Translating comic books may seem an uncomplicated task. After all, there are helpful illustrations at our disposal and there is relatively little text. However, it is not so simple. The aspects which may have seemed to make things easier, turn out to pose biggest difficulties.


Rarely do the word balloons containing the text stretch, that is why the translator’s options are very limited. In order to fit the translation into this narrow space, it is necessary to omit, shorten or replace certain words. Small speech balloons do not allow of vivid narratives and detailed descriptions.
Moreover, the translator has to adapt the text so that there are no discrepancies with the accompanying image. He or she must understand the visual message of the illustration and interpret it accordingly.

Fidelity to the original

A fundamental issue is also the dilemma concerning the degree to which the translation is supposed to faithfully render the original. A text translated word-for-word will not fully convey the intended meaning of the source text, and too distant equivalents may be ludicrous or even erroneous. An example of a flawed translation are “Green Gables” rendered to Polish as Zielone Wzgórza (literal translation of the Polish name: “Green Hills”) in the translation of Anne of Green Gables. Falling into either of the extremes can result in more profound problems.

An appropriate translation, on the other hand, is the one chosen for the name of one of the characters in Asterix the Gaul. Agecanonix, which is combination of the French words ‘age canonique’, meaning roughly ‘very old’, has been translated appropriately as Geriatrix in English and Długowieczniks (an alteration of the Polish word for a person who has lived for a long time) in Polish. The English name is also associated with old age, as geriatrics is a discipline concerned with diseases of old age. The etymology of both equivalents refers, then, to the length of life, so the sense of the original is retained.


Onomatopoeic words in comic books often lead to disputes among translation agencies, readers and publishers. This is because the illustration on which they appear usually requires adaptation and that entails additional expenses. For some, leaving the aforementioned words intact will not make any difference, but others, who consider them an indispensable part of translation, may be bothered. It is worth noting, however, that onomatopoeic expressions may differ utterly depending on the language. Some recipients’ knowledge of English may not be broad enough to understand such a word as ‘yawn’ located next to a picture of a yawning person, and they may erroneously understand it as, for example, scream. On the other hand, for those familiar with English, seeing ‘cock-a-doodle-do’ in the Polish version may spoil the immersion experience.

Translating comic books is, therefore, a task that requires a great deal of knowledge, creativity and the ability to convey information concisely. Seemingly straightforward and often underestimated, it is definitely a challenge worth taking up.

(translation K. S.)

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