Wednesday, May 31, 2006

ANATOMY OF A BAD TRANSLATION

Thank god, I´m still wearing a pullover to work. It was freezing today not to mention the constant rain. Yes, you just have to love Germany in the spring. For the last three days it has been getting colder and colder and there has even been some snow in parts of Germany.

Last Saturday I was at the Stuttgart comic fair and it was better attended then I thought. Since I came prepared this time I managed to get a good swag of comics. I found SENTRY 4, SHE HULK 100, SOLO 7 Mike Allred, WHAT IF THOR ( by Robert Kirkman and Michael Avon Oeming ), SPIDER-MAN & FRIENDS ( Marvel Team Up 1 - 10 ), Marvel Exclusiv 49 ( Daredevil 38 - 45 ), Marvel Exclusiv 57 ( Daredevil 56 - 60 ), SOLAR 7,14,15, 21 - 25, 29, Archer & Armstrong 14, 16, 20, 21, 23, Shadowman 17, 18, 20, 21, Eternal Warrior 7, 11, 14 - 16, Magnus Robot Fighter 30 ( X - O Manowar ), X - O manowar 2, 10, Shaman´s Tears 11, 12, New Teen Titans 37 & Batman and the Outsiders 5 ( crossover ), What if 15 ( Greg Capullo ),19 ( Ron Wilson ), Justice League Task Force 7, DEMON 28, 29, Moon Knight Fist of Khonshu 1 - 6, HULK annual 13, Batman & Robin adventures 3, Batman adventures 10, 17. Except the first four comics I got the single issues for one EURO each and the trades with at least five EUROS discount each. Here in Germany most comic shops don´t have 50 cent bins so the only way to get cheap comics are at comic fairs or comic conventions and such.

Of course when you take a list with all the series you usually find at such events you start finding comics that are not on the list. Like the ROM issues. There were some MOON KNIGHT issues of the regular series I came across but since there were huge gaps between issues I decided that it´s a better investment to get the newly released ESSENTIAL MOON KNIGHT. But I bought the first six issue of the MOON KNIGHT - Fist of Khonshu series ( which apperently was all that ever came out from this series ). The name of the art team Chris Warner and E. R. Cruz doesn´t ring a bell but from the first impression it looks like the art of that independent comic CAPTAIN BOLT & BLUE THUNDER or whatever the name was. Sadly the art team changes after issue three which may be the cause the series got cancelled or a result thereof. Reading the comic I realized how important the captions are for a comic and how much atmosphere you can build with it. Especially if you read it right before the MARVEL TEAM UP issues. You get the impression that with the first one you are reading something more like a book while the last one is more like a longer cartoon strip. Somehow it´s kind of strange that there are comic companies who claim that the story is very important to them yet they have no captions. Really confusing that in times when most people state to read comics more for the story then for the art the same reader find captions and thought ballons too " comic booky ". They make the argument that people in comics speak differently than people in real life. That is right. Because the persons in comics are only there to get some information to the reader. In a theater play the actors only purpose is to play their parts and to speak their lines. And some roles are only written to get certain information to the audience.

In real life there are no such people. In real life there are a lot of people who talk for hours without getting you any useful information and in real life that´s okay. But in a comic you have a limited amount of space and time. So you have to edit what people say and more importantly you have to edit the people appearing in your comic. You can´t have six billion people in your comic. On twenty six pages. Unless you are Geoff Darrow.

No you have to leave only the people in the book that play a part in the story. Or that get some information to the reader. Because if they don´t have anything useful to do they just belong in the background or they don´t belong in your comic at all. I know that´s harsh but that´s the comic biz. You either have something to give to the reader or it´s " Hello, comic limbo. " for you. Just ask THE QUESTION.

But that are just some random comments and not what I really wanted to write about. No, my main topic are the translations of american comics in Germany and this one guy in particular. But instead of just writing about it I thought it would be best to show it with an example. Because as I stated in the header of this blog I´m writing about the translated versions of comics and that is why you are reading my blog. It may be old news to german comic readers but I think american readers might find it interesting what is done to their beloved comics here in Germany. We lost the war but we can still get our revenge on these verdammte amerikanische komik books, Schweinehund ! Case in point : HELDENSPECIAL - Glaubenskrieg from PANINI. It collects the storyline STAND OFF that ran through THOR 58, IRON MAN 64 and AVENGERS 63. Although I already have all the issues in the original my brother thought it would be nice to have a copy for himself to read. And it was at a really cheap price so it would be a bargain, right ? WRONG ! He forgot who translates most Avengers stories to german and altough he keeps reminding himself that he only bought it for the art he can´t help but feel ripped off. What is especially puzzling for me is that in a land like Germany where 90 percent of comic readers think that the stories are more important than the art nobody thinks that the quality of the translation is very important for the enjoyment of a comic.

