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Thinking outside the panel for comics translations

Special issue edited by Romain Becker (University of Angers) & Timothy Sirjacobs (KU Leuven)

In 1999, an article written by Klaus Kaindl already linked comics and the sociology of translation, marking a radical turn in the study of translated comics. For the first time, various aspects of comics translation were examined from a sociological perspective. This initial research was followed in 2008 by the monograph Comics in Translation, edited by Frederico Zanettin. In his introduction, Zanettin (2008, 19-20) points to the late inclusion of comics in the sociology of translation, noting in particular the limited number of articles dealing with the subject and the certainly interesting, yet often reductive perspectives through which it has traditionally been approached. Although comics had indeed been “fully reclaimed by intellectual circles” (D’oria and Conenna, 1979, 19, our translation) from the 1970s onwards, and despite Reiss’ (1982) promising article approaching comics translation from a multimodal point of view, the emphasis remained in most cases on the oral nature of the medium (see for example Fresnault-Deruelle, 1970; 1975; Caceres Würsig, 1995, 527-528). This perspective was also reflected in the few articles devoted to comics in translation (D’oria and Conenna, 1979; Sierra Soriano, 1999). Moreover, translation of this medium was seen as “constrained”, since it had to render “the comical effect” (Santi, 1983, our translation) in a space graphically delimited by boxes and speech bubbles (Mayoral, Kelly and Gallardo, 1988).

Since Kaindl’s article and the monograph edited by Zanettin, this situation has (slightly) changed. Both the inclusion of comics in translation studies (Kaindl, 2010; Mälzer (ed.), 2015) and the recognition of translation within the comics industry (Berthou, 2016, 45; Altenberg and Owen, 2015, i; Evans, 2017) exemplify this evolution. In addition, a good number of articles, symposia and monographs have been dedicated to the place reserved for translated comics in a multitude of countries (see, among others, Kaindl, 2010; Brienza, 2016; Giaufret, 2020; Öztürk and Tarakçıoğlu, 2020; Rodríguez Rodríguez, 2021). More recently, a special issue of the journal inTRAlinea (2023), edited by Michał Borodo looked at the ways in which translations reimagine comics, whereas a special issue of the journal Mémoires du livre/ Studies in Book Culture (2023) tackled the transfers/circulations of this medium.

Yet, while the relationship between comics and the sociology of translation has evolved, the latter has also not ceased to renew itself. This thematic issue therefore examines new sociological approaches applied to comics in translation, favoring a more theoretical framework that does not restrict contributions to geographical, cultural or linguistic areas, as has often been the case for comics (Rannou and Ya-Chee-Chan, 2018). It instead seeks to highlights exchanges across time and space. To this end, we invite contributions that focus on one of three complementary axes: actors, power relations and translation choices that go beyond the textual.

Actors

Despite the recent attention paid to literary translators (Kaindl, Schlager and Waltraud, 2021), the actors involved in comics translation still remain largely unknown. As a result, the professional practices of these “often neglected [...] cultural transmitters” (De Dobbeleer, 2020) also remain underexplored. Sanz-Moreno and Ferrer Simó (2021) offer one of the few analyses of professional comics translators, while Lee (2009), Baudry (2019), Cassany and Valero-Porras (2015, 2016) focus on the practices and postures of non-professional translators of the medium. These studies show that translation choices – both the texts one chooses to translate and the way in which one does so – depend to a large extent on the translator’s profile. The gender identity of authors or translators, for example, may lead the latter to overlook certain interpretations and translation possibilities (Henitiuk, 1999), while the artistic activity of some may lead them to translate in their own style rather than transpose that of the source text. Despite interest in self-translation (Ost, 2011; Ferraro and Grutman, 2016; Stavans and Kleiman-Lafon, 2022), multilingual publications (Lee, 2010) and heterolingualism (Grutman, 2006; Meylaerts, 2008; Denti, 2018) in the analysis of literary translations, these avenues also remain largely absent in the analysis of comics translations. That, in spite of authors such as Brecht Evens, Sophie Labelle and Olivier Schrauwen who self-translate, the multilingual publications of the Samandal collective and Orang magazine, and the heterolingualism of authors such as Riad Sattouf, recently analyzed by Woerly (2023).

However, shedding light on the position of those who translate comics, as well as those who help and/or hinder them in their work, often involves getting to know the translator and their professional context. In a medium that generally failed to mention its translator until the early 21ste century, and whose archives are often absent or not (yet) fully inventoried, particularly in countries where the “ninth art” is not considered as such, an analysis that takes into account aspects relating to identity is far from easy.

