localization Archives - Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources

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.


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