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Perspectives

Studies in Translatology

ISSN: 0907-676X (Print) 1747-6623 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rmps20

Multimodality, translation and comics


Micha Borodo
To cite this article: Micha Borodo (2015) Multimodality, translation and comics, Perspectives,
23:1, 22-41, DOI: 10.1080/0907676X.2013.876057
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0907676X.2013.876057

Published online: 10 Feb 2014.

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Date: 14 March 2016, At: 04:59

Perspectives: Studies in Translatology, 2015


Vol. 23, No. 1, 2241, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0907676X.2013.876057

Multimodality, translation and comics


Micha Borodo*
Department of English, Kazimierz Wielki University, Bydgoszcz, Poland

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(Received 14 April 2013; accepted 30 November 2013)


Although several noteworthy studies concerning the translation of comic books have
been published to date (notably Kaindl, 1999; Zanettin, 2008), it still remains an
under-investigated topic within Translation Studies. The present article adopts a
multimodal perspective on the translation of comics, demonstrating how the relationship between the verbal and the visual modes may be exploited in the translation
process. It focuses on the ways in which the two modes interact and contribute to the
creation of meaning on a multimodal page, and on the transformations their
relationship may undergo in translation. The article is illustrated with examples from
a classic, Franco-Belgian comic book series, Thorgal, and the Polish translations of it.
The multimodal approach to investigating translated comics may be another step
towards a more complete understanding of the character of this still largely unexplored
sphere of translation.
Keywords: comics translation; multimodality; intersemiotic relationships; Thorgal

1. Introduction
The article investigates the translation of comic books in the context of their multimodal
nature, demonstrating how the interplay between the verbal and the visual may be
exploited in the process of translation. It is illustrated with examples from a selected
album of a classic, Franco-Belgian comic book series, Thorgal, entitled Les trois
vieillards du pays dAran (originally published in 1981) and the two widely differing
Polish translations of it, one of them relatively free (1989), the other literal (2008). The
primary focus of the article is on the strategy adopted by one of the Polish translators,
whose transformations of the original text were related to or conditioned by the existence
of the visual mode. These transformations include condensing the original text through
exploiting the meaning overlap between the verbal and the visual as well as modifying
and elaborating upon the original, e.g. to eliminate the instances of incongruence between
text and pictures observable in the original and to explicate or reinterpret certain panels.
Regarding the structure of the present paper, it initially focuses on the concept of
multimodality and intersemiotic relationships between modes, and then discusses the
relevance of the multimodal nature of comic books for translation. Further on, after
briefly presenting the extra-textual context in which the Polish translations were created,
the article demonstrates how the multimodal character of the comic book may be
exploited in the process of translation. The present article partly fills the gap in translation

*Email: mborodo@gmail.com
2014 Taylor & Francis

Perspectives: Studies in Translatology

23

and linguistic research, which has so far been concerned with the multimodal character of
comic books only to a limited degree.

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2. The multimodal approach and intersemiotic relationships


The multimodal approach, postulated and popularized in recent years by, among others,
Kress and Van Leeuwen (1996, 2001), emphasizes that meaning is not only communicated by language but also many other modes. These modes include pictorial images,
gesture, posture, gaze, and colour, and should not be viewed as merely an embellishment
or illustration of the textual, but as separate modes that in concrete circumstances possess
equal meaning-making potential. Language is thus an element within a larger semiotic
framework, and it may have a primary or a subordinate role to play. It is, as Jewitt notes,
only one mode nestled among a multimodal ensemble of modes (2009, p. 15), a fact
long overlooked in linguistic research.
Kress and Van Leeuwen define multimodality as [t]he use of several semiotic modes
in the design of a semiotic product or event (2001, p. 20), and Kress believes that it is
not a theory but rather a domain of enquiry (2009, p. 54). As such it may be applied to
various spheres, such as advertisements, websites, museum exhibitions, and textbooks, as
well as comics. A key concept employed in multimodal analyses is naturally the notion of
a mode, which may be defined as a socially shaped and culturally given resource for
making meaning (Kress, 2009, p. 54), and which is governed by its specific logic, the
mode of speech by the logic of time, the mode of still image by the logic of simultaneity
and space, etc. (Jewitt, 2009, p. 25). Other key words associated with multimodal
research include affordance, i.e. the potential and limitations of material drawn into
semiosis as mode (Kress, 2009, p. 58), and semiotic resources, i.e. systems of meaning
that people have at their disposal (Jewitt, 2009, p. 23), as well as intersemiotic
relationships.
It is the latter concept that is of special interest in this article. What is the nature of the
relationship between modes, how do they interact and contribute to the creation of
meaning on a multimodal page, and are these relations subsequently retained in the
process of translation or do they undergo a process of transformation? In a comic book,
the visual mode plays the primary role and the verbal mode has a subordinate and
complementary role to play, but these two modes constantly interact, at times overlapping
in what they communicate and sometimes diverting from each other in the meanings they
express. As observed by Jewitt At times the meaning realized by two modes can be
aligned, at other times they may be complementary and at other times each mode may
be used to refer to distinct aspects of meaning (2009, p. 25). The relationship between
the verbal and the visual on a multimodal page was to some extent investigated by
Martinec and Salway, inspired by Hallidays system of analysing relations that appear
between clauses in the clause complex. Martinec and Salway (2005, pp. 352353)
observe that when the relation between text and image is unequal, as is the case in
comics, text may expand on the visual mode in the following three ways. First, image and
text may be in the relationship of elaboration, which means that text merely mentions
certain aspects already present in the visual. Second, they may be linked by the
relationship of extension, in which case text goes beyond what the image represents,
adding new information with regard to the visual. Third, Martinec and Salway distinguish
the category of enhancement, when text expands on the image, providing additional
circumstantial information concerning spatial or temporal relations. In other words, if the
verbal and the visual remain in the relationship of elaboration, the degree of meaning

