Conference report: The Translation and Adaptation of Comics, Hildesheim, 31 Oct–2 Nov 2014

detail from conference posterTwo weeks ago, a conference on The Translation and Adaptation of Comics brought together scholars from comics studies and translation studies, as well as other fields. Without further ado, I’ll sum up all the talks here (except for 5 that I didn’t attend due to parallel sessions, plus the poster presentations, plus my own paper – I’ll announce its publication in a separate post).

The opening keynote was given by Klaus Kaindl, who has also published a book on comics translation. In his talk (and also in his book), he asked the question, What can translation studies learn from comics? [All title translations are mine - most papers were given in German.] He argues for an integral notion of comics translation studies that is concerned with comic-specific aspects. Kaindl identifies the translation of images as a desideratum in the context of the iconic/pictorial/visual turn. Three categories are central to the translation of comics: genre (for Kaindl, manga and webcomics are genres, too), mode (comics are multimodal, i.e. they combine verbal and non-verbal elements, but so does any written text too), and medium (medium-specific aspects need to be considered when analysing adaptations, not “loss” or “faithfulness”).

Next was conference organiser Nathalie Mälzer, who evaluated taxonomies of image-text-relations in comics, more precisely those of Scott McCloud and Klaus Kaindl’s aforementioned book. Three different levels are mixed up in both taxonomies, which should be considered separately: spatial (ratio of image to text in a panel), syntactical (references to other panels, e.g. text and image belonging to different points in time), and semantic (e.g. text confirming the image, text expanding the image, or no semantic connection between text and image at all).

Susanne Pauer analysed the translation of onomatopoeia in comics. She defined comics onomatopoeia as any sound-imitating words in a comic, regardless of whether they appear in a speech bubble or as sound effects integrated into the drawing. I guess that makes sense from a language-oriented point of view. Another thing I noticed about translation scholars is a tendency to make quality judgements about translation examples; thus Pauer spoke of “bad”, “pleasing”, or “faulty” translations etc. [EDIT: see comments.]

In his paper Reading comics, reading cultures?, David Orrego-Carmona presented preliminary results from a study involving a questionnaire survey and an eye-tracking experiment. In this experiment, the researchers compared the reception of “domesticated” and “foreignized” versions of manga translated into Spanish, the former containing original Spanish words in the place of Japanese words (e.g. “tortilla” instead of “okonomiyaki”). The main finding is that foreignized manga require a higher cognitive load and result in less comprehension – even though the participants were already experienced manga readers.

The first day of the conference ended with Carsten Sinner presenting another translatological reception study as a basis of assessing successful translations, using the Argentinian comic Mafalda. According to Sinner, the opinions of many non-experts should be given more weight than those of few individual scholars. Therefore his study involved around 20 participants per target language.

Mathias Bremgartner kicked off the second day with a talk on comics in the theatre, and specifically the stage adaptation of the manga Barefoot Gen. This play premiered in Düsseldorf in 2006 and adapted selected scenes from all four volumes of the manga. The production included projections of found-footage and animated films, spoken-word recording playbacks, and musical numbers. In comparison to the manga, the play shifted the emphasis from criticism of Japan towards criticism of the US. Some of the aesthetics of Barefoot Gen were carried over onto the stage, e.g. the cartoonish simplification of the characters. However, at least in this play, no general comic-specific aesthetics were adapted.

Then Rolf Lohse talked about Joann Sfar’s The Rabbi’s Cat and its adaptations into an animated film and a radio play. One scene in particular, a dream sequence, was compared in all three forms. Some content was left out in the adaptations, possibly in order to downplay sexual and religious elements to widen the target audience.

Sebastian Bartosch did two different things in his talk: on the one hand, he traced appearances of Lewis Carroll’s white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland through different comic adaptations. On the other hand, he looked at Nicolas Mahler’s literature (for lack of a better word – I mean the sort of literature without pictures here. Novels and the like.) adaptations, particularly that of Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, which combines elements from the original novel in a new way. In the discussion it was argued that adaptations should be regarded as works in their own right on the same level as the original works.

