Robot 6

Lost in translation

Neil Cohn, who studies the visual language of comics, has some interesting things to say about this comparison of French translations of Marvel comics with their American originals. As you can see from the image above (and there’s another at the second link), the localizers didn’t just translate the words, they changed the images in very significant ways. The speed lines are missing in the French version, as is the “impact star” that marks the point where Captain America’s fist makes contact with Daredevil’s chin. The sound effects are missing as well. The changes were supposedly made to water down the violence for young readers, and indeed, they visibly change the meaning of the panels by taking away the immediacy of the visual impact.

Cohn points out that French comics use minimal speed lines, and when I think of French comics I certainly think of a cleaner look, so it may be that the localizers were, consciously or unconsciously, trying to make the comics look more French. Or, as Cohn puts it, “In other words, they are trying to translate the American Visual Language closer to French Visual Language.” This raises some interesting questions for further research (did I mention that he’s an academic?) including whether the presence or absence of speed lines indicates different ways of visually processing information in different cultures.



Actually in both instances it changes the story slightly. In the original the two blows clearly land, while in the translation it looks like Cap and Daredevil dodge the blows.

It certainly is a “cleaner” design that may evoke more of the Franco/Belgian aesthetic than the clutter of the original. However, there could be other reasons:

1. The removal of the impact star helps to emphasize the Daredevil DD logo which may be important for foreign readers who may have less exposure to the character.

2. Perhaps reducing the violence is one of the goals. The absence of speedlines, sound effects and impact stars make the bout look more like a match of wits and less physically brutal, as the characters may now be dodging each other’s attacks.

Very interesting post!

This reminds me of how comics were translated into Spanish (in the 70s, when I started reading them, anyway). Note: I’m referring here to comics put out by Editorial Novaro, who had the licenses for DC and Gold Key comics.

First, the format was smaller, meaning the art got shrunk. However, due to some Mexican law about protecting children’s eyesight, the size of the typeface stayed the same. The result was that word balloons now had less room for the dialogue, which had to be simplified to a point I often did not get what was going on (especially given how complicated superhero comics could get.)

By that same token, text boxes that where now useless (eg. ones that pointed the reader to another comic that might not even have been translated) were used to help understand the story by inserting explanations in them.

Finally, given how strongly Catholic Latinoamerica is, certain terms were changed to be more “acceptable” eg. Etrigan was a genie, not a demon (and his logo was changed from “The Demon” to “Etrigan”.)

Interestingly, in the case of Japan, there are far too few speedlines.

(A thought: I wonder if Marvel Comics are modified slightly in Japan to match the manga aesthetic.)

@Funk Doctor: It reads that way to you. The suggestion here seems to be that French readers of bandes dessinees are prepared to read the blows implied by the body positions. The absence of an ‘impact star’ only implies a miss under an (Anglo?)American system.

I’ve noticed a certain similarity in regards to Japanese Manga translated to Chinese. Sometimes, some of the sound effects will be removed entirely, or new narration boxes will pop up to explain what’s going on.

@Funk Doctor: “in the translation it looks like Cap and Daredevil dodge the blows”.

It doesn’t to me: DareDevil’s pose makes it clear he was definitely hit — that’s not a pose someone could fake.
Note that I grew up in France, reading many Franco-Belgian comics, so I may be used to reading this kind of clues where you might not.

@Crosbie: what you said. :-)

But if the intention was to reduce the violence of the series, then I fear they’ve failed. While the removal of the speed lines and impact star does make the page look ‘cleaner’, the French version conveys as much violence to me as the American one.

Nothing says “more French” like a comic starring Captain America, oui?

I’m assuming that in the above case the publisher and the translator were working together and agreed on the amendments, since I’m guessing that translators wouldn’t get hold of the source artwork to edit/retouch it.

But what about when text is translated? Do publishers carry-out approval checks with an independent resource to ensure that the essence of the character, story, etc is maintained in the foreign language? Or do they leave that up to the translator appointed by the content licensee, and therefore don’t really care if (for example) Captain America’s personality differs in a French (or whatever) translation?

Either way it could be argued that this steps over the boundary of “localization” since, as the comments here suggest, the storyline now opens itself up to various reader interpretations that the original content did not do.

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