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M. Borodo

overlap between the two modes will be high, as it is the same or similar meanings that are
repeated, only through a different mode. If the relationship is that of extension or
enhancement, on the other hand, the degree of meaning overlap will be lower, as in this
case meanings are added rather than repeated.
Another noteworthy descriptive framework for studying intersemiotic semantic
relationships in a multimodal text was proposed by Royce (2007). In his analysis of an
illustrated article in The Economist magazine, he demonstrates how the verbal and the
visual modes interact and complement each other on a page, frequently being intertwined
in complex ways and resulting in a coherent multimodal whole. Employing Hallidays
three metafunctions of language, Royce argues that such intersemiotic complementarity
may be investigated on the ideational, interpersonal and textual levels, the latter being
renamed by him, in the context of the visualverbal interactions, as compositional (2007,
p. 67). On the ideational level, Royce distinguishes what he refers to as Visual Message
Elements, which include such categories as participants, i.e. both animate and inanimate
entities appearing in the visual, as well as the processes, circumstances and attributes of
the participants represented on a page (2007, p. 70). Identifying these elements constitutes
the first stage in a multimodal analysis. The second stage involves tracing the lexical
items semantically related to these visual elements on a verbal plane and establishing the
nature of these relationships. Royce classified such relationships as: repetition, which
refers to an identical experiential meaning; synonymy, referring to a similar experiential
meaning; antonymy, for an opposite meaning; hyponymy, expressing the relation of a
general class and its subclasses; meronymy, referring to a partwhole relationship; and the
more general category of collocation for words likely to appear in certain subject areas
(2007, p. 70). Royce also distinguishes various types of relationships for the other
metafunctions. In the case of the compositional metafunction, which refers to how
elements work together on a page to achieve a structural coherence, he proposes such
categories as visual salience, framing and reading paths (2007, p. 73). In the case of
comics, for instance, images within panels are unquestionably more salient than speech
balloons, whereas the culturally-established reading path in Europe or in the Americas is
from left to right.
Finally, what should also be taken into account in a multimodal analysis of translated
comic books are characters body movements, referred to by Allwood as a major source
of the multimodal and multidimensional nature of face-to-face communication (2002,
p. 15). Comic book characters do not merely interact and communicate meanings through
speech balloons but, equally importantly, through gesture, posture, eye gaze or facial
expression. Protagonists are also positioned in specific ways within panels and both their
positioning and body movements may be revealing with regard to the nature of their
relationship, be it friendliness, indifference, superiority, suspicion, tension, irritation or
hostility. These nonverbal interactions are thus a crucial component of communication,
possessing a considerable meaning-making potential activated by the reader/viewer in the
process of interpreting comic book panels. Following Allwoods classification of body
movements (2002, pp. 1516), one may point to a number of categories that are of
potential relevance in a multimodal analysis of a comic book, including facial gestures,
direction of gaze, movements of hands and arms, body posture, distance between
communicators and their spatial orientation. The categories introduced in this section will
be further employed in the analysis of the two translations investigated in this article. In
the following section, we will focus on selected approaches concerning multimodality
and the translation of comics.

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3. A multimodal perspective on translating comics


