Thump, Whizz, Poom: A Framework for the Study of Comics under Translation

Klaus Kaindl

Abstract

Notwithstanding their importance as a segment of high-volume translation, comics have largely been neglected in Translation Studies. This paper presents a theoretical framework for studying the translation of comics as a social practice. On the premise that the production and reception of texts is dependent on their position and relative value in a given society, comics are first analyzed as a social phenomenon with the help of Bourdieu's theory of the cultural field. The translation-relevant elements of comics are then identified on the linguistic, typographic, and pictorial levels, and concepts of rhetoric are used to establish a classification of translation strategies which applies to both verbal and nonverbal textual material. Finally, a number of examples are discussed to highlight the diversity of translation strategies for the various elements of comics.

Table of contents

Comics are believed to have originated in the United States, where the first comic strips were published some one hundred years ago. The pioneer artists [ p. 264 ]and authors were inspired by European models, such as the socio-political caricatures of William Hogarth in the 18th century and the picture stories of Wilhelm Busch. It was the use of comics in newspaper advertising, however, that made them develop into a genre of their own. Given the large number of different types of comics which have been created since then, from funny stories and science-fiction comics to adventure and realistic comics, and given the various formats of publication (magazine, album, book), it is difficult to come up with a comprehensive definition. In order to allow for a systematic investigation of the translation of comics, I would propose the following working definition: Comics are narrative forms in which the story is told in a series of at least two separate pictures. The individual pictures provide contexts for one another, thus distinguishing comics from single-frame cartoons. Comics involve linguistic, typographic and pictorial signs and combinations of signs as well as a number of specific components such as speech-bubbles, speed lines, onomatopoeia etc., which serve particular functions. The form and use of these elements are subject to culture-specific conventions.

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