Steffen Richter‘s talk on comic storytelling techniques in contemporary German-language literature had been announced in the programme with the subtitle “Christian Kracht und Thomas von Steinaecker”, but in the end it was only about von Steinaecker and not the better-known Kracht. Richter identified four main storytelling techniques in von Steinaecker’s 2009 novel Schutzgebiet which are similar to comics: 1. ekphrastical blocks of text divided by blank lines are the equivalent of panels and gutters; 2. prolepsis (flash-forward) is the equivalent of simultaneous perception of several panels on a page at once; 3. figurative language is similar to pictures in comics; 4. (not sure if this was meant to be part of 3.) repetition in the novel is similar to repetitive elements (panels, characters, stereotypes) in comics.

Posy Simmonds’s Gemma Bovery as a “translation” of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary was the subject of Florian Trabert‘s talk. Ironically, Flaubert was a staunch opposer of any kind of illustrations in novels. Simmonds’s comic is quite different from a mere illustration of the novel, however. By transferring the story into the present day, it seems more immediate to the readers. As a “meta comic”, a framing narrative is added that has a (possibly unreliable) narrator make explicit references to Flaubert’s novel. The plot significantly deviates when Gemma Bovery dies, in contrast to Madame Bovery.

Maximilian Gröne presented a selection of adaptations of Dante’s Divine Comedy into comics and a video game. The main object of analysis was the “media cluster” Dante’s Inferno from 2010, consisting of a comic by Christos Gage and Diego Latorre Relancio (DC 2009) and a PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 game (EA 2010). In the comic, the characters are trivialised, textual elements are reduced, and there’s no connection to neither the original wording nor the traditional iconography established by Gustave Doré.

The topic of Janwillem Dubil‘s paper was the British TV series Misfits. Although Misfits is not based on a particular comic, it can be regarded as a “meta comic film” (similar to Unbreakable or Hancock) in that it draws on superhero stories, which of course were popularised through comics. Therefore, one can still speak of a transfer from one medium to another here. Several comic-like elements can be found in Misfits: moments of near motionlessness, artificial imagery such as animated film sequences, display of actual drawn comic panels, and a plot point of magically animating drawings through superpowers.

The last talk on Saturday was Rike Bolte on poetry in comics. In particular, Bolte looked at Julian Peters’s comic Les aventures de Rimbaud (http://julianpeterscomics.com/les-aventures-de-rimbaud/), in which he adapts Arthur Rimbaud’s poem Sensation. While the wording remains unchanged, the pictures give a different impression; for instance, the speaker is invisible in the comic, while the poem emphasises the first person.

Comics conferences often feature comic artists as keynote speakers, so it’s only fitting that a comics translation conference should feature a comics translator – in this case, Gudrun Penndorf, probably the most famous living German comics translator. Everyone in the German-speaking world knows her Astérix translations (she translated every album until the 29th), but fewer know that she also translated the other René Goscinny classics Iznogoud and Lucky Luke. Her career as a comics translator began already in 1966 with Disney comics. In her presentation she focussed on her work on Astérix though, and the difficulties posed by Goscinny’s love for puns. According to Penndorf, the most important things in translating comics are to convey the relevant information and to make the reader smile, rather than retaining the exact wording of the original.

Sunday morning continued with parallel panels. I chose to attend the one in which Caterina Bosco spoke about Translation, Pseudotranslation and Adaptation of the Disney Comics into Italian. It is a well-known fact that today, the majority of Disney comics are produced in Italy rather than the US, but how did the Italian production begin? The first Disney comics in Italy were published in the 1930s. These were translations from American comics at first, but by the 1950s, increasingly original Italian comics appeared in the Italian Disney anthology magazine, Topolino. Due to the lack of credits, which continued until the 1960s, it’s hard to tell them apart though. The situation was further complicated when Disney comics were re-issued with new, re-translated or “pseudo-translated”, text from the 40s/50s onwards.

Hasuria Che Omar presented a paper on the translation of Crayon Shin-Chan in Malaysia. Due to the many cultural taboos in Malaysia – sex, bodily functions, morbidity – both the textual and the pictorial content of comics need to be altered to become acceptable at all. In the case of Crayon Shin-Chan, such changes can be quite extensive, of course. Often attempts are made to preserve the humour by substituting the original gag for a more harmless one. It is the “social responsibility” of translators that makes them perform this kind of alterations, not the fear of judicial consequences. Only in rare cases are Malaysian translators who fail to perform this duty declared “sinners” by religious authorities.