Several studies concerned with the multimodal nature of translated comic books have
been published to date. Notably, Kaindl (2004) investigates the role of multimodality in
the context of translating humour, drawing attention to the relevance of the interplay
between the verbal and the visual to translation and demonstrating how humorous
meanings are distributed across the two modes. In his analysis, Kaindl questions the
concept of the visual Esperanto (2004, p. 183), pointing out that images might be fairly
culture specific, which may in turn pose problems in the translation process. The article
may be regarded as one of the pioneering studies on the multimodal nature of translation
and comics, differing from previous publications which were primarily preoccupied with
the verbal aspects of humour rather than the multimodal character of it. While posing
several pertinent questions, also of relevance to the present article, Kaindls article,
mainly illustrated with examples drawn from such comic books as Asterix, Tintin or
Peanuts, nevertheless makes the reader wonder whether the multimodal character of the
medium might also be relevant for translation beyond the realm of humour. Does the
multimodal nature of comics influence translators decisions in the case of other comic
book genres as well? Is it possible to provide examples of translation transformations
motivated by the interplay between the two modes from fantasy and science-fiction comic
books, for instance? We will return to these questions further on in the present article.
A few other studies, while not explicitly referring to the relationship between the
verbal and visual as multimodal, discuss the specificity of this relationship in the context
of translating comics. For example, Celotti emphasizes that the comic book translator
should adopt the role of a semiotic investigator, being aware of the interdependence and
interaction between the two modes and striving to achieve coherence between words and
pictures (2008, p. 47). Distancing herself from the notion of constrained translation in the
context of translating comics, Celotti also points out that visual language can be a
resource rather than a constraint for the translator (2008, p. 35). This is certainly an
insightful comment that is worthy of further investigation. The translation of comics has
at times been referred to as an instance of constrained translation (e.g. Grun & Dollerup,
2003) due to the spatial limitations of speech balloons and panels. However, though
comics will in some cases impose certain spatial constraints on the translator, the visual
should not be merely viewed as an obstacle. It is the element that may also potentially
reinforce the textual, clear up confusion, offer clues, inspire and generally facilitate the
process of translation. Though audiovisual translation is beyond the scope of the present
article, a similar point with regard to the essential role of the visual mode, which may take
over the task of expressing certain meanings from the verbal mode, has been made in the
context of subtitling. For example, Chuang claims that the translator does not have to
render everything in the dialogues into the subtitles, but he can choose to ignore those
meanings that are represented in other semiotic modes (2006, p. 375), while Taylor
observes that [i]f the meaning, or a part of the meaning, of a section of multimodal film
text is carried by semiotic modalities other than the verbal [] then a paring down of the
verbal component can be justified (2004, p. 161). As in the case of comics, the visual
does not only act as a constraint, but may also play an auxiliary role in the translation
process.
A further point of note in the context of multimodality and comics is that it is not only
the verbal mode but both modes that may undergo the process of transformation in
translation. In some cases, the translation of comics does not only involve the insertion of
text into a pre-existing matrix of panels and speech balloons, but may involve redrawing

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M. Borodo

characters (e.g. Kaindl, 1999, p. 279) or even whole panels (ibid., p. 283), as well as
erasing a variety of visual signs (e.g. DArcangelo, 2004, p. 197; Zanettin, 2008a, p. 206)
or substituting them with others (Kaindl, 2004, p. 185). It is in this sense that Zanettin
(2008a) compares the translation of comics to the process of localization, highlighting
that the visual mode, especially in subsequent retranslations of the same comic book, may
be adjusted to different conventions and age groups at different moments in time.
Regarding the transformations of the verbal mode, on the other hand, it is also not
uncommon that text within speech balloons may be translated in a liberal way, being
condensed (e.g. Rota, 2008, pp. 8889) or expanded (e.g. Grun & Dollerup, 2003, p. 212)
by the translator. Both these types of transformations, relating either to the verbal or to the
visual, might in turn influence the relation between words and pictures and the manner in
which meaning is distributed across the two modes in translated texts.
The relationship between the verbal and the visual modes may also be investigated in
the context of comic book formats, which are sometimes transformed in the process of
adaptation for a new readership in a different culture. Be it an American superhero comic
book, a French album, the Italian Bonelli format or a Japanese manga, comic book
formats are firmly grounded in the traditions of particular cultures, which pertains to their
size, reading direction, font and the use of colours. All these aspects may be modified for
a new target readership, which may in turn have consequences for how a particular text is
perceived and interpreted. The above appears to be particularly relevant in the context of
translating manga. Read from right to left in the original Japanese formats, the first manga
comic books imported to the USA and Europe were initially adjusted to a Western
reading convention and published with inverted pagination from left to right. In time, this
publication method was abandoned by some publishers and many manga comics
currently published in Europe retain the original, right-to-left reading direction. It might
be noted that both these strategies may change the relationship between words and
images from the perspective of the comic book reader. As Rota, citing Barbieri, observes:
Western readership is accustomed to scanning all kind of images from left to right;
therefore, non-inverted panels in Japanese comics convey a different meaning if observed by
a Western eye. A quick movement, for instance, is perceived as slow by a European reader if
not inverted in a mirror-fashion; or a violent kick may turn into a simple trip. (Rota, 2008,
p. 94)

However, mirror inversion might also have profound consequences for how the meaning
expressed by the two modes is interpreted. As Rota notices, the direction of the depicted
actions is modified in this process and right-handed protagonists are automatically
transformed into left-handed characters, which may lead to the following situation:
[I]t is known that samurai followed a strict code of honour called bushido, whose rules
obliged them never to hold their sword with their left hand. Unfortunately, inversion
transforms what for samurai was a profound source of shame (i.e., swords held in left hands)
into a rule. (Rota, 2008, p. 94)

The consequences of both mirror inversion and non-inversion of pagination may thus
influence the way in which certain actions, scenes and movements are interpreted by
readers accustomed to different cultural conventions with regard to gesture, gaze and
directionality of written language. Such transformations may thus lead to a gain but also a
loss in translation.

