into the history of comic books and who started it all.
Comic Book Day
September 25 is Comic Book Day, which honors the father of the comic strip, Rodolphe Töpffer. Credited as history’s first comics artist, Töpffer was born in Geneva in 1799. He was an art critic, a schoolmaster, landscape draftsman and university professor. Rodolphe Töpffer was also renowned for his social criticisms. He wrote travel tales and fiction. The day is observed to honor the man who started the comic strip and the succeeding works by other cartoonists and authors who followed his creation.
Töpffer was also known as the inventor of the comic strip. He was ahead by 60 years before comic strips were featured in American newspapers. He had poor eyesight and developed a doodling style with spontaneous and broken lines that formed figures in a constant state of activity. Surreal narratives and ironic captions accompanied his strips. He created eight picture stories depicting characters comprising a crazy family that soon became folk heroes. The stories were a mix of myth and social satire, depicting European and Genevan culture during Mr. Töpffer’s time. He called his strips little follies, which he did not want to publish at first. When he finally decided to have them published, they became an instant hit, which led to imitations and plagiarisms all over Europe as well as in the United States.
Origin of comic books
Comics partly originated in Japan during the 18th century from the works of ukiyo-e artists, but the comic books became popular in the United Kingdom and the United States around the 1930s.
However, the earliest known comic book was “Histoire de M. Vieux Bois” by Rodolphe Töpffer, which was published in 1837 in Europe. It was renamed “The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck” when published in the United States. The English version for British readers was published in 1941 while the version for the American audience was printed in New York in 1842. No word balloons were used in the comic strips but each panel had text underneath describing the strip’s story.
The comic book had 40 pages, printed on 8 1/2” x 11” paper and side stitched. Each page contained six to twelve panels. It was made available in several languages.
In 1933, the United States published the first modern comic book, called “Famous Funnies,” which is considered the first true comic book from the United States. On the other hand, Obadiah Oldbuck is referred to as the first comic to be created.
Oddly, the term “comic” usually connotes something humorous, but more often, comics were employed in telling different stories. Many people debated whether comics are to be regarded as literature, but that was settled when “Maus” was published. Maus is the work of Art Spiegelman, an American cartoonist. The graphic novel was serialized for 11 years (1980-1991). It depicted the artist interviewing his father who survived the Holocaust. His father was a Polish Jew and the graphic novel features his father’s and other Jews’ experiences. Instead of people, Spiegelman used animals, with pigs as Poles, cats as Germans and mice as Jews.
The work was classified by critics as an autobiography, history, biography, memoir and fiction. It became a Pulitzer Prize winner, the first for a graphic novel. Moreover, Maus showed that a comic book is not only about humor, but can cover difficult subjects which can be told in a more approachable way without veering away from reality.
Constraints in comic book translation
The constraints of a language such as idiolect, syntax, idioms, phonology double meanings and other are present in comic book translation. Aside from those mentioned, space limitation is one of the key factors that make the task more difficult.
1. Speech bubbles
As you know, space is premium in comic books, where words and image go together to give the necessary information or narrative. The translator has to work only within the space provided for each speech bubble in the strip. The authors of comic books are only concerned with the stories they want to impart. They are not concerned with their work being translated into other languages. They are more concerned about fitting the text into the size of the bubbles.
The texts inside the speech bubbles are peculiar. They express the tones in the dialogues or the characters’ thoughts. Aside from the tone, the text also indicates how the character feels as well as their volume and diction, depicted in the types of letters and the way they are written. Translators have to be attentive to the contents of the speech balloons as well as how the texts are written.
A comic book translator does not have workarounds that they can employ when working with other translation work such as footnotes and other explanatory notes.
Thus, the translator has to remove accessory content in order to create a more acceptable comic book translation that is closest to the original content. This method is often done in subtitle translation due to space and time limitations.
It is quite frustrating for the translator because there are times when even important text is eliminated because the available space does not allow for their translation in the target language.
The various onomatopoeia used in comics also creates problems during translations. They are not within the text bubbles but are often part of the drawing or image. Generally, they are also representative of the country of origin of the comic book. They are representative of background sounds in the story or verbal utterances that are not discursive. They can represent crying, whispers, screams, shots or blows. In U.S. comics, they are widely used – words such as Boom, Zap, Buzz, Whap and others. While many recognize these words, they may be meaningless to readers from another country, because these sounds can be represented differently by other languages.
It is expensive to change the design, thus in some cases, they are intentionally left untranslated. Professional and experienced comic book translators see to it that they employ the best solution available in order for the translation to closely resemble the original without losing too much information.
3. Names and titles
Another challenge in comic book translation is the names of the characters and the title of the comics. These could be changed or left as is depending on the countries the comic book will be marketed, local legislation as well as the target audience. In some cases, translating the title is used as a marketing strategy to attract more customers.
Overview of the comic book translation process
Once the translator receives a comic book translation request, one of the first things the translator does is to check contexts because they have an effect on the decisions the translator has to make later. This means partially analyzing the source material to ascertain its intention, checking how the story is written and finding the possible problems, such as specific word plays, proper names, expressions that are newly coined and the complex relationship of the text and the image. The translator has to determine the extent of graphical adjustments that would be made. The translator also has to decide on how much he or she has to adapt the comics to the cultural expectations of the target audience while working within the requirements of the publisher and/or the editor since the budget, specified readership and the comic’s genre should be considered as well.
Expert comic book translation services
If you have comic books and other literary pieces you want to be translated into your language, call the experts, Day Translations, Inc. We have teams of experienced linguists who are all native speakers and living in-country to serve your translation needs. Our translators are subject matter experts, so we can assign the best translator to fit your project. It does not matter whether the translation project is large or small, we treat them equally, ensuring that each one is accurate, professionally done and tailored to the end user. For comic book translation and other language-related projects, rely on the best in the field, Day Translations. You can quickly reach us by phone at 1-800-969-6853. You can also reach us by email at Contact us. We are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, so you do not miss a deadline or wait for the next business day to have your translation requests done. Our translators are located in different time zones, so you are assured that there is a translator to take on your project.
From us here at Day Translations,
HAPPY COMIC BOOK DAY!
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