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Reconsidering adaptation as translation: The comic in between



According to Linda Hutcheon, adaptation needs to be viewed both as a process and its result. Adaptations do not simply repeat a creative process, they ‘affirm and reinforce [its] basic cultural assumptions’. This article looks at the comic as a central medium in an accelerating ‘convergence culture’, placed between traditional literature and film. Adaptations of novels, poems, even of songs have become a substantial part within the field of the so-called ‘graphic novel’ or ‘graphic literature’. And of course, the almost countless adaptations of comics to films provide an important source of revenue for both the comic publishers and the film industry, not just in Hollywood. To address the aesthetic uncertainties this may raise, and to sharpen the concept of adaptation, we are reconsidering the concept of translation. Drawing upon Walter Benjamin’s ‘The task of the translator’, translation can be thought of both as a mode of aesthetic transformation and its result: It appears neither as replacement nor as retelling, but as a sovereign artefact supplementing the original text. As such, the translation mediates between different ways of expression without overcoming their respective differences. This article takes a closer look at two translation processes: one from literature into comic and one from comic into film. Starting with Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli’s classic City of Glass (2004) and Dri Chinisin (2011) by Sascha Hommer, the visual aesthetics of the comic are examined as an ideal place of exchange between textual and pictorial culture. Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’ iconic Sin City and Tatsumi (2011) by Eric Khoo are employed to illustrate how the translation into moving images can offer an acoustic and narrative supplement to the original comic, while also drawing attention to the aesthetic differences between these two media.
Studies in Comics
Volume 4 Number 1
© 2013 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/stic.4.1.59_1
STIC 4 (1) pp. 59–73 Intellect Limited 2013
University of Hamburg
According to Linda Hutcheon, adaptation needs to be viewed both as a process and its result. Adaptations do
not simply repeat a creative process, they ‘affirm and reinforce [its] basic cultural assumptions’. This article
looks at the comic as a central medium in an accelerating ‘convergence culture’, placed between traditional
literature and film. Adaptations of novels, poems, even of songs have become a substantial part within the
field of the so-called ‘graphic novel’ or ‘graphic literature’. And of course, the almost countless adaptations of
comics to films provide an important source of revenue for both the comic publishers and the film industry,
not just in Hollywood. To address the aesthetic uncertainties this may raise, and to sharpen the concept of
adaptation, we are reconsidering the concept of translation. Drawing upon Walter Benjamin’s ‘The task of
the translator’, translation can be thought of both as a mode of aesthetic transformation and its result: It
appears neither as replacement nor as retelling, but as a sovereign artefact supplementing the original text.
As such, the translation mediates between different ways of expression without overcoming their respective
differences. This article takes a closer look at two translation processes: one from literature into comic and
one from comic into film. Starting with Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli’s classic City of Glass (2004)
reverse ekphrasis
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Sebastian Bartosch | Andreas Stuhlmann
and Dri Chinisin (2011) by Sascha Hommer, the visual aesthetics of the comic are examined as an ideal
place of exchange between textual and pictorial culture. Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez’ iconic Sin City
and Tatsumi (2011) by Eric Khoo are employed to illustrate how the translation into moving images can
offer an acoustic and narrative supplement to the original comic, while also drawing attention to the aesthetic
differences between these two media.
‘I’m adaptable’.
(Selina Kyle)
Not just the latest Batman franchise, The Dark Knight Rises (Nolan 2012), in fact the whole series
could serve as a case study for Linda Hutcheon’s theory of adaptation and as a key example for what
Henry Jenkins has called ‘convergence culture’ (Hutcheon 2006; Jenkins 2006). Typical for both the
comic book and the film industry and therefore for this kind of industrial adaptation in Hollywood,
three different story arcs from three different comic book series by three different creative teams
were used to create the narrative of one single film.1 The resulting pastiche reflects the industries’
need for all long-running series in both media to be regularly modernized, updated or re-launched,
but remains aesthetically dissatisfactory. To confront the aesthetic uncertainty of this pastiche, and
to sharpen the concept of adaptation, we propose to reconsider the concept of translation already
used by Hutcheon and Robert Stam as an analogy to the adaptation process (Stam 2000: 62;
Hutcheon 2006: 16).