Now, to understand why the translation is so bad you have to know that the translator has an uncanny ability to get rid of all key dialogue and important sentences. So we will analyze the original version and the translation via a technique I call the RETRANSLATOR. The retranslator functions with the same principle of mathematics that say that both sides of an equation must be the same. If 3 + 4 equals 7 than you should be able to get 4 if you substract 3 from 7. Now that sounds complicated but with a good translation you should be able to find out what was said in the original. It´s easier to show than to explain so we should get started.

On the first page we get what I call " compressed translation " which means that 50 % of the original text gets cut. Don´t know why you can´t use a smaller font but so the original text

" Sadly, there are places where man cannot aspire to the higher ideals of the gods, for he´s too consumed with simple survival. These are places of poverty and desperation, where the precious few who hold power use it to brutalize the weak. Such a place is Slokovia. "

reads in german like this :

" Es gibt Länder, wo die Ideale der Götter wenig gelten. Man ist dort zu beschäftigt damit, zu überleben. Es gibt Länder, wo die Menschen arm sind und verzweifelt. Wo wenige Mächtige das Volk unterdrücken. Länder wie Slokovia. "

Now let´s turn on the retranslator and see what remained from the original text.

" There are countries where the ideals of the gods have little meaning. Man is too busy with survival. There are countries where people are poor and desperate. Where few powerful opress the populace. Countries like Slokovia. "

Not only was the original text shortened but the word " places " was replaced with the word " countries " for no apparent reason. But that happens throughout the whole book so instead I want to concentrate on the key phrases of the comic. You know, that few lines that are forever engraved in your memory and pop up each time you think of the story.On page 8 Thor´s words

" Those mortals died with my name on their lips. "

are changed to

" Beim Gebet hat man sie getötet. "

which put through the retranslator reads :

" They were killed while praying. "

Now the original sentence gives the reason why Thor gets involved. The mortals died praying to him and he as a god couldn´t prevent their death. Their faith to him could not save them - but at least he can avenge them. The translated sentence gives no explanation to why Thor gets involved. They were killed while praying but that happens to a lot of people on earth ? Why are they so special ? Nowhere there is a mention that they were praying to him. Now, one might argue that the reader can get to this conclusion alone. That is possible but then he doesn´t need to read the comic. And secondly that decision is up to the writer and not the translator. What adds insult to injury is that the next sentence

" Such disregard for life is never to be tolerated. "

is reduced to

" Das darf nicht sein. "

which through the retranslator reads as

" This must not be. "

Which has little ( if not nothing ) to do with Thor´s original words.

Now on the next page Thors original text is :

" ´Tis clear an evil regime exists there which abuses and tortures its people. The burning flame of human rights and freedom has been extinguished amid such terror. The honor of Thor demands action ! Slokovian suffering demans justice ! Let their leaders be warned ! "

If we put the german translation

" Die Herrscher dort missachten die Rechte des Volkes. Freiheit und sterbliches Leben werden mit Füssen getreten. Also muss Thor handeln. Die Führer von Slokovia mögen sich vorsehen. "

through the retranslator we get the following result.

" The leaders there disregard its peoples rights. They trample on freedom and mortal life. Thus must Thor act. The leaders of Slokovia should beware. "

Now this does not only read entirely different then the original version you also loose most of the atmosphere and drama. No evil regime that abuses and tortures its people, no burning flame that got extinguished amid such horror and not even the slokovian suffering demands justice anymore. Not to mention that the honor of Thor no longer demands action. It´s like reading two different books.


Next strange point is in the conversation between Iron Man and Dr. Doom. The sentence

" He´ll turn this planet to ash. "

was replaced by

" Das ist verhängnisvoll. "

Meaning

" That is disastrous. "

Well, I don´t know what you think about this but for me there is a difference between doing something disastrous and turning a whole planet to ash. A small difference but still a difference.

Okay, now we come to part two of the story and it only gets worse from here. On the first page the conversation between Thor and Iron Man

" Thor! You can´t do this ! " - " Shall I ignore the cries of those who are opressed in my name ? "

is changed to

" Thor ! Hör auf damit ! " - " " Sterbliche in grosse Not erflehen meinen Beistand. " .

