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I recently had the opportunity to copyedit the English translation of a full-color graphic novel for a two-language coedition. Although this wasn’t a McElroy Translation project, I thought our readers might enjoy a look at “art and translation.”

For our readers who don’t deal with publishing, coeditions are a standard means to save on printing costs, especially for full-color books. The book will be sent to the press at the same time for both, say, an English and a German edition. Printing in full-color actually breaks down into printing a page in four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. Each color is a separate plate that has to be changed out on the printing press, and each plate change adds to the expense. When printing a coedition, the savings come by making sure that the cyan, magenta, and yellow plates remain the same for both languages—and so don’t need to be switched out—and restricting all variations to the black plates.

One advantage of a graphic novel is that words like BOFF!, POW!, or even BFFTP! in action scenes won’t necessarily need to be translated—although you always want to look at these to make sure they don’t unintentionally mean something offensive in translation! Another advantage is that the illustrations and the text carry equal storytelling weight. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words, and that can come in handy when it turns out the graphics have to do more of the heavy lifting.

That’s because the main challenge of a graphic novel is that the text is confined to the space available in the drawings. Think about a cell in a Batman comic: it’s all action—with the dialogue crammed into those little bubbles! The text length of perhaps “il cavaliere oscuro” or "il cavaliere di Gotham" is not the same as “the Dark Knight,” and that is not an extreme example. Designers are magicians and can work wonders, but the text still needs to “look like” the genre; i.e., it can’t go too small. So how do you deal with that in such a tight space?

Any publishing project is a group effort. The translator needs to focus on the meaning and the style of the text—the art of translation. A copy editor follows up afterward checking the mechanics—that all the text has been translated, grammar and spellings are all correct, reading the text flows easily, and that it fits! And everything the copy editor does is reviewed and accepted or rejected by the editor in charge of the project, and will be double-checked in a proofreading pass.

I like to start by looking for any skipped cells of text since there are so many bits and pieces to deal with. Then I read the text through. Does it make sense? Does it mesh with the illustrations; i.e., do they work together to convey something, do they repeat the same information, or do they contradict each other? Are there any grammar or spelling glitches that need fixing? Only then do I look at the size of the text blocks, but I review this very carefully and count the characters of the two languages to confirm that the English will fit in the same space as, say, the Italian. If it just won’t, then I consider how to convey the same meaning with a shorter string of letters. “Our protagonist” becomes “our hero,” or “wide-ranging” becomes “vast,” for example. Or is it possible to let a drawing carry more weight? If “our caped avenger stumbles” is a problem but the drawing has an awesome swooshing flow of fabric, then “he stumbles” could be a valid option.

Once the pieces of the puzzle are all in place for me, I’ll read the whole thing through again to make sure the edited text still makes sense, still meshes with the illustrations, and still flows. Then I pass it on to other hands, where it will be reviewed again and fine-tuned as needed as we all work to make the best possible reading experience.

Published - July 2009

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