Drawing upon the concept of translation proposed by Walter Benjamin, we will employ the term
to describe two specific modes of adaptation as aesthetic transformation: of literature into comic and
of comic into film. Starting with the adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass (2004) by Paul Karasik
and David Mazzuchelli, we will discuss Sascha Hommer’s translation of the Brigitte Kronauer’s
short stories in Dri Chinisin (2011). Discussing Robert Rodriguez’ and Frank Miller’s film adaptation
of Sin City we will compare this to Eric Khoo’s anime transformation of the works of Yoshihiro
Tatsumi. Each medium at stake here, as Marie-Laure Ryan has stated, makes a difference as to what
stories can be told, how they are presented, why they are communicated, and how they are experi-
enced (Ryan 2005: 11). The differences between the media therefore exist on three different semiotic
levels: (1) the semantic, (2) the syntactic and (3) the pragmatic level, or in other words, on the level
of the story, of the discourse or narrative techniques and of the reception (ibid.). Stories create
storyworlds, shared universes with specific settings, characters, objects, events and actions. The
different media shape these storyworlds according to their individual properties and laws, their
‘mediality’, and therefore individual media realize different, yet possibly overlapping, storyworlds
1. The film script, credited
to David S. Goyer,
Christopher and
Jonathan Nolan, draws
from three story arcs
of DC Batman comic
books that entail quite
distinct storylines
and show significant
aesthetic differences:
The Dark Knight
Returns (1986), in
which Batman returns
to Gotham City after
a ten-year absence,
Knightfall (1993), which
debuted the villain
Bane, and No Man’s
Land (1999), which
depicts Gotham being
overrun by criminal
gangs. While The Dark
Knight Returns was
created by a small team
headed by Frank Miller,
the other two series
feature Chuck Dixon
amongst half a dozen
writers and more than
a dozen drawers and
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Reconsidering adaptation as translation
2. There is a vibrant
debate in the
Transmedia Storytelling
community whether we
are confronted with a
multitude (multiverse)
of storyworlds, each
shaped and produced
by the rules of the
medium in which it
is presented (as Ryan
proposes it), or whether
we can assume one
overarching universal
storyworld for each
story and each medium
realizes a specific
segment of it.
3. This supplementation
is not meant in the
sense of cross-media
convergence as alluded
to by Henry Jenkins:
‘In the ideal form of
transmedia storytelling,
each medium
does what it does
best-so that a story
might be introduced
in a film, expanded
through television,
novels, and comics,
and its world might
be explored and
experienced through
game play’ (Jenkins
(Ryan 2005: 12).2 Where the Batman movies merely amalgamate the source material that is governed
by different semiotic, aesthetic or medial conventions, the process of translation relies on these
differences to allow for a variety of interpretations through the competition and mutual supplemen-
tation of the media.3
In his 1923 essay ‘The task of the translator’, Benjamin focuses on the praxeological notion of
translation as a ‘mode’, questioning established assumptions about translation (Benjamin [1923]
1969: 70). This mode sets the framework for a performative production of meaning by means of
appropriation of the pre-text. What Benjamin calls ‘translatability’, ‘the law governing the transla-
tion’ (Benjamin [1923] 1969: 70), is understood as the condition of historical and linguistic embed-
ding of any text in a network of texts (Hirsch 2006: 612). Mikhail Bakhtin identified this as the
fundamental ‘polyphony’ or ‘dialogicity’ of literature, and Julia Kristeva later called it ‘intertextuality’
(Bakhtin [1929] 1984: 92; Kristeva [1974] 1984). Like these concepts, Benjamin’s concept of transla-
tion emphasizes difference, since ‘no translation would be possible if it strove for likeness to the
original’ (Benjamin [1923] 1969: 73). For Benjamin, just as in Hutcheon’s concept of adaptation, the
term translation refers to the process and the result, and he therefore wants the translation to be a
sovereign supplement. As such, it can be conceived as mediation between languages, art forms or
media without overcoming their differences. To analyse this mode, one needs to consider the origi-
nal and its aesthetic properties as well as the transformation process. As Alexander García Düttmann
points out, Benjamin’s concept of translation conveys the notion of ‘a practise that reflects an art of
combining and a technique of montage’ (Düttmann 1994: 29–30). It would seem, then, that it is part
of the translator’s task to arrange forms in new ways, and that translation as a procedure manifests
itself in different forms of combination and assemblage.
