I’m currently writing my dissertation on the translation of comics. In the name of research, last week (5th-8th July), I attended the Joint International Conference of Graphic Novels and Comics and The International Bande Dessinée Society, at Manchester Metropolitan University. Over 4 days, academics, students, artists, authors, and other interested parties variously presented, discussed and generally delighted in the evidently active international comics community. Over 4 days, these same academics, students, artists, authors, and other interested parties deliberated over a multitude of issues pertaining to comics on an international scale. By definition, the discussion centred on both comics in a source-language, and comics in translation (to and from English). Yet not one paper over the 4 days focussed on the translation of comics as a process. Granted, I couldn’t attend all presentations on all days, but from all the abstracts given in the conference programme, I still couldn’t find anything about translation. I was rather surprised by this and, to be honest, a bit disappointed. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been. It’s just that it highlighted once again the invisible nature of our beloved craft at what seemed to me to be a prime opportunity to make some translation noise.
Still, to view the glass half full, it was encouraging to find tangible evidence of a community who not only read translated material, but are aware that it is translated and want to discuss the translated product (even if they’re not discussing the act of translation!) And of course, I ought to remember that this was not a translation conference and that there is more than just that one important aspect of international comics.
Highlights, for me, included Frank Bramlett’s enlightening paper on ‘Conversation Analysis and the Representation of Time in Comics’, in which he discussed how the study of sequentiality in conversation may shed light on how temporal duration is shown in comics; via the linguistic content of the speaker’s turn, rather than the spatial distribution of those turns. Joan Ormrod’s paper ‘Teenage Dream Tonight: UK Girls’ Romance Comics 1957-64’ provided a fascinating investigation into the construction of pop-stardom through the medium of comics, with comics playing the dual role of fanzine and media machine in the days before Beatlemania. And Rikke Platz Cortsen’s detailed paper ‘And the Dog got its Bone – Asterix as an Example of the Chronotope in the European Album’ focussed on the nature of how formal elements of a comic can affect narrative space and time as perceived by the reader, both within one album and over an whole series.
Cortsen’s presentation was memorable for a further reason: she mentioned translation! In passing. But it was there. In album 5 of the Asterix series, the story features a trek around Gaule in order to gather items for a banquet. Cortsen said that the English translation puts emphasis on the dinner, whereas the French emphasises the gathering of goods for the dinner. Eager to pick up on this thread, I asked her in what way the English text had shown this emphasis and she answered that it was in the title. The French title is Le Tour de Gaule d’Astérix [the tour of Gaule of Asterix] which is a clear reference to the Tour de France cycle race and highlights the enormity of the task the characters are faced with in the story. The English title is Asterix and the Banquet, which does indeed focus more on the end result and loses the Tour de France reference. Cortsen is Danish and also read the Asterix comics in her native language. Interestingly, the Danish title of this album (in English) is ‘Going around Gaule’, which, although it doesn’t retain the Tour de France reference either, does emphasise the gathering rather than the banquet.
Needless to say, this got me thinking…!
Samantha Christie is a translator from French and Spanish into English and is currently pursuing the MA in Literary Translation at UEA. Special interests include translation in the areas of detective fiction and music, and the relationship between author and translator.