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The concepts of loss and gain, in turn, were in some detail dealt with in the context of
comic translation by Grun and Dollerup (2003) in their analysis of the Danish translations
of Donald Duck as well as Calvin and Hobbes. Comparing the translations in focus with
their originals, Dollerup and Grun suggest that a liberal translation departing from the
original comics is not necessarily automatically an instance of loss, as it may bring gains
to the text, enriching it in the context of the new target audience. This reasoning appears
to be particularly relevant in the context of one of the translations investigated further on
in the present article, which at times appears to be excessively free with regard to the
original text, but also brings certain gains to the comic book album in the new target
situation. Before investigating the instances of such translation transformations, however,
let us briefly describe the context in which the Polish translations were published.
4. The publishing history of the album
Thorgal is a popular Franco-Belgian comic book series originally written in French by
Jean Van Hamme and drawn by the Polish graphic artist Grzegorz Rosiski. It was
initially serialized in the Tintin magazine in 1977 and since then around 40 volumes of
Thorgal have been released by Le Lombard publishing house, including several spin-offs
that have been produced in recent years by other authors and illustrators as part of the
same series. With regard to its genre, the series may be classified as fantasy adventure
with elements of science-fiction and Norse mythology. It tells the story of the turbulent
life of Thorgal Aegirsson, who is a bard raised among Vikings, but also a star child, i.e.
one of the last descendants of a powerful race that arrived on Earth from outer space.
Thorgal is a righteous, courageous and modest man, using violence only as a last resort,
an excellent archer, as well as an outsider and an outcast, never fully accepted by Vikings
as one of them. As the series progresses, Thorgal and his wife Aaricia start a family and
have two children, a son, Jolan, and a daughter, Louve, and the main protagonist
continually strives to find a safe place where his family could lead a peaceful life, but,
mostly against his will, he repeatedly becomes involved in serious trouble. The vast
universe created by Van Hamme and Rosiski in the series is inhabited by Vikings in the
north and Indian tribes in the south, as well as by gods, magical creatures, dwarfs, giants,
ruthless rulers, marauders, merchants, warriors and adventurers, in addition to being filled
with many magical artifacts and mysterious locations. With regard to its formal
characteristics, Thorgal has a classic French album format. It is a 48-page A4 comic
book printed in full colour, as a rule published once or twice a year, and directed at both
young and adult readers.
The series has been translated into around 15 languages so far and, since its creation,
it has enjoyed great popularity in Poland among younger and older readers alike. It was
initially serialized in a Polish comic book magazine, Relax, and then, since the late 1980s,
published in the form of comic book albums. These albums were published by various
ephemeral publishing houses and translated by different Polish translators until the mid1990s, when the translation of the series was taken over by Egmont Polska publishing
house and assigned to just one single translator, Wojciech Birek. The new translator not
only continued to translate the subsequent volumes, but he also retranslated all of
the previously published albums. This resulted in a situation, certainly desirable from the
point of view of a translation researcher, in which there exist differing translations of
the same albums produced by different translators. The album selected for analysis in the
present article, Les trois vieillards du pays dAran (The three elders from the country of
Aran), was originally published in 1981. It was first rendered into Polish by Joanna