Archaic language in historical comics was examined by Frank Paulikat. Using the examples of Les Aigles décapitées, The Towers of Bois-Maury, and Les Compagnons du crépuscule, he showed that the archaic French used in these comics doesn’t quite match the actual historical French spoken at the time in which these comics are set (the High Middle Ages). The official German translations of these comics, however, don’t even try to retain the archaic outlook of the original texts.

Sylvia Jaki‘s talk on translation of humour in comics concluded the conference. She compared Calvin & Hobbes to Mutts: while the humour of the former is based on (often purely visual) incongruity, the latter more often relies on puns and language-games. In the German translation of Calvin & Hobbes, footnotes may provide explanations for US-specific references. In Mutts, punchlines can even get lost in translation altogether, as they are not found in every strip of the original comic, so readers are already used to the lack of gags.


ComFor 2014: Färber, Ingold, Owens

Last month, the 9th annual conference of the German Society for Comics Studies (ComFor) took place in Berlin. Unfortunately I missed half of it, so instead of a proper conference report (not that my previous ComFor conference posts – 2012, 2013 – were proper reports), I thought I’d just point out my favourite talk out of the ones I have heard:

Julia Ingold (Kiel University) presented an allegorical reading of Markus Färber‘s comic Reprobus. Reprobus seems to be Färber’s first standalone comic, and was published only two years ago. In this comic, Färber re-tells the legend of Saint Christopher (who was called Reprobus before he met Jesus), albeit with some twists. Reprobus is a beautifully drawn comic, and its non-linear story is cleverly written. But that’s beside the point.

The dog-headed giant Reprobus has yet to become Christophorus.

Reprobus, the dog-headed giant, has yet to become Christophorus.

In her talk, Julia Ingold referenced Craig Owens’s text “The Allegorical Impulse” (which I have discussed on this weblog last year), and placed Reprobus in a postmodern context. That latter statement was more of an incidental remark, if I remember correctly, as her main point was the reading of Reprobus as allegory through Owens. Therefore I won’t hold it against her that she didn’t take the time to expand on what’s postmodern(ist) about Reprobus.

It’s easy enough to recognise Reprobus in “The Allegorical Impulse”, or vice versa: Reprobus is a typical example of a “palimpsest”, of “reading one text through another”, of the artistic strategy of “appropriation”, in that Reprobus “confiscates” the legend of Saint Christopher (all quotations from Owens). The problematic point is that for Owens, this allegorical impulse is already the characteristic that distinguishes postmodernist from modernist art. Nowadays, as I have tried to show in the aforementioned blog post on Owens, Foster and Ishinomori, Owens’s view of postmodernism is only one of many.

Hal Foster, on the other hand, emphasises (in “Postmodernism: A Preface”) the challenging stance of postmodernism towards the social context of objects.* I find it hard to see such a thrust in Reprobus. The “realm of myths and legends” is “sinking into oblivion”? The people in the big city “have almost forgotten” about Jesus? If this story was really intended as a critique of contemporary society, it’s about 100 years late. This comic combines rather old-fashioned aspects with some undeniably timely traits – which isn’t a bad thing, but makes me reluctant to classify it as entirely postmodernist.

The papers of the ComFor conference aren’t published yet, but an earlier article by Julia Ingold on Reprobus can be read in the latest issue of the journal helden. heroes. héros. (PDF, German).


* Why do I keep returning to those two texts by Owens and Foster? Certainly not because they’re the most convincing, or best written, on postmodernism. They do, however, have the advantage of having been published at a relatively early point in that discourse, of representing quite different – almost contrary – views, and of exerting a lasting influence.