Paul Auster’s
City of GlassDri Chinisin
While the whole tradition of ekphrasis is devoted to the representation of visual art in literature,
including its own hermeneutic theory of translation (Venuti 2010), the complex translation mode of
so-called ‘reverse ekphrasis’ (Bolter 2001: 56) has enjoyed less critical enquiry. Unlike literature,
comics do on what Ryan called the ‘syntactic’ level not consist of a single language: they generally
combine texts and pictures, each of them organized according to their own code. Whether there is
an overarching system governing the combination of words and pictures in a way that we could call
language can be put into question.
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Sebastian Bartosch | Andreas Stuhlmann
In his introduction to the widely acclaimed adaptation of Paul Auster’s novel City of Glass by the
comic artists Karasik and Mazzuchelli, Art Spiegelman who initiated the project described the aim of
the undertaking as follows: ‘the goal here was not to create some dumbed-down “Classics Illustrated”
versions but visual “translations” actually worthy of adult attention’ (Spiegelman 2004: ii). Very
much in accordance with the hermeneutical process of translation in Venuti’s ekphrasis concept the
illustrators first selected roughly 20 per cent from the novel’s text for speech balloons and narrative
commentary boxes. However, they adjusted it to the rhythm that their narrative received from
the mostly strict panel grid. When the character Peter Stillman, for example, introduces himself to
the protagonist Daniel Quinn, his monologue spans seven pages in the novel. There, Stillman’s
jagged speech consists of very short succeeding sentences structured by repeated phrases, questions,
occasional rhymes and made-up words. In the comic, the relating passage consists of nine pages,
each of them structured in a grid of nine panels of the same size. Tracing the source of Stillman’s
voice, these panels show a variety of visual ciphers like the ferryman Charon from Greek mythology,
a gramophone or Carl Anderson’s cartoon character Henry. Karasik and Mazzuchelli add new layers
of meaning to the text, open to their readers’ interpretation. Here the translation becomes visible as
a mode of combining the novel’s original text with the added images while maintaining their seman-
tic difference.
In 2007, Kronauer, the grand dame of the German avant-garde novel, and an avid reader of
comics, contributed a short essay to a comic-issue of the literary journal Schreibheft. In her essay she
recaptures her own education through comics, praising particularly Philippe Druillet’s early 1970s
character Vuzz. Each essay in that issue was juxtaposed with a comic. In Kronauer’s case it was an
adaptation of her short story Dri Chinisin by the comic artist Hommer. Hommer’s own style differs
greatly from the baroque ornamentalism, the psychedelic colours, explicit violence and obscenity of
the 1970s French gothic- or metal comics, but congenially captures the style and atmosphere of
Kronauer’s prose. Her novels and stories, six of which Hommer adapted in his album Dri Chinisin
(2010), combine precise observation with an element of alienation, her storyworld is ‘diverse, indis-
tinct, confusing and only partially logic’ (Kronauer 1998: 13). Even though the narrative of each story
forges the fragments of a disparate reality into a storyline, this forced yet fragile narrative cohesion
only highlights the intended artificiality of the displayed reality. Both Kronauer and Hommer employ
a parodistic approach in the way they are referencing external reality. In addition, comics, according
to the artist and comic critic Ole Frahm, are principally based on a ‘parodistic’ aesthetics since they
undermine the notion that signs structurally refer to an external reality that precedes them. Therefore,
the comic (re)produces destabilized, uncontrollable and fluid identities (Frahm 2010: 37–38). In this
twofold parodistic bind, Hommer strives to find a common schematical stylized approach to all six
stories, by radically reducing the text to 20 per cent to create a common rhythm for all six stories.
Using geometrical shapes, raster, hatching and shading to produce space and atmosphere, he adds
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Reconsidering adaptation as translation
Figure 1: Hommer, S. (2011), Dri Chinisin. Nach Erzählungen von Brigitte Kronauer, Berlin: Reprodukt, n.p.
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Sebastian Bartosch | Andreas Stuhlmann
an element of 1960s or 1970s aesthetics. Referring back to the stereotypical drawing style of news-
paper strips, he also borrows heavily from the industrial graphic design of the time as well as from
classic Japanese comics such as Osamu Tezuka’s Astro Boy (1952–1968) or the work of Hideko
As Frahm observed, Hommer’s translation frees the individual reader’s travelling gaze from the
strict narrative linear order of the pre-text, and opens a space for a plurality of interpretations
between the text and the images (Frahm 2011: 12). Hommer also shares an aesthetic principle with
Kronauer, since their interest in comics is less an intellectual enquiry, but rather the pursuit of the
formal visual education that comics can provide (Kronauer 2007: 39).