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M. Borodo

Lamprecht in 1989 under the title Nad jeziorem bez dna (At the bottomless lake) and
issued by Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza publishing house. In the year 2000 the album
was retranslated by the abovementioned Wojciech Birek, this time bearing a more
accurate title, Trzech starcw z krainy Aran (The three elders from the land of Aran).
Finally, in 2008, the second, further modified edition of the 2000 translation by Wojciech
Birek was released under a slightly different title, Trzej starcy z kraju Aran (The three
elders from the country of Aran). It is the earliest 1989 Polish translation and the most
recent 2008 version of the album that will be investigated in this article.
There exist numerous differences between the two translations in focus regarding
their accuracy and equivalence towards the original text. As will be demonstrated in the
analytical part of this paper, the 1989 text is less exact, while the 2008 translation may be
characterized as more accurate. However, what does this actually mean? By what criteria
are the two translations being judged in terms of accuracy and equivalence? By
condensing or shortening the original text, is the translator necessarily becoming less
accurate, and the translation less equivalent? For example, it is sometimes possible to
achieve the same effect in shorter sentences or transmit the same meanings in a more
concise manner. Then, equivalence might be interpreted as being formal when accuracy
is aligned with literal translation, or dynamic, attempting to partly recreate a similar
effect on the addressee (Nida, 1964), or it could be investigated on a variety of planes: at
word or sentence level, or on the level of a text as a whole (e.g. Baker, 1992), etc.
Furthermore, in the context of a multimodal text, condensing the original may not
necessarily mean that a given translation is less accurate or appropriate, as images may at
times compensate for omissions or reformulations. It could be argued that in the latter,
holistic, and more nuanced sense, accuracy and equivalence may be achieved even if the
original text is shortened or condensed in terms of language. Thus, to be more specific,
the 2008 translation may be characterized as fairly accurate and the earlier 1989
translation as far less accurate in terms of linguistic fidelity (in the 1989 text this is
especially due to the shortening of a number of dialogues in speech balloons, with some
of these modifications bringing to mind the condensation techniques commonly
employed in subtitling, such as deleting repetitions, phatic expressions, or addressative
forms). However, if we adopt a more nuanced, multimodal perspective on accuracy,
comic book images may in some cases, just as in the case of subtitling, compensate for
the translators omissions and shortenings.
Several questions appear with regard to the reasons that led to such differences in
accuracy between the two Polish translations: what was the underlying rationale for
translation strategy in the 1989 text; what was the 1989 translators background in terms
of her training and previous experience; and is the text we read as a translation the result
of the translators autonomous decisions or was it influenced by other decision-makers,
e.g. the editors responsible for the publication of the translation, who may have
established some guidelines that the translator had to respect? From todays perspective,
this is difficult to establish. Just as the Krajowa Agencja Wydawnicza publishing house
responsible for releasing the first Polish translation ceased to exist, so is the first Polish
translator of the album difficult to trace. However, though obtaining reliable information
about the decisions observable in the 1989 translation did not turn out to be feasible, we
can hypothesize about the reasons behind the differences between the liberal 1989
translation and the literal 2008 rendering of the original text. One of them could be
related to the translators differing views with regard to the status of the text, which was
most probably lower when the album was translated for the first time, in 1989, and higher
in 2008 after the series had already become well-established. It is also possible that the

Perspectives: Studies in Translatology

29

first Polish translator had mainly young readers in mind, while the translator of the 2008
version addressed the text also (or primarily) to, older and more sophisticated readers,
including fans of the series who grew up with it as well as connoisseurs of comic book
art. Finally, it might also be hypothesized that some instances of condensation from the
first Polish translation could be related to lettering, which in 1989 appears to have been
inserted manually, which could in turn lead to certain condensation decisions due to the
spatial constraints of speech balloons, and which was computerized in the most recent
2008 translation.
Having briefly sketched the context in which the texts in focus were created, we will
now concentrate on the ways in which the multimodal potential of the comic book was
exploited and modified in the process of translation.

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5. Multimodality, addition and transformation


The examples presented in this section indicate that on several occasions the 1989
translator, Joanna Lamprecht, decided to take into account the interplay between the two
modes, transforming the text of the original in the translation process. Apparently
dissatisfied with certain instances of incongruence between the verbal and the visual and
with how certain speech balloons communicated meaning, she departed from the original
text, introducing new meanings, which, though not expressed by the textual mode in the
original album, may nevertheless be described as fully congruent with the visual mode.
5.1. How many whirlpools?
The first comic book panel under investigation is presented in Figure 1. It contains such
Visual Message Elements as a sailing boat, a large whirlpool of approximately the size of
the boat, and a turbulent dark blue sea as a background. The scene takes place during a
heavy storm, which is indicated by the high waves and dark colours employed in the
panel. As the boat is apparently being pulled into the storm by the whirlpool, one of
the crew members exclaims: There! Whirlpools! In Martinec and Salways terms
the relationship between the verbal and the visual may be regarded as elaboration, as the
verbal merely repeats what is already noticeable in the panel, and in Royces terms this
could be classified as repetition; however, one will also easily notice dissonance between
the verbal and the visual in this picture. Take a look at this panel and answer the question
How many whirlpools can you see in the picture?
While in the 2008 translation Wojciech Birek recreated the original text accurately,
retaining the plural form of tourbillons (whirlpools) from the original speech balloon, in
her 1989 version Joanna Lamprecht made the word whirlpools singular, as a result of
which the translation became more congruent with what is actually visible in the panel.
English translation of Figure 1b:
There! Whirlpools!
English translation of Figure 1c:
There! A terrible whirlpool!

Moreover, although it was absent from the original album, a qualifier terrible was added
in the 1989 translation. Apparently, the translator felt it desirable to further dramatize this
panel, though, as was mentioned before, additions are relatively rare in this predominantly condensed translation. Both these decisions, to change the plural into singular and
to add a qualifier, modified the meaning of the original speech balloon, and yet it should

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M. Borodo

Figure 1. (a) Les trois vieillards du pays dAran (1981/2000, p. 29), reproduced with kind
permission of Editions du Lombard by Rosiski Van Hamme; (b) Trzej starcy z kraju Aran
(2008, p. 29), reproduced with kind permission of Egmont Polska Editions du Lombard by
Rosiski Van Hamme; (c) Nad jeziorem bez dna (1989, p. 29), published by Krajowa Agencja
Wydawnicza.