Put through our retranslator we come up with :

" Thor ! Stop it ! " - " Mortals in great misery implore my aid. "

Well, I as a reader feel cheated. It´s not the same to tell somebody he can´t do something and to tell him to stop something. It´s not the same when some people are opressed in Thor´s name and when mortals implore his aid. The first one involves him much more then the second one.

But that´s all peanuts to the next translations. Was the translator taking a few liberties so far ( and that´s the understatement of the year ) so this is the part where he finally says goodbye to the original script and just writes his own story. The pivotal sentences of Thor

" So this is your " line in the sand ? " Well, this is mine. Cross at your peril ! "

becomes

" So weit gehst du also? Thor sagt...Nicht weiter ! "

which translates back to

" That´s how far you go ? Thor says...No further ! "

Okay, what happened here ? Clearly somebody is on an egotrip. The whole analogy with soldiers drawing their lines in the sand just go rright out of the window. That´s just not right.

And it just gets better. Doom´s words

" Thor has fired the opening shot. "

are changed to

" Thor has provoked the world. "

Thor´s text

" Only a fool has no doubts, brave Balder...or a loyal friend. "

get distorted to

" Only a fool has no doubts. Or no friends "

losing the original meaning completely ( which sadly shows that the translator did not understand the original meaning ), Thor´s warning

" Now...know my wrath ! "

becomes

" Therefore....tremble ! "

and

" You sting me with words sharp as steel. "

miracously reads as

" It would be better if you leave, human. ".

We´re almost finished but there are a few grave mistranslations left in the last part. Here we witness how

" You dare to power your armor with the gift of gods ? The might you stole is yours no longer ! "

is translated to

" You dare to play god with your armor ? That I can never allow. "

Doom´s comment

" I do love a good wine. And a good war. "

becomes

" Perfect. Red wine....red blood. ".

?????? I´m just totally confused. I haven´t even the foggiest where this one came from. Thor´s words

" Captain. You either stand with me...or not at all ! "

now reads

" For me it´s totally clear, Cap. Friend...or foe ! "." Don´t be an armchair general. "

Now it´s

" Think about it. ".

And for everyone who has ever served in the military it´s absolutely clear that there is a difference between

" Move out ! "

and

" At ease ! ". Or between

" For I am their GOD ! "

and

" For my people ! "

I mean it´s apparent that the translater would rather be writing comics himself than translate the work of another writer. So maybe that´s what he should do. One motto I go by is : If you do a job at least do it right. Or with the words of a great philosopher : Do or do not. There is no try.

So now you know why there are so many german comic readers who prefer the original versions to the mutilated, distorted and just wrong versions that appear in Germany. Like I said this is just this one guy who thinks of himself more of a Shakespeare than a hired hand to translate comics to their german version. But it´s not easy to avoid it if he does all the Avengers ( and spin offs like Thor ) and most of the Fantastic Four comics here. I know it has gotten kind of long but I just wanted to illustrate my point for all those people on comic forums telling me that I´m exaggerating and that normal readers won´t know the difference. Sorry, in my experience that just doesn´t make it right. If you don´t care about your readers and just want to get the quick cash - that´s when you tell yourself : They won´t know the difference. Either do your job right or let somebody more qualified do it. And if a publisher doesn´t want to invest the money for good work that is up to him. But don´t come to me and bitch that your sales are dropping and readers buy the original. Because readers are not stupid and some of us know the original version. You can´t expect readers to buy the german version if it is not only more expensive but it additionally lacks quality.

So that was my kind of rant about the german translations. Which for the most part are pretty good. But when they are bad - man, they really suck !

New to the blog ? Everything you need to know about TALES FROM THE KRYPTONIAN : top ten posts / more posts of interest

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Your are Nice. And so is your site! Maybe you need some more pictures. Will return in the near future.
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SUBZERO said...

Wow, I´m almost blushing.

As for the pictures I try to keep a good Word - picture ratio. I know it´s hard to read long blocks of text so I´m trying to put some pictures up now and then. But sometimes it´s really difficult to find adequate pictures. And I don´t want to turn this blog into an picture shrine. That´s not to say that there is no chance of doing a more picture heavy post if there is some interest by readers.

Well, when in doubt some eye candy doesn´t hurt.....he, he. Especially some hot pics of Power Girl ( MAMACITA !!! )

I try to do my best, guys.

Anonymous said...

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SUBZERO said...

Thanks, I try to entertain and to inform. There are a lot of great sites out there so I try to provide some unique content.