back to list

Translating Your Webcomic

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, March 16, 2019

There's a reason why any literature professor worth their salt will urge you to reach a novel or enjoy any piece of literature in the language it was originally written, if you are lucky enough to speak that language: because the author intended every word that you read to be exactly what it is. Every turn of phrase, every nuance, every hint and allusion is all there and intentional by the creator.

When the work is translated, it is like hearing a conversation through a door, or through water, depending on how good the translator is: the gist is there, but some of the nuance and some of the feel and immersion of the original is blurred or altogether gone.

For example I remember reading a translation of LOtR in Greek, and be very put off by how the name “Misty Mountains” had been interpreted in Greek. Instead of using the greek term that would be appropriate for a name meant to inspire mystery and even awe for the particular mountain ridge in the novel, the translator had carelessly used a more banal term that made you instantly think of “Moldy Mountains” rather than “Misty” ones. Technically, the translation was correct. But artistically and with regards to the style of the original work, the translation was very wrong and jarring.

The same holds true for translating the works of comics and webcomics. Good translations keep the dialogue's style and tone intact. Bad translations only keep the basic content intact, but completely disregard every other element that dialogue is a vessel for.

When it comes to translations, there isn't much you can do but pray it's done right …unless you are the one doing it. If you have the capacity to translate your own work into another language, then you are your own work's ideal translator.

The reasoning is obvious: you're the author and you know what you wanted the dialogue to show, the impact you intended for the audience and the nuances you carefully hid in those bubbles of your webcomic's pages. So when you are translating the words into another language, you will be in the perfect position of knowing which phrase to pick, when to pick it and how to interpret rather than simply do the work google also does in converting your dialogue into a different language.

There are some pitfalls though, that I would suggest to keep in mind and so avoid:

1. You must know the language you're translating your work into well. If you aren't at least advanced in it, you won't be in a position to use that language's palette properly and your webcomic will suffer.

2. You must not be tied to direct translating every single phrase you've penned down originally, word for word into the other language. Opt for a freer translation that will be more diligently faithful to the tone and style as it would be delivered in the new language, rather than the exact words as written originally.

3. You must make an executive decision on what to do with the sound effects: will you translate them too into the new language, like with some European comics, or leave them in as-is, basically allowing them to be part of the art as is often the case with manga? Whatever you decide, keep it consistent throughout your work.

What else would you suggest? Have you ever had your work translated, or did you translate your own work?

Special thanks to our patrons!!

Justnopoint - Banes - Rmccool - Abt Nihil - Phoenixignis - Gunwallace - Cdmalcolm1 - PaulEberhardt - Scruff - Dragonaur - Emma Clare - dylandrawsdraws - drinds - FunctionCreep - The D Wrek - Mks Monsters - Eustacheus



Abt_Nihil at 7:16AM, March 21, 2019

@EssayBee: That was a very interesting (albeit brief) read! Thanks for that!

EssayBee at 10:45AM, March 19, 2019

Haruki Murakami is one of my favorite authors, and, for him, maintaining the author's tone and general feel of the story is a very important part of translating his works (from what I've read in interviews with Murakami and his translators), perhaps moreso than fidelity to the "literal" written words. Since he can write in both Japanese and English (and has translated numerous English books to Japanese) he has a very good grasp on how the translators are tweaking his language. He also has an interesting perspective on shelf lives for translations, basically saying that translations are usually only good for about 50 years because of evolving language and writing styles (

Banes at 8:05AM, March 17, 2019

I'm always impressed with people who can speak more than one language fluently! Interesting subject! I've seen some translated manga that made me cringe with the jokes and sass that are sometimes added that have sometimes made me dislike the character. Then I'll see an alternate translation that seems more true to character - and without the immature attitude and humor. Still impressed with those translators, in terms of their multilingual abilities.

bravo1102 at 6:33AM, March 17, 2019

There are times though, especially with profanity where the replacement is NOT what the native speaker said. Come on a German says "shiesse" and the translation is "damn"? Or "arschloch" and the subtitle says "idiot "? Just like a puttana isn't really a female dog in Italian, it's a whore. Then there's American versus British English. Americans being so provincial need guidebooks for British English. Yankees need guidebooks for Southern American English too.

mks_monsters at 5:43PM, March 16, 2019

Language is definitely the biggest hurdle to jump when it comes to making a webcomic accessible. I say this as someone who comes from a bilingual society. Plus, I learned fast that even the English from my country (Canada) is not quite the same as that of Europe or even the USA.

Avart at 3:28PM, March 16, 2019

Excellent topic! As a non-native english speaker I have to translate my comic. Even though nowadays we have a lot of tools to do the job, the real deal is to capture the essence of the dialogues/humor and not translate every single word. This is my main issue with this extra step while working on my comic.

Eustacheus at 11:14AM, March 16, 2019

Well, I'm only here because I did a german translation of an english comic by a polish author. Although I'm not that good at speaking or writing english, I'm pretty good at reading and understanding. I don't even translate it in my head anymore. So, I'm quite confident that I know what I'm doing... There is another problem with the translation of webcomics, one I have encountered a lot: Translating a plain text is pretty easy since you can translate it word for word, but with comics you have limited space. And since in german most words are twice as long as their english counterparts you run into problems very fast. Especially if you want to stay true to the layout. It mostly results in choosing a smaller font size and more lines. Then there are situatons where a translation of a line results in an ambiguity in the new langauge. E.g. "tail" and "cock" both translate into "Schwanz" in german, which forces me to use a wordy circumscription to make clear that I mean "tail" and not "cock"!

El Cid at 8:02AM, March 16, 2019

The only time I'll do other languages in my comics is if it's an English speaker saying a common phrase in a different language (likely to another English speaker), or maybe a native speaker saying a common phrase to an English speaker. It would be a fool's errand trying to replicate the way native speakers speak to each other without being well versed in the language and having engaged in such conversations yourself.

usedbooks at 8:01AM, March 16, 2019

Lupin III is a good example of this. It was written with a LOT of pop culture modern (1970s) Japanese references. If you watch the dub, it has none of these. It has 1990's American pop culture references (and other jokes that are timeless gags and capture the spirit of the work). Some people really hate anime and manga going away from direct translations, so they would hate the liberties taken. But, especially in a "dated" comedic work, I think localizing serves the purpose better.

usedbooks at 7:57AM, March 16, 2019

Since I play a lot of JRPGS, I notice the translations fails as well as the brilliant successes. My brother and I are quick to pick up on whether a company has a stellar "localization" team. The true successes avoid the pitfall of a ver batum translation and stick to the spirit of the conversation and tone. They essentially completely rewrite dialogue for a different audience. I have major respect for the teams that masterfully rewrite for a different language/culture. (Another trick that works is adding a footnote explanation for a phrase and the translation chosen. I love when Bibles do this -- and also manga/anime.)

bravo1102 at 7:11AM, March 16, 2019

Colloquial language and jokes can suffer in translation. I work with someone who has been in the US and speaking English as a second language and I still confound him with words and phrases. And many of them make no sense in literal translation but have foreign equivalents.

PaulEberhardt at 6:23AM, March 16, 2019

I think you totally nailed this topic! Naturally, I've got some experience in doing translations myself, only I didn't want to clog up the comment section with it. So:

Ozoneocean at 1:15AM, March 16, 2019

I think I'd consult with a native speaker if I were to get a translation done. Nuance IS very important. In comics you tend to show and not tell (in mine especially), so it's not such a big issue, but for wordier stuff you have to be careful.

Forgot Password
©2011 WOWIO, Inc. All Rights Reserved Google+