The “actors” aspect of this issue of Comicalités is therefore divided into practical and methodologicalquestions: what role do the identity, gender, biography and training of a comics translator play in the analysis of their translated works? What archival resources are available for analyzing comics translations, and how can they be integrated into one’s research? To what extent can we apply concepts such as “posture” and “role” and analyze paratexts, as mentioned by Kaindl (2021), when in the majority of the “historical” cases, the translator of this medium is not only invisible according to Venuti’s (2018) definition, but also unknown?

Power relations

The relationship between these actors of translation and other actors (publishers, authors,...) is shaped by the background of transnational power relations between several languages (Casanova, 2008; Heilbron, 2020; Sapiro, 2020), divided (and distinguished) by national (Leperlier, 2021) and intra-national borders (Paquette, 2019, 9). These power relations have a strong influence on the ease with which a work travels from one language to another, as well as the frequency of cultural transfers between different geographical and linguistic areas. Recently, public subsidies seeking to intervene in this literary imbalance in the form of cultural policy (Von Flowtow, 2018; Paquette, 2019; Hedberg and Vimr (eds.) 2022) have also been allocated to comic book translations (Becker, 2022 A, 96).

Analyses of this unequal balance of power are regularly based on UNESCO’s Index Translationum. Apart from the incomplete nature of this database, the Index Translationum relies on data from national libraries (Bokobza and Sapiro, 2008), and therefore on their (historical) interest in systematically including comics in their catalogs. Until 2019, for example, the Royal Library of Belgium (KBR) listed comics under “children’s literature”, while the German National Library (DNB) still classifies them as “illustrated books”.

How can we make translated comics and their source languages more visible, both quantitatively and qualitatively? To what extent are the power relations described above applicable to comics in translation, both historically and in an increasingly “multinationalized” publishing landscape? This is particularly true of digital comics, which are often designed for an international readership. What is the weight of national and linguistic borders for the publication of comic book translations in a medium most often defined by its (pseudo-)national aspect (Rannou and Ya-Chee-Chan, 2018)? As these boundaries evolve over time, a translation can also take on (or lose) a political dimension, reflecting the balance of power between different cultural and linguistic areas (Brems, 2013). Finally, what are the symbolic and practical implications of translation aids for comics, and what are their effects?

Translations beyond the text

Translation choices are understood here in the broadest sense. They refer not only to stylistic choices in relation to the text, but alsoto the choice of (not) translating a certain piece and specific aspects of it. Given that comics are made up of a “coordinated set of mechanisms of representation and language” (Groensteen, 2014, 15, our translation), never completely separate or separable, we might well ask what role the visual and material aspects play in the analysis of translated comics. While the textual dimension has been explored for the novel in translation by Boase-Beier (2006, 2020, 2023), in the context of the comic strip, it would also be a matter of studying the visual appearance of this same text. Apart from redesigned boxes (Lesage 2011) or reinvented typography (Becker 2022 B), for example due to formal constraints or a given political context, we are also thinking of the material and haptic dimensions of the translated work, as recently analyzed by Sørensen (2022) for photo-novels in translation. Depending on cultural constraints, but also on sociological data (on both the public and actors of publishing), these non-textual aspects of comics acquire real weight in the adaptation process (see, for example, Baetens, 2007 for the implications of visual and haptic differences between Dutch- and French-language comics in Belgium).

For those aspects of translation that go beyond the textual, actors other than the translators can – or even must – also be involved, following the example of what Jansen and Wegener (2013) have termed Multiple translatorship. Given the importance of graphic design for comics, this includes not only editors, but also letterers, layout artists, printers and even other artists. These different bodies have their own opinions and challenges concerning the adaptation of a work for its new audience, and must therefore be taken into account to establish a comprehensive sociology of comics translation. What’s more, the constraints (financial, material, artistic, etc.) of some may influence the practices of others; here too, the question of power relations arises.

What role do materiality and physical appearance play in the translation of comics, and why are they so important? How are the materiality and graphic dimension (drawing, lettering, etc.) of comics “translated”, and by whom? What is the relationship between translation choices and the power relations mentioned above? Finally, can a translated comic strip constitute a separate work, quite distinct from its source? If so, should translators and other actors involved in the translation process be considered authors in their own right? And do they consider themselves as such?

Submission guidelines

This call for papers is open to all researchers, regardless of their status and origins. Abstract submissions should include two separate documents :

  • A short bio-bibliographical notice.

  • An anonymized abstract in French or English of no more than 3000 characters (with spaces). The abstract will present the theoretical positioning and the corpus, as well as the main conclusions that are expected.

Abstract proposals should be sent before September 1, 2024 to: romain.becker@ens-lyon.fr / timothy.sirjacobs@kuleuven.be

Abstracts will be evaluated anonymously by the editorial board of Comicalités: after acceptance, and with possible suggestions, the article will be written for a total size varying between 25,000 and 50,0000 characters, with spaces. Completed articles will be expected by January 15, 2025.

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