be noted that this transformation is not only entirely congruent with the visual mode, but
it also cleared up some confusion observable in the original text.
5.2. How about you Thorgal?
In the two comic book panels presented in Figure 2a, apart from identifying the major
Visual Message Elements, we also need to pay attention to body movement with regard to
gaze, posture, distance and spatial orientation. The left panel shows three characters
travelling in a boat, including Thorgal, who is positioned in the background with his back
turned on the other two characters, as well as the Viking and the green knight, who are in
the foreground. The Viking, wearing a helmet, appears in a central position in this panel,

31

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Perspectives: Studies in Translatology

Figure 2. (a) Les trois vieillards du pays dAran (1981/2000, p. 28), reproduced with kind
permission of Editions du Lombard by Rosiski Van Hamme; (b) Trzej starcy z kraju Aran
(2008, p. 28), reproduced with kind permission of Egmont Polska Editions du Lombard by
Rosiski Van Hamme; (c) Nad jeziorem bez dna (1989, p. 28), published by Krajowa Agencja
Wydawnicza.

while the green knight is positioned on the right. As regards the content of the speech
balloons in this panel, the green knight first addresses the Viking, observing that it is a
strange voyage and that he cannot see any island around. The Viking replies that he
cannot notice anything either and then he addresses Thorgal saying: And you, can you
see anything? This is a crucial point in the conversation, at which the translator decided

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M. Borodo

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to intervene. Let us examine the body language of the characters as well as the sequence
of speech balloons in greater detail. The Viking is not looking at Thorgal, but ahead, with
his hand shading his eyes from the sun, which may contribute to the impression that he is
not addressing Thorgal and that the conversation is only taking place between the two
characters in the foreground, who are standing close to each other. Then, Thorgal is standing
at some distance with his back turned on the other two, which strengthens the impression
that he is not in any way involved in the conversation. Moreover, the reading direction of
speech balloons in European comic books, in contrast to Japanese manga, for instance, is
from left to right and from top to bottom, which implies that the protagonist in the middle is
in all probability addressing the character on the right, rather than talking back to the
character on the left. It is only the subsequent panel that clarifies who addresses whom in the
first panel. How did the Polish translators cope with this potentially confusing scene?
English translation of Figure 2b:
THE LEFT PANEL
Green knight: Its strange to travel in a boat which steers by itself Apart from this, the lake
is not that large, but I cant see any island.
Viking: Me neither. And you, can you see anything?
THE RIGHT PANEL
Green knight: Leave him If I were you, Id be wary of this Thorgal.
Viking: You think so?
Green knight: Im sure of it. Hes ambitious, capable of the worst betrayal to achieve
his goal.
English translation of Figure 2c:
THE LEFT PANEL
Green knight: It is a strange boat which steers by itself. The lake isnt large, but I cant see
any island here.
Viking: Me neither. Hey, Thorgal, how about you?
THE RIGHT PANEL
Green knight: Leave him. I dont trust this Thorgal.
Viking: Why?
Green knight: Hes a daredevil capable of anything to achieve his goal.

While in the 2008 version the translators primary objective appears to have been
retaining accuracy with regard to the verbal mode, in her 1989 translation, Joanna
Lamprecht decided to give precedence to the visual mode, making this scene more
explicit. Lamprecht did not only introduce the addressative form Thorgal into the
speech balloon, thus indicating who is being addressed by whom, but also preceded it by
the interjection hey to signal that the two protagonists are at a distance from each other,
thus making the interaction clearer. The translator thus actively intervened in the text,
creating a translation less accurate in purely linguistic terms, but arguably more coherent
and intelligible in the context of the multimodal nature of the comic book as a whole.

5.3. The guards are coming


The panels in Figure 3a are yet another instance of Joanna Lamprechts interventionist
approach. The Visual Message Elements appearing in the left panel include Thorgal, who
is positioned in the foreground, holding a torch in his raised right hand and gripping a
gnome in his left hand, as well as two armed guards that he notices approaching him from
the lower level of the spiral stairway of the castle tower. Thorgal exclaims: Encore!?,
which may be understood as Again!?, a clear reference to the approaching guards. Then,

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Figure 3. (a) Les trois vieillards du pays dAran (1981/2000, p. 17), reproduced with kind
permission of Editions du Lombard by Rosiski Van Hamme; (b) Trzej starcy z kraju Aran
(2008, p. 17), reproduced with kind permission of Egmont Polska Editions du Lombard by
Rosiski Van Hamme; (c) Nad jeziorem bez dna (1989, p. 17), published by Krajowa Agencja
Wydawnicza.

in the right panel, he tosses the gnome at his opponents. How did the Polish translators
treat this seemingly straightforward scene in translation?
English translation of Figure 3b:
Again?!

