Discussion: Translating Comics and Graphic Novels
Translators: Invisible but essential.
This was actually the first panel I attended while at Bologna. I hadn’t really gotten into the groove of how best to report, I’m afraid, so this won’t have the direct discussion I was able to attain with some of the other panels. Instead, I’d like to just focus on some of the highlights from the talk that I thought were really interesting.
Now this discussion was held in a part of the fair called the “Translators Cafe”. And regular talks on the subject of translation were slated throughout the festival. This was the only one I was able to get to, and afterwards a friends of mine told me that they’d always had some issues with the roster of the translation talks. According to them, the translators that speak are always European. Certainly that was the case with this particular roster. And while one off-hand mention was made of manga, the focus was squarely on translating European or American comics alone.
The panel consisted of the following:
– Michele Foschini, Bao Publishing
– Emanuele Di Giorgi, Tunué
– Yaël Eckert e Jouda Fahari-Edine, Bayard
– Moderator: Ivanka Hahnenberger, VIP Licensing
Here are a couple points that I thought were interesting:
- It is not uncommon when translating a comic book series to use the same translator for each and every one of them. In doing so, you are able to maintain the “voice” of the series.
- Some countries can be awfully picky about the translations their books receive. Americans, however, aren’t picky at all.
- Here in America there’s a fun middle grade comic series called The Witches of Brooklyn by Sophie Escabasse. Sophie’s French herself but wrote the series in English. When the time came to translate it, however, she didn’t feel that she would be the best person to do the job. Instead, she worked with the translator and they did the job together.
- Onomatopoeia is shockingly difficult to translate. And the English language seems to have a lot more of it than other languages.
- There is a phrase in Italy: “To translate is to betray.” A phrase that these translators fight against.
- What is the best personality trait to find in a translator? Humility. It’s the translators that ask the most questions that do the best job.
- Here’s an interesting point: To translate a comic book is rather like translating a film. In both cases you’re not finding the “best” translation but rather the best translation that fits.
- Now, historically in America, translations don’t sell as well as other books. That’s why you’ll often find translation information hidden on the publication pages. But recently there’s been this real push in the U.S. to credit the translator on the cover. Now not everyone on the panel was for this plan. Emanuele for example, made the comparison that, “I don’t want to know the Director of Photography of a film before I know who the Director.” So now some publishers in America are wildly advertising the translators (giving them credit) while others continue to hide that the book is even a translation at all.
- In America, 96.4% of the literature is not translated. Why are we so resistant? One theory is that was always have to put our own cultural stamp on everything. So in some translations you’ll see a huge divergence from the original text. In manga, for example, this is often the case. Plus, everything in America has to be about (you guessed it) America.
- Emil Ferris lives in my town in Evanston, Illinois, so I was particularly keen on a discussion of her book My Favorite Thing Is Monsters. Apparently the book wasn’t “layered” at all. This caused no end of nightmares for the translations. So the first company to do the translation layered everything for her, hired a calligrapher to recreate the onomatopoeia, and then offered the layers gratis to other publishers so that no one would ever have to do it again.
Filed under: Bologna Children's Book Fair
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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