Kleefeld On Webcomics #93: International Edition

By Sean Kleefeld

I’ll have to admit to being remiss in my coverage of webcomics here. I’ve been yammering on for nearly 100 columns about webcomics, and I have yet to go really step beyond the anglophonic ones. That is, everything I’ve talked about and looked at has been pretty much limited to webcomics that are written in English. I did touch on foreign languages in webcomics once back in 2011, but it was mostly from the framework of English webcomics translated into other languages. We’re talking about comics on the WORLD wide web here, so it should come as no surprise that people who speak languages other than your native tongue might also choose to do webcomics on their own.

I suspect, however, that I have the same problem that many, if not most, of the readers here would have. Namely, that I’m only fluent in one language. (And on some days, even that’s debatable!) How do you go about finding and reading webcomics in a language you’re unfamiliar with?

Well, there are webcomickers in many non-English-speaking countries who do the same thing I just referenced: they provide translations of their webcomics. I came across a French artist who goes by the name Boulet, who has been creating webcomics since 2004, and has started trying to translate them into both English and Korean. He speaks a bit of English, but has specifically asked for help from native-speakers, noting that it sounds more natural coming from someone who grew up on the language. That said, his work doesn’t always need to be translated for readers to get the general idea.

Other webcomics can be seen similarly. The Italian artist known as RX is running a strip now called Me and Mr. Death about a regular 20-something guy trying to get by in life. While Death hangs out with him, getting drunk and playing video games. And still occasionally going around to collect the dead. Here again, the strips are translated for an English-language version of the site.

You might notice, if you check out those two comics, that the English versions aren’t as comprehensive as the originals. This naturally stems from the fact that their primary audiences are not English-speaking, nor is English the first language of either artist. They’re trying to broaden their internet reach with the translations, but not at the cost of losing their current fans. It doesn’t do any good, after all, if they spend all their time on translations without devoting any to creating new strips!

Not everyone goes to the trouble of translating their work, however. Joscha Sauer has been quite successful in Germany with his NICHLUSTIG, first getting a publishing contract based on his work and now expanding into animated cartoons. And if the Germany webcomic market is remotely similar to the American one, I’d say he’s making quite a respectable living, judging by all the toys available in his online shop!

I might point out, too, that international webcomics aren’t limited to the independent guys trying to make their way. Lewis Trondheim is publishing work online, although I can’t understand French to see when/where it might show up in printed form. Given his track record, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it translated into English and published here. The Japanese magazine Ikki has also begun running comics on their site from the likes of Natsume Ono and Sho Shibamoto.

Some browsers have built-in translation features that can recognize the language being used on a web page and make a fair attempt at switching it to English. It’s generally far from perfect, but it does give a basic idea of what’s being said. However, it only works on the text on a page, and not with images. So, by and large, getting a translated webcomic in an in-browser experience won’t work. You can, however, use the translation to click around when they link to other online comics. It’s a little bit of a crapshoot what to expect, but you can stumble across some real gems that way, and some of those might well provide translations for you!

If you were really interested, of course, you could re-type all the text embedded in the images into a translation program to find out what they actually say. Personally, I find this a bit tedious and tends to severely hamper my reading experience. But if you don’t want to do that, and you don’t know another language, there are a number of international webcomickers out there trying to tempt your eyeballs with their own English translations. Give some of them a look; anglophones by no means have the lock on clever and well-done webcomics!

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