Wednesday Jun 01, 2011

Comics: Translation and other Cultural Points to Consider

My Stand Up for Comics post garnered a lot of hits and comments. One of the references made in the comment section is to the  Duke University School of Law Center for the Study of the Public Domain's (CSPD) comic about the basics of copyright law, Bound by Law.

The comic is available under a Creative Commons license that allows you to also translate the comic into your language. Examples of French, Portuguese, and Italian versions of the comics are already available. Perusing the translated examples, and the "translation kit" sources it became clear that whereas the text on the cover, in speech bubbles, and in a few other places, is easily translated, other text (such as the names of creators and their work) is not, and the comics characters and their interactions themselves remain constant across all language versions.

Duke CSPD Italian, Portuguese and translation templage for Bound By Law  comic

Comic pages courtesy of the Duke University School of Law CPSD

So, arising, from all this, a number of questions arise for all aspiring comic creators and translators:

  • What is the best (in terms of ease or process compliance) translatable source? For example, are PhotoShop layered files (PSDs) the way to go? How about JPEGs? or XML? 
  • What translatability considerations have been made in the source content? For example, can the speech bubbles be resized to cater for text expansion, or contraction without obscuring the characters or other information?
  • How culturally applicable are the characters, the rest of the graphics, and even how the the action is portrayed? Do they need redrawing, replacement, or any other considerations? How will the comic's use of Onomatopoeia (those Ker-Pows! and so on) be handled? Check out this piece on how a Marvel Captain America comic was localized into French: "In other words, they are trying to translate the American Visual Language closer to French Visual Language.
  • What of the actual information being conveyed? Does it make sense once translated? The CSPD does offer the advice that translators to either rewrite relevant portions of the legal discussions to make them reflect the law of your jurisdiction, or post a warning conspicuously they are offering a translation of a comic book that discusses the situation of documentary filmmakers under United States law. Sounds like comics need localization, doesn't it?

Clearly, a fully-translated and culturally-applicable comic book delivery can be a significant, but worthwhile, undertaking. That's not to knock anyone's effort here, of course. Even a basic translation can raise the quality of debate and public information and lead to further investigation by readers, but it must be made clear to consumers that's the intention of what they're reading. Furthermore, it is obvious that with the use of comics as a global communications device (see this 200 page manga comic from the US Navy, for example), the demand for translation (to and from English) of comics will increase. There is already ample advice available on how to proceed with this task, and great information sharing is happening. Check out the collaborative comics translation website Comix Influx for a start!

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Oracle applications global user experience (UX): Culture, localization, internationalization, language, personalization, more. For globally-savvy UX people, so that it all fits together for Oracle's worldwide customers.

Audience: Enterprise applications translation and localization topics for the user experience professional (designers, engineers, developers, researchers)!
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Ultan Ó Broin. Director, Global Applications User Experience, Oracle Corporation. On Twitter: @localization

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