May GLLI Blog Series: Japan in Translation, No. 8
Almost every week, a dozen or more volumes of Japanese comics–also commonly known as manga–are released in print in translation for the North American market while even more are made available digitally on a variety of platforms. Over the last decade or so, collections of comics have become increasingly prevalent in libraries, both public and academic. (It doesn’t hurt that comics tend to be popular and circulate well.) Japan has one of the most robust comics cultures in the world; any well-rounded comics collection should feature Japanese comics alongside those from other countries.
An entire creative team is needed to successfully bring Japanese comics to English-reading audiences. Among many others, translators and adaptors as well as letterers and retouch artists play a role. Many of the complexities inherent in translating prose from one language into another still exist when translating comics, but comics also pose additional challenges. Notably, due to space limitations, comics translation must convey characterization and tone concisely. The translation of Gengoroh Tageme’s endearing family drama My Brother’s Husband by Anne Ishii is remarkably well-done in that regard. Likewise, I am particularly fond of Jocelyne Allen’s translation work on Requiem of the Rose King, a dark and sensual fantasy by Aya Kanno partly inspired by Shakespeare’s Henry VI and Richard III.
Different publishers take different approaches towards the inclusion of translation and cultural notes as part of a comic. Princess Jellyfish (translation: Sarah Alys Lindholm), a delightful romantic comedy by Akiko Higashimura, is accompanied by extensive notes for readers interested in the series’ more culturally-specific references while other translated comics won’t include any notes at all. Publishers must also consider what to do about sound effects, especially if they have been incorporated into the artwork itself. In some comics onomatopoeia and ideophones will be left completely untranslated while in others a translation will be provided either directly alongside the original or as a footnote (or even endnote). In some cases, an artist will be employed to redraw a section of a comic in order to integrate translated sound in a way that is visually consistent with the rest of the work.
Perhaps the most obvious difference between Japanese-language comics and English-language comics is reading orientation. Generally, Japanese comics are created to be read from right to left. Depending on the intended audience, some translated Japanese comics will be “flipped” to read from left to right. Konami Kanata’s adorable kitten comic Chi’s Sweet Home (translation: Ed Chavez), for example, has been reproduced in mirror image. Other comics like Ichi-F (translation: Stephen Paul)–a memoir by Kazuto Tatsuta about the disaster recovery efforts in Fukushima–have undergone a more labor-intensive process in which pages have at times been rearranged panel-by-panel. However, currently the most common practice is to simply retain the original right-to-left format of a Japanese comic even when it’s being published in English. It takes a little practice, but most readers can adjust to “reading backwards” fairly quickly. In doing so, they open themselves up to experiencing the exceptional range of genres and styles available from Japanese comics in translation.
Next up: an excerpt from Eto Mori’s Dive!! by translator Avery Fischer Udagawa
Ash Brown is a librarian and an avid reader (as well as a semi-professional taiko player). After being introduced to Japanese literature through the works of Yukio Mishima in 2010, Ash combined a newfound interest in Japanese literature with an already existing love of comics by creating the blog Experiments in Manga. For the next seven years at that blog, Ash extensively reviewed and wrote about Japanese comics and literature in translation in addition to other tangentially-related topics. While Experiments in Manga has now been largely retired, Ash continues to contribute to the blog network Manga Bookshelf and has yet to stop reading absurd quantities of manga and other Japanese literature.
David Jacobson organized this series on Japanese literature in translation. He is the author of Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko, a 2017 NCTE notable poetry book. A longtime journalist, David has written news articles and TV scripts that have appeared in the Associated Press, The Washington Post, The Seattle Times and on CNN and Japan’s NHK. Since 2008, he has worked with Seattle book publisher Chin Music Press. An experienced Japanese translator, he is on the board of the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative.
And in case you missed it…
May 1: Roger Pulvers on Ishikawa Takuboku (Japan-in-Translation, No. 1)
May 2: Kathryn Hemmann on outsider stories in contemporary literature (Japan-in-Translation, No. 2)
May 3: Deborah Iwabuchi on memorable translations (Japan-in-Translation, No. 3)
May 4: Eve Kushner on kanji’s punning potential, part 1 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 4)
May 5: Eve Kushner on kanji’s punning potential, part 2 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 5)
May 7: Translator roundtable on Shiba Ryōtarō’s Ryōma!, part 1 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 6)
May 8: Translator roundtable on Shiba Ryōtarō’s Ryōma!, part 2 (Japan-in-Translation, No. 7)