Frank Miller’s Sin City Tatsumi
To account for the translation of comics into live-action films or animation, an extension of the
concept of reverse-ekphrasis seems necessary: Like comics, but unlike written literature, films do
not consist of a single sign system. What Ryan calls the ‘syntactic’ level of the medium, Christian
Metz has previously elaborated on more concisely. According to Metz, the ‘language system’ of
cinema typically relies on a combination of multiple ‘materials of expression’, such as moving images,
spoken words, music and other sounds (Metz 1974: 35–36). Instead of starting from a single
‘language’ or sign system, the translation of comics into film therefore appears as a complex process
taking place between two media and their respective composites of sign systems.
As much as City of Glass is regarded as a prime example of the adaptation of literature into
comic, Frank Miller’s Sin City (2005) is often referred to as the film that set a benchmark for match-
ing an original comic’s style and aesthetics.4 Director Rodriguez has described his attempt to turn
Miller’s Sin City comic series into a feature film as follows: ‘Instead of adapting the comic to cinema,
we can turn it around, and bring the comic to life, and really just translate it to the screen’
(Troublemaker Publishing 2005: 19). Conceived as such, the comic-to-film translation appears as a
process that not only surpasses mere adaptation, but that is also potentially opposed to the latter:
Whilst a film adaptation might only loosely draw upon the original comic as it is intended to meet
the standards and traditions of a new medium,5 a translation could apply the means of the new
medium to create a cinematic form determined by the original and its aesthetic properties. To pursue
this strategy, Rodriguez both relied on collaboration with Frank Miller, whose Sin City-comics were
used as storyboards for the film version,6 and then-advanced digital film-making technology.
As a part of this translation procedure, both the dialogue and the voice-over-narration in the Sin
City film were arranged to closely match the original texts from Miller’s comics. In the sense of an
intermedial translation, this repetition of the texts does not only supplement their original context of
4. See, for example,
I. Gordon et al.
(2007: viii), P. Lefèvre
(2007: 10) or K. M.
Booker (2007: 159–171),
as well as – amongst
others – the reviews by
R. Ebert (2005) and
S. Leith (2005).
5. As Pascal Lefèvre
points out, due to the
different storytelling
conventions of
comics and films
it is quite common
for film adaptations
to alter the comic’s
original storyline. This
might, however, raise
questions concerning
the acceptance of such
adaptations by comic
fans based on the
factor of faithfulness
(Lefèvre 2007: 4–5).
6. The details of the film’s
production design
and workflow are
explained at length
in the accompanying
volume Sin City:
The Making of the
Movie (Troublemaker
Publishing 2005).
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Reconsidering adaptation as translation
Figure 2: Miller, F. (2005), Frank Miller’s Sin City: That Yellow Bastard, Milwaukie: Dark Horse Books, p. 164.
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Sebastian Bartosch | Andreas Stuhlmann
the comic books, it also mediates between two different media and their narrative characteristics.
Amongst the villains of Sin City is the Yellow Bastard, the paedophile son of a senator whose body
was dramatically deformed by a series of chemical experiments. When protagonist John Hartigan
confronts this opponent in his new shape, the Yellow Bastard is identified by his voice.
Within the comic panel, this voice is represented as writing in a speech balloon – a ‘desperation
device’ as Will Eisner has called it ([1985] 2008: 24), employed to represent speech in a medium that
has no sound. It is only in the screen translation of the mentioned panel that we can identify the
Bastard by his voice: As a part of the film’s soundtrack, the voice of actor Nick Stahl becomes audi-
ble. Synchronized with the film’s movement-image, it might serve as a realism effect specific to a
film. According to Jurij Lotman, the spoken word is ‘not a facultative, supplementary feature of
cinematic storytelling, but a necessary element’. Whenever it is not present – e.g. in ‘silent films
without captions’ or ‘sound films without dialogue’ – its absence is immediately recognized by the
viewer (Lotman 1976: 37). On the other hand, the spoken words repeat the speech balloon’s original
text almost literally. According to Pascal Lefèvre, a comic’s text can appear as a main obstacle for the
adaptation to film, as ‘[t]he texts in speech balloons are generally not suited for film dialogue […]’.
