Thursday, 17 April 2014

Comics Translation and Zombies: Uncomfortable Issues

I’ve known people who read and love comics, but I have never been into any comics myself. It was simply a lack of exposure, I think, because I’ve come to respect and appreciate the art form ever since I’ve been exposed to it in Case Studies this semester. Yes, like painting, sculpture, graphic design and all the rest, comics are a form, a way of presenting art. But it is also a form of writing, of literary and narrative effort. Since reading McCloud’s (2006) book Making Comics and making myself break the threshold of comics with an issue of Fables, I appreciate comics and see their entertainment value, but more importantly their readability—their multiple layers of characters, narratives and themes. I did not particularly like Fables itself, but I could see how complex comics could be. I learned how enjoyable they can be to read, though I admit I read quickly through the text and overlooked much of the art. I think comics, like drama, straddle different art forms, and like zombies which are both living and dead, indefinable forms are often difficult to accept. (Appropriately enough: The Walking Dead) It is difficult to read them, at least I found it so, because a person reads differently than he or she looks at art. Art you look at as a whole then read in parts; literature you read then look at as a whole (see Ernest Gilman, The Curious Perspective, (1978)).

I think people who don’t like comics have not found the right comic yet. I say the same thing of poetry. I haven’t found the right comic for me yet. I admit I haven’t started reading comics, but I do search for them. I think I have a difficult time, because my narrative style and artistic style are at odds. My literary tastes are in realism, or at furthest magical realism; my art tastes lean toward the abstract. A gap has not been bridged thus far, but I will find a comic some day. Recommendations welcomed. But it does take both to appeal to someone, both an appealing narrative or literary side and inviting artwork. That is the risk of such an art form. With the freedom to display your ideas pictorially comes the responsibility of displaying your ideas pictorially in addition to text. But the rewards, as I have heard from friends, are highly worth it.

In my experience attempting to translate for comics, I found brevity the most difficult issue. I constantly overwrote in German, and I doubt my translation would have been accepted anywhere for publication due to its length. It would not have fit in the speech bubbles. Translating for comics takes a similar, though certainly more extreme, amount of brevity as subtitling. Both are limited in space, but if the subtitle is a tweet of 140 characters, the speech bubble is half a haiku. Space is at a premium.

Cole Konopka is a translator of German to English, a writer, painter. He can be contacted at


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