Picturebooks and Graphic Narratives: Special issue of journal Translation Matters 

by Karen Bennett

Recently out! – a special issue of the journal Translation Matters (3.2) devoted to Picturebooks and Graphic Narratives, the first of two publications resulting from the conference  Picturebooks and Graphic Narratives in Education and Translation: Mediation and Multimodality held in June last year (see blog 7 July 2021).

The full issue is available on open access and can be accessed at: https://ojs.letras.up.pt/index.php/tm/issue/view/732

After the Editor’s Introduction discussing picturebooks and graphic narratives as a nexus for translation research, the issue opens with an Epigraph that presents a striking example of an Intersemiotic translation – the rendition into poetry-comic format of three sonnets by Romantic poet Mary Robinson, carried out by artist and translation scholar Chunwei Liu. With its rich symbolism and narrative style, Robinson’s sonnet cycle Sappho and Phaon (1796) lends itself particularly well to the verbal-visual format, and Liu’s panels provide a perfect example of the multimodality that is such an important feature of the poetry-comic genre.

As for the articles, the first five of these explore some of the theoretical issues and practical difficulties raised by the interlingual translation of picturebooks for children. Maria Cristina Quesada Padrón focuses on the Spanish versions of works by Babette Cole, who has acquired a widespread following – and some notoriety – by producing books on subjects usually considered off-limits for young children, such as sex, death, divorce or teenage pregnancy, and discusses a series of cases in which the decision to adapt the verbal text to the target culture ultimately creates incongruencies with the visual dimension.

The cover of Babette Cole’s Mummy Never Told Me… in English and Spanish
The Cover of Nadje Budde’s Eins Zwei Drei Tier in German and Portuguese

The next article, by Katrin Pieper, looks at a children’s picturebook that has been translated from German to Portuguese and asks if it is possible to judge the quality of a multimodal text by applying one of the translation quality assessment models developed for use with more straightforward verbal documents. Indeed, the picturebook in question (Nadje Budde’s EINS ZWEI DREI TIER) seems to defy translation, as the verbal text is made up of a series of single words or short phrases with no syntactic structure, but which have a curious coherence amongst themselves, created on the basis of phonological and semantic criteria, as well as being humorously related to the pictures.

Silvia Masi moves away from the domain of fiction to look at non-fiction picturebooks produced for educational purposes. She is concerned with what happens when geography picturebooks, originally produced in English, are translated into Italian for consumption there, seeking to determine the role of multimodality in the intralingual and interlingual mediation of geographical knowledge.
Monika Woźniak continues the non-fiction theme with a focus on a Polish picturebook designed to teach small children about environmental protection – Emilia Dziubak’s Draka Ekonieboraka. The study is framed by a historical account of the development of the Polish picturebook publishing industry and its rapid rise to prominence after the winning of several prestigious international awards, but focuses particularly upon the Italian versions of Dziubak’s book, in which significant changes have been made to both the verbal and visual components. 
One of the most exciting and innovative contributions to this special issue is Eva Hartmann’s article, which moves us into the world of multi- or translingual picturebooks. The two picturebooks presented here share a similar theme (the moon) but differ in the way that the languages relate to each other within the work: the first (a trilingual edition of an English source text) brings together German, French, and Alsatian translations with a view to revitalising the endangered Alsatian language and affirming Alsatian identity, while the second alternates and mixes French and German in order to provide an immersive initiation into German for a francophone reader.

A scene from Alan and
Jacen Burrow’s The Courtyard

The final two articles in the issue offer a practitioner’s perspective on some of the problems raised by translation in the domain of graphic narratives. Guilherme Braga is a Brazilian literary translator who, among other things, has translated Alan Moore’s and Jacen Burrows’s comic book series The Courtyard and Neonomicon into Portuguese; and in this paper, he reflects on a very particular translational problem he encountered in one of the stories and the ingenious solution that he found to resolve it.  Finally, Chunwei Liu, describes the process of verbal-to-visual translation involved in the creation of the poetry comic Sappho and Phaon, of which three panels are given in the Epigraph.
But the issue does not end here. Yet another practitioner perspective is provided in the interview that follows these eight articles, in which the Brazilian comic-book translator Érico Assis speaks to Guilherme Braga about the specificities of translating graphic narratives and his own personal experiences in the field. And there are also a pair of book reviews, one by Anikó Sohár of the book Translating and Transmediating Children’s Literature, Anna Kérchy & Björn Sundmark and another by Bárbara Oliveira of The Other Kind of Funnies: Comics in Technical Communication, by Han Yu.

All in all, this special issue is a very interesting read for anyone interested in experiential translation and multimodality.


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