34

M. Borodo
English translation of Figure 3c:
Catch!

While the 2008 Polish translation is once again accurate in terms of language, the
translator of the 1989 version departs from the original text considerably. Consequently,
although in both Polish translations the verbal mode plays a complementary role,
elaborating on the visual mode, it does so in markedly different ways. From a purely
linguistic point of view, rendering the main characters exclamation in the 1989
translation as catch is most inaccurate. On the other hand, this liberal and jocular
translational transformation is entirely congruent with the visual mode.

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6. Multimodality and text condensation


Joanna Lamprechts exploitation of the visual mode does not only appear to manifest
itself in the instances of textual transformations discussed in the previous section. On
several occasions, the translator, consciously or not, seems to have taken advantage of the
meaning overlap between the verbal and the visual modes while condensing the original
text. As it was already emphasized, condensation is in general the dominant strategy
employed in the 1989 translation, and Lamprecht did not only resort to it in those panels
in which the visual mode would make up for meaning loss in the textual mode. It is
therefore not argued here that Lamprechts is a coherent approach based on the consistent
exploitation of the multimodal nature of the album, as her translation contains a number
of examples in which, due to condensation, certain meanings were lost in translation, a
fact that deserves to be covered in greater detail in a separate publication. At times,
however, thanks to the multimodal nature of the comic book, the visual does compensate
for the loss of the verbal, as is the case with the comic book panels analysed in this
section.

6.1. This is a no-holds-barred contest


The panels in Figure 4a present the first stage of a knight tournament organized in the
imaginary, ancient kingdom of Aran, i.e. a horse race in which a number of contestants
compete for three precious swords. The major Visual Message Elements in the left panel
include two horsemen, i.e. a fair-haired knight as well as Thorgal, dressed in black and
wearing a helmet, who are currently leading the race and who are engaged in
conversation. The fair-haired contestant exclaims: Ha! Ha! We are faster than them
The swords are ours!, to which Thorgal, dressed in black, replies: Dont celebrate too
soon. This is a no-holds-barred contest. The subsequent panel presents yet another
participant of the tournament, who is shooting with a bow and arrow at one of these two
characters from behind. It is interesting to note that this exchange was rendered by the
two Polish translators in markedly different ways.
English translation of Figure 4b:
Speaker 1: Ha, ha! We are faster than them the swords are ours!
Speaker 2: Dont celebrate too soon. This is a no-holds-barred contest.
English translation of Figure 4c:
Speaker 1: Ha! Ha! Ha! Weve already outrun them!
Speaker 2: Dont celebrate too soon!

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Figure 4. (a) Les trois vieillards du pays dAran (1981/2000, p. 20), reproduced with kind
permission of Editions du Lombard by Rosiski Van Hamme; (b) Trzej starcy z kraju Aran
(2008, p. 20), reproduced with kind permission of Egmont Polska Editions du Lombard by
Rosiski Van Hamme; (c) Nad jeziorem bez dna (1989, p. 20), published by Krajowa Agencja
Wydawnicza.

While the 2008 translation may be described as rather accurate, in the earlier 1989
version the final sentence (Dans ce jeu tous les coups sont permis) was omitted.
Nevertheless, thanks to the multimodal nature of the comic book and the subsequent
panel, which presents another contestant shooting at one of the two characters from
behind, the degree of meaning loss does not seem significant here. In fact, what the next

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36

M. Borodo

Figure 4 (Continued)

panel communicates to the reader/viewer is that everything is permitted in this contest,


including shooting at another participant from behind when he least expects it. In this
instance, the verbal, i.e. the deleted sentence, and the visual, i.e. the subsequent panel,
partly overlap in what they communicate, the panel on the right being a hyponym of the
omitted sentence or one possible realization of the meaning expressed by this sentence.
The effort necessary to process the interplay between the two modes might increase at
this point, but in general the visual partly makes up for the loss of the textual and the
condensation of the speech balloon does not result in an incomplete or distorted narrative.
To sum up, the meaning of the sentence is not entirely lost; its realization is, rather,
transferred to the visual mode.
6.2. Ill give you a hand
Figure 5c may serve as yet another example of how the multimodal character of the
comic book may be employed in order to condense the original text without distorting the
meaning expressed by the original. The panel shows the same two contestants climbing a
steep cliff and helping each other on the way. In the panel, the participant in black helps
the fair-haired knight, who has nearly reached the edge of the cliff, by letting him stand
on his hand and expressing willingness to help in the following words: Stand on my
hand Go ahead Pull yourself up. The verbal and the visual within this panel are
thus linked by the relationship of elaboration, as the verbal describes what is already
observable in the picture, as well as by the relationship of repetition, as they express
identical meaning. This seemingly straightforward speech balloon was differently dealt
with by the two Polish translators.
English translation of Figure 5b:
Thorgal: Stand on my hand Go ahead Pull yourself up
English translation of Figure 5c:
Thorgal: Go ahead climb

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Figure 5. (a) Les trois vieillards du pays dAran (1981/2000, p. 22), reproduced with kind
permission of Editions du Lombard by Rosiski Van Hamme; (b) Trzej starcy z kraju Aran
(2008, p. 22), reproduced with kind permission of Egmont Polska Editions du Lombard by
Rosiski Van Hamme; (c) Nad jeziorem bez dna (1989, p. 22), published by Krajowa Agencja
Wydawnicza.

