Translating comics

Published 13th August 2013
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Comic Translations 626 × 626It is often the case that people think of translation as less demanding a task than it actually is, particularly when it comes to forms of literature that are widely considered ‘light’, such as comics and graphic novels. A closer look at these pervasive forms of art reveals numerous complexities and constraints related to language, as well as limitations to do with space and layout.

Untranslatability of humour
Puns and neologisms are a major concern when it comes to translating comics, as they constitute intrinsic features of the genre. Sense of humour often varies from nation to nation and it takes great skill and talent to be able to render a witty pun into a different language, at the same time attempting to stay as close to the original as possible.

Foreignisation and domestication
At some point during their work, translators will need to decide on the degree of domesticating and/or foreignising strategies they intend to use; in other words, they will either try to adjust the content of the publication in such a way as to bring it closer to the target audience or, in turn, they’ll attempt to instil the foreign element to their translation, at the same time providing some frame of reference for the reader. This process is often quite complex and involves more services than just translation, as for example localisation of the content so as to render it fit for the intended purposes. Adjustment may not only regard text but also format, as the type of publication may be changed (i.e. from a paperback to a hard cover), pages and panels may be re-arranged, even colouring may be changed according to different conventions of the genre in different countries.

Space constraints
Format and layout create further complications in the translation of comics, as pictorial elements have a strong presence within these publications and cannot be undermined. It is crucial that any new text fits the balloons and caption boxes or the pictures already in place, as language and images are intertwined to create the intended effect. Moreover, considering that there are differences in “length” between languages, a translator’s task is often much more challenging than most people would think.

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