Top 10 words from Frederik L. Schodt

Cover of Frederik L. Schodt's Dreamland JapanOut of the many authors who publish on comics, Frederik L. Schodt is one of the few with a truly distinct writing style – neither academic nor fannish, neither highbrow nor colloquial, his writings are full of rather obscure words, some of which I have never seen anywhere else. Recently I re-read the beginning of his book Dreamland Japan, and while doing so, just for fun,* assembled this list of my favourite eccentric words therein and their meanings (as far as I could find out):

to accord – p. 19: “Japan is the first nation in the world to accord ‘comic books’ [...] nearly the same social status as novels and films.” – to grant, to give.

bone-crushing – p. 28: “Yet along with this celebration of the ordinary is the bone-crushing reality that the vast majority of manga border on trash.” – back-breaking, depressing (cf. German: ‘erdrückend’).

hari-kari – p. 11: “in due time both words [manga and anime] will undoubtedly be listed in the standard English dictionary along with other Japanese imports like ‘hari-kari’ and ‘karaoke.’” – variant of harakiri (ritual suicide).

finicky – p. 13: “In Japan, people’s names are usually listed with the family name first and the given name last. Certain academic types in the English-speaking world are rather finicky about this convention and insist on preserving it even in English texts” – difficult to please, demanding.

to flounder – p. 34: “Japanese people have floundered about trying to the right term to describe the sequential picture-panels that tell a story.” – to struggle.

full-figured – p. 26: “Japanese manga offer far more visual diversity than mainstream American comics, which [...] still reveal an obsession with muscled males and full-figured females” – according to Wiktionary, ‘full-figured’ means ‘fat’ or ‘plump’, but here it’s probably used in the sense of ‘curvaceous’ or ‘voluptuous’.

persnickety – p. 14: “Fans of Japanese manga (even more than academics) can be a rather persnickety and unforgiving lot” – see finicky.

profuse – p. 15: “Profuse thanks are offered to all who helped.” – plenty, abundant.

raga-like – p. 14: “[...] with raga-like stories that may continue for thousands of pages” – maybe Schodt means, ‘as lengthy as an Indian epic (raga)’?

satori-like – p. 21: “his face lit up in a satori-like realization” – (Buddhist) enlightenment.


* On the other hand, this little exercise can also be seen as a tentative reflection on the serious topic of academic writing style and the way in which we, as scholars, communicate our findings.

Upcoming talk: “Akira im Westen”

 

3 panels from Akira by Katsuhiro ŌtomoI’m looking forward to present some more preliminary results from my PhD research, more precisely on Katsuhiro Ōtomo’s manga Akira and its first English and German editions, at a conference on Übersetzungen und Adaptionen von Comics / The Translation and Adaptation of Comics” at Hildesheim University, Germany, from October 31 – November 2, 2014. Information on where to read this paper to follow.


Review: Moon Knight (2014) #1-3

I’ve already reviewed the previous Moon Knight series from 2011-2012 on this weblog (in two posts, covering #6-8 and #9-12), so I thought I’d say something about the current one too.

Moon Knight (2014) #3Language: English
Authors: Warren Ellis (writer), Declan Shalvey (artist), Jordie Bellaire (colourist)
Publisher: Marvel
Pages: 20
Price: $3.99
Website: http://marvel.com/comics/series/18467/moon_knight_(2014_-_present)

Previously in Moon Knight: In the series written by Brian Michael Bendis, Marc Spector was working on a TV show in Hollywood, although on the last page Spector already announced he’d leave Los Angeles. He also was the masked vigilante Moon Knight, plus he had a split personality disorder.

In the new series, very little of that remains. All these things are briefly referenced, but why exactly Marc Spector has moved to New York, and why he isn’t imagining talking to Spider-Man, Captain America and Wolverine anymore, isn’t really explained. Rather than one continuous story, the new narrative structure is more like a series of one-shots: in each of the almost self-contained issues, Moon Knight fights a different villain.

Moon Knight is now more than ever a kind of Batman – a detective with high-tech gadgets and impressive martial arts skills, and not much more. It’s a pity that his mental illness isn’t as much the focus of this book as it was before. On the other hand, Warren Ellis introduces (in #3) something the previous series was lacking: the mystic aspect of Moon Knight being the incarnation of the Egyptian god Khonshu.

The larger story aside, both the writing and the artwork are a huge improvement over the Bendis/Maleev run. The dialogues are now smart and almost funny, and the drawings by Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, particularly the smart layouts in the second issue, are stunningly slick. Still, my overall impression is that Ellis is trying too hard to make a fresh start with this character and sever all ties to the 2011 series. If there’s one justification for the continued existence of monthly comic book series in the universes of Marvel and DC, it’s the continuity – readers want to follow one big story that goes on and on. By largely ignoring the old Moon Knight comics, Marvel sabotage their own format.

