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Page history last edited by Matthew Schroeder 11 years, 11 months ago

The translation of comic books involves much more than simply translating words on a page into a different language. There are various things that must be considered, particularly in the case of comic books because comic books are a visual medium as well as a written one. This means that visual aspects have to be considered as well as written aspects in order to make a comic understandable to its new audience. Although the amount that needs to change varies based on the languages involved and the intended audience.

For example, many comics are translated into English first, and then translated into other languages based on the English translation. In addition to this, certain comics such as Japanese comics, manga, require other localization techniques. Manga pages read differently than American comics. Namely, you follow the panels from right to left instead of left to right. This has led some translators and publishers to flip the pages in order to make them read from left to right, to avoid confusion when reading the English text. Things like this change the visual component of the comic and therefore change things significantly in the eyes of certain readers. Translation and localization become not only about the words themselves, but also about maintaining visual fidelity as well.


Translation involves not only translation of the actual words, but also localization. Obviously this includes translating idiomatic phrases into phrases that convey a similar meaning to the target audience, but it involves other things as well. Sometimes this localization can include something as simple as the choice about whether or not to translate onomatopoeia. For instance, many American comics that are translated into other languages keep their English onomatopoeia. This choice was made mostly to keep costs down when translating, as translation of everything requires more effort which requires money and time.   This brings up an interesting question. Are characters not translated only due to convenience? Are there times were the sounds represented do not match up with the target audience's perception of the sound that a particular action would make? There is no universal answer to these questions, but these things must be considered. This illustrates the idea that cultural differences in comics extend beyond the words themselves.

 This means that there is a potential for a translation to be twice removed from the original language. While this potentially calls into question the  accuracy of the translation, it illustrates the influence of various cultures on a particular translation.

While the reason for this is not always clear, it shows the influence of English translation in translating other works. It is possible that the English speaking country involved in the English version, sometimes but not always America, has more access to the original language than the target audience. It is possible that it is more cost effective to work off an existing version, much like the onomatopoeia issue discussed earlier, rather than taking the time to translate from the original language. Translators also have to deal with physical space concerns as well.

When bringing a comic into another language, translators have to consider the space allotted for text in the bubbles themselves. Until recently, translators had to erase the text from the bubbles themselves and replace it with a translation. Depending on the languages involved, it is possible that the translated text cannot convey the same amount of information in the same amount of space. This means that the translator is forced to make a decision about the most important elements of what is being translated. In other words, the translator must decide what needs to be retained and what can be discarded.

One could see this as a form of adaptation. Before a comic is brought over, permission must be obtained to produce a local adaptation of the work. All of the things previously discussed go into making this local adaptation. This brings the discussion to the topic of comic adaptation. Depending on how one chooses to use the word, one could see an adaptation of a book into a comic as a translation from one medium to another.

Adaptations like these have been produced for such works as  Crime and Punishment and other major literary works. Some comic authors choose to use a significant portion of the original text in their adaptation, but there are some situations where it is not as easy to do so. For example, many things in a first-person narration must be shown visually, turning the adaptation into a third-person narration, which has the capacity to change the original text an author planned on using. The idea of visual fidelity comes up once again in these cases. Translation and adaptation are not simple processes and require much more thought than simply replacing words in a panel, a reality which this discussion briefly reflects.






  1. Zanettin, “Comics in translation”

     2. Ferstl, “Novel-Based Comics”

Further Reading

1. http://redroom.com/member/keiko-amano/blog/onomatopoeia


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