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M. Borodo

While the 2008 Polish translation is again relatively accurate, in the 1989 text the
sentence Stand on my hand was omitted by the Polish translator. This information,
however, is already expressed by the visual mode, in which the contestant reaching
the edge of the cliff clearly stands on the other participants hand while pulling
himself up. Thanks to the verbalvisual overlap this deletion did not result in any
significant meaning loss. The reader of the translation might almost have the
impression that the more literal translation is overly explicit, being characterized by
a certain textual redundancy in comparison with the 1989 version condensed in
translation. This is not to say, however, that a more linguistically accurate rendition
ought to be avoided if the translator is able to exploit the overlap and complementarity between the verbal and the visual. It is rather claimed that, thanks to the specificity
of the comic book medium, it is a possibility. As was argued before, condensing the
original text does not necessarily mean that the translation is less appropriate,
especially in the case of a multimodal text in which the visual may compensate for
omissions or reformulations. To sum up, the interplay between the two modes in the
example presented in Figure 5c once again minimized meaning loss in the 1989
translation of the comic book.

6.3. Where are you hiding?


The overlap between the verbal and the visual modes is also observable in Figure 6a. The
Visual Message Elements in this panel include the main protagonist, Thorgal, holding a
sword and directing his gaze upward, his wife Aaricia, on horseback and similarly
looking up, with green forest appearing in the background of the image. As it is revealed
by the preceding panels on the same page of the album, the two characters, Thorgal and
Aaricia, are travelling through a forest and are unexpectedly addressed by a hidden
interlocutor. Figure 6a presents Thorgal, who directs his gaze upward in surprise, trying
to establish who the voice belongs to, and asks two brief questions and an order, one after
another: Who are you? Where are you hiding? Show yourself! This speech balloon was
rendered accurately in the 2008 translation, but again condensed in the 1989 Polish
version of the album.
English translation of Figure 6b:
Who are you? Where are you hiding? Show yourself!
English translation of Figure 6c:
Who are you? Show yourself!

In the 1989 translation, the middle line, i.e. the question Where are you hiding?, was
deleted from the text in the speech balloon, which now appears in bold type and is written
with enlarged characters. However, as in the previously discussed examples, this deletion
does not result in a high degree of meaning loss, due to the visual mode. Judging by the
direction of both protagonists gaze and the background visible in the panel, which is a
forest, it might be deduced that the hiding place is a branch of a tree, which turns out to
be the case in the subsequent panel. The hiding place, being already embedded in the
visual mode, is thus self-evident and the meaning loss is slight.

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Figure 6. (a) Les trois vieillards du pays dAran (1981/2000, p. 3), reproduced with kind
permission of Editions du Lombard by Rosiski Van Hamme; (b) Trzej starcy z kraju Aran
(2008, p. 3), reproduced with kind permission of Egmont Polska Editions du Lombard by
Rosiski Van Hamme; (c) Nad jeziorem bez dna (1989, p. 3), published by Krajowa Agencja
Wydawnicza.

Conclusion
In his pioneering study, Kaindl (1999) introduces a comprehensive theoretical framework
for investigating translated comic books. The proposed framework encompasses both the
translation of comics as a social practice, grounded in concrete sociocultural circumstances and conditioned by a translators agency, as well as the anatomy of comics, in
which language is only one component, with the pictorial and typographical elements
foregrounded as equally significant. This framework could be supplemented with the

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M. Borodo

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approach focusing in even greater detail on the interaction between the verbal and
the visual modes on a multimodal page. The interplay between the two modes may be
potentially relevant for translation for various reasons. As it was demonstrated in the
present paper, the translator may decide to recreate the original text verbatim, but s/he
may also decide to divert from the textual, exploiting the relationship between the verbal
and the visual in a number of ways. This may be done in order to condense the original
text, for instance due to spatial constraints, to eliminate instances of incongruence
between the two modes or even to propose a new, liberal interpretation of a particular
panel within a speech balloon. The multimodal approach provides certain useful concepts
concerning the nature of the relationship between the verbal and the visual, and draws
attention to gaze, body posture or the spatial orientation and distance between characters.
Investigating comics from a multimodal perspective may be another step towards a more
complete understanding of the nature of this still largely unexplored sphere within
Translation Studies.

Notes on contributor
Micha Borodo is Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Kazimierz Wielki University,
Bydgoszcz, Poland, where he is also the Head of Postgraduate Studies for Translators and
Interpreters. He has published on various topics in Translation Studies and his main research
interests include translation and language in the context of globalization, the translation of
childrens literature and comics, and translator training. In 2012, he co-edited Global Trends in
Translator and Interpreter Training: Mediation and Culture (published by Continuum).

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