By the way, the series ends this month after only six issues. Warren Ellis writing an ongoing Marvel book? That would have been too good to be true.

Rating: ● ● ● ○ ○

Other people seem to be quite fond of the new Moon Knight, though; see e.g. this review by Joshua Rivera at The Beat: http://comicsbeat.com/one-and-done-it-doesnt-take-much/


Recent Akira adaptations

In my PhD research I don’t deal with 21st century reception of Akira, but recently I’ve come across some interesting adaptation projects which I wanted to share here, just in case you haven’t heard about them already:

The Akira Project – Live Action Trailer (via Major Spoilers)

A three-minute fan-made “trailer” for a live-action film that doesn’t exist (i.e. not the one that was recently announced to be at the scriptwriting stage).

 

Player Piano – Akira (via Geek & Sundry)

An elaborate video of a performance of the anime soundtrack.

 

Bartkirahttp://www.bartkira.com/ (via Comicgate)

A faithful panel-by-panel remake of the manga – except all original characters have been replaced by Simpsons characters.

panel from Bartkira vol. 1

 


My ideal (and somewhat random) X-Men team

On his weblog Kevin Reviews Uncanny X-Men, Kevin O’Leary had an interesting post last month in which he picked the six members of his “ideal X-Men team”. I liked the idea and thought I’d post my own version, albeit with a twist: instead of choosing from all X-Men comics ever published or which I’ve ever read, I just browsed through whatever comics I had currently at hand on my shelf and in my longbox, and from these I selected the characters that I found interesting for some reason or other. Here they are, in order of publication:

Morph

  • Morph from Scott Lobdell’s and Joe Madureira’s Astonishing X-Men v1, 1995 (“Age of Apocalypse” storyline): no idea why I own a copy of this comic book, which is mediocre at best. But Lobdell and Madureira employ Morph’s shapeshifting abilities for comedic purposes, which makes him the most memorable character here.

Bishop

  • Bishop from David Hine’s and Yanick Paquette’s Civil War: X-Men, 2007: while I find Bishop’s mutant power (“energy absorption and redirection” – Wikipedia) rather boring and himself as a character not very likeable, his backstory – coming from a dystopian future – makes for interesting storytelling material. In Civil War: X-Men, Bishop feels compelled to side with the government and turn against Cyclops and the other X-Men.

detail from Wolverine #306

  • Wolverine from Cullen Bunn’s and Paul Pelletier’s run on Wolverine v4, 2012: while Wolverine certainly isn’t an underexposed character, Bunn and Pelletier showed that his backstory still has some new plot devices in it. Plus, his regenerating abilities can be stunningly visualised, e.g. when half his face is blown off by a shotgun, and he regrows his eye during the same fight scene (in #306).

Warbird

  • Warbird from Marjorie Liu’s and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s run on Astonishing X-Men, 2013: Warbird is a member of the Shi’ar alien race and not a mutated human, but her ‘otherness’ (which Liu frequently emphasised) matches that of the other X-Men misfits nicely.

detail from X-Treme X-Men #12

  • Nazi Xavier from Greg Pak’s and Andre Araujo’s X-Treme X-Men v2, 2013: it’s Charles Xavier, the popular telepath. Only he’s a nazi. X-Treme X-Men introduced many alternate versions of well-known characters from parallel worlds, one weirder than the other. Technically Nazi Xavier is a villain, not an X-Man, but Marvel never had much problems with changing a villain into a hero and vice versa. Such a ‘deal with the devil’ would create those tensions that seem to be all-important in any superhero team.

Magneto

  • Magneto from Cullen Bunn’s and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s Magneto, 2014: Magneto has already undergone the treatment from villain to X-Man (and back again, probably several times), so it shouldn’t be a problem to have him on the team too. It would be interesting to have Holocaust survivor Magneto (don’t ask me how old he is supposed to be) on the same team as Nazi Xavier, but the reason I want Magneto on my ideal X-Men team is that it’s just so much fun to see him twisting and twirling pieces of metal around.

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