Saturday, December 01, 2012

Translation and Graphic Novels

In the past few years, I’ve gotten really interested in comics, graphic novels, and graphic memoirs, and I’ve read tons of them. My favorite series is Fables, which I was introduced to by one of my MA students, but there are many others that I enjoy, and I teach Alison Bechdel’s work.

One of my PhD students loaned me Craig Thompson’s fantastic graphic memoir, Blankets. It is one of the best graphic works I’ve read, and I can’t wait to look for Thompson’s other work.

There are many interesting points about comics/graphic texts and translation to make (and the aforementioned MA and PhD students have made some of them in their work), but here I just want to point how pervasive translation as a topic is. In Blankets, one of the issues is Thompson’s religious faith. In part, it is down to translation that he loses the Christian fundamentalism that he was raised with. He writes, “I had been taught the words of the Bible came straight from the mouth of God. If indeed they were subtly modified by generations of scribes and watered down by translations, then for me their TRUTH was cancelled out. It suddenly struck me as absurd that something as divine as God’s speech could be pinned down in physical (mass-produced) form.” (p. 549)

While Thompson’s wonderful, moving book is not about translation per se, it is about words and finding/defining self and what we say or don’t say or can’t say, and of course, as in that quote, translation thus is part of it.

I refer to this book both because I want to recommend it but also because it makes a larger point. For those who think that graphic novels are “childish” or “low-brow”, the range of topics that feature in those books – as in Thompson’s Blankets – is anything but. It’s well worth getting to know the field, not just in relation to translation, although obviously that’s important too.

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