A Primer on Translating Comic Books Part 2

Categories: Techwriter


Translations and Editing the text


Google Translate and Microsoft Bing Translator are equally competent when I was working with the Italian text in Corto Maltese: The Secret of Tristan Bantam.  However, they use different approaches and come up with different results when translating Italian to English.  Sometimes, Bing made more sense, but Google Translate would tell you if you mistyped a word here and there.  Using both online tools, however, will help you come up with reasonably rational text that you can work with and complete the narrative.  Here are some tips to keep in mind when translating the dialogue boxes and word balloons:

1. Both Google Translate and Bing Translator won't translate the text as perfectly as you would want it and will be almost nonsensical 70% of the time. You'll be tempted to edit the text immediately as you transcribe but it's better to copy and paste the results Bing and Google provides and edit the whole story later. By the end of the comic book, you would have a bigger picture of the plot and can "tweak" the text to suit the mood and plot.
2. You have "artistic license" to modify the script. You will have to stay as true as possible to the text but in most cases, you would have to add words here and there to make the dialogue make sense. Most foreign languages can make use of only a few words to form meaningful statements (French, German, Russian) while others use tons of characters to say a simple expression (Chinese, Japanese, Arabic).
3. Watch out for idioms, onomatopoeia, foreign expressions, and slang words. Google Translate caught an idiom accurately in one of the panels but Microsoft Translator didn't. There are a lot of times that both online translators will make a literal translation and it's up to you to interpret what's happening based on the images. Comic books make use of onomatopoeia a lot. "Aiyaaa" and "Naruhodo" are Japanese expressions that anime fans will recognize but a typical reader won't necessarily know.
4. When typing text into Google Translate and Bing Translator, type a bunch of sentence or even a whole dialogue. Do not type word for word unless really needed. Dialogues contain ideas and a word-for-word translation never works even in professional tasks.
5. Don't forget places, events, and things. Some translations don't capitalize proper nouns or use punctuations. In the example of Corto Maltese: The Secret of Tristan Bantam, the place "paramibo" is mentioned frequently and can be mistaken for an Italian word but is really a former Dutch colonial town in South America.
6. The font can be misleading. The original scan of Corto Maltese: The Secret of Tristan Bantam made use of a handwritten font that had a curious T and V which I often mistyped when translating.
7. If you know of any native speakers to the target foreign language, consult them about difficult parts of the comic book. Don't ask them to translate the whole thing, however, as not only is it cheating, it can be a particularly annoying task to ask of someone.
8. You're translation won't be perfect. In fact, you'll probably get a lot of the text wrong even with all your resources. But you will get better as you get along.
9. Typos count. A single letter mistyped into the translation box can result in a totally wrong interpretation. Google Translate offers suggestions which are extremely helpful. Microsoft Translator will attempt to construct a sentence based on the words that make sense. So watch out for butter fingers. You may be the fastest touch typist in English but it's very different when you're typing words you're not familiar with since your fingers will gravitate to the English spelling.
10. As you translate and copy the text, don't forget the pages and panels. A comic-books is typically 22 to 30 pages in length but the number of panels can get you lost quickly - you don't want to have to repeat the panels you've went through.

As you finish your project, you'll realize you'll start remembering some of the foreign language words, especially if their often repeated in the dialogue. I actually learned more words in translating Corto Maltese ("si," "accede" and "ha piu") than studying a grammar book or watching an Italian movie. Plus, I have my own English copy of a fantastic adventure of Corto Maltese.


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