A literal adoption to film ‘may emphasise such dialogue’s artificial nature to the point of uninten-
tional camp’ (Lefèvre 2007: 11). With respect to Miller’s Sin City comics, Rodriguez stated in a simi-
lar fashion that ‘[t]he words didn’t sound like screenplay dialogue’ which is one of the reasons
why he refers to them as ‘the ultimate anti-movie’ (Troublemaker Publishing 2005: 10, original
emphasis). Nevertheless, the words from the Sin City comics were not rewritten to turn them into a
more suitable film dialogue. Thus, they still refer back to the context of their original medium when
they are repeated in the film version. Hence, the translation works in two ways: The Sin City-film
relates to the original comics and their specific aesthetics. Yet at the same time, the differences
between two distinct media remain perceivable even in the age of digital film-making.
But processes of translation that occur between comics and film are not limited to the change
from written to spoken words. Both comics and films rely on imagery in most cases, but they do so
under very different material and technical conditions. These differences affect another aspect inher-
ent to a comic-to-film translation: the transformation and rearrangement of static panels into moving
images. This might be most obvious in cases of a transition from drawn pictures to the photographic
images of a live-action film. However, it also plays a crucial part in the translation of comics into
animation, as can be seen in the case of Khoo’s anime film Tatsumi (2011). Tatsumi is both an adap-
tation of the works of Yoshihiro Tatsumi who coined the term gekiga for adult-oriented manga
(Gravett 2004: 38) and a portrait of the eponymous artist.7 Within the film, sequences based on
Tatsumi’s autobiographical graphic novel A Drifting Life (2009) alternate with anime translations of
five gekiga stories he created during the 1970s ‘Hell’, ‘Beloved Monkey’, ‘Just a Man’, ‘Occupied’
and ‘Good-Bye’.8 On the one hand, this provides a new, unifying frame for previously separate
7. Of course, the complex
relations between
manga and anime
in Japanese culture
include, but also
exceed processes
of adaptation. For
example, it is not
uncommon for
mangaka to work as
anime artists or film
directors (Schodt 2002:
275–86), whilst cinema
itself has also been
identified as a main
influence for artists
such as Osamu Tezuka
(Gravett 2004: 26).
8. All of the stories
mentioned have been
translated to English
and reprinted within
the collected editions
Abandon the Old in
Tokyo (Tatsumi 2006)
and Good-Bye (Tatsumi
2008) by the Canadian
publisher Drawn &
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Reconsidering adaptation as translation
narrative forms. In the sense of translation as a supplement, this encourages viewers to build new
connections between Tatsumi’s autobiography and the subject matter of his fiction. On the other
hand, means of the new medium are deployed to make this practice of combination aesthetically
visible as such. Each of the episodes in Tatsumi is realized in a distinct visual style and colorization:
Four of the short stories are presented in different monochromatic palettes. In some parts they even
incorporate textures reminiscent of the paper used in early manga printing. Furthermore, in the
episode ‘Hell’ that takes place in post-war Hiroshima, a filter of grain, moving scratches and marks
characteristic for old celluloid film stock is superimposed on the animated drawings. Only the
episode ‘Occupied’ offers a diversity of several flat colours, whereas the original black-and-white
drawings from A Drifting Life (2009) are translated into anime scenes showing by far the widest array
of colour shades and highest attention to detail.
In Khoo’s Tatsumi, this technique of emphasizing and assembling different material qualities
illustrates the complex relationship between representations of an artist’s life, his artistic endeavours
and their transformation into another medium that is bound to a different mode of presenting
pictures: In the film’s final scene, an animated Tatsumi sitting at his drawing table is cross-faded
with a live-action shot of him drawing an Osaka street scene, which finally becomes animated itself
as it begins to move. Focussing on the relation between his film and Tatsumi’s original drawings,
Khoo said in a 2012 interview with Paul Gravett: ‘[I]t’s not your usual anime movie. It’s more like
manga comes to life - or gekiga comes to life’ (Gravett 2012). Of course, the notion of ‘coming to
life’ itself is often employed by theoretical approaches to animation, as the term can be traced back
to the latin verb animare, which also means ‘to enliven’. Referring to the works of Walt Disney,
Sergei Eisenstein noted as early as 1941: ‘In English, the moving drawings […] are called … an
animated cartoon. In this term both concepts are bound together: both “animation” (anima the
soul), and “liveliness” (animation liveliness, mobility). And surely, the drawing is “animated
through mobility”’ (Eisenstein 2009). In the case of Tatsumi, the stated ‘enlivenment’ refers to a
change that occurs in transition from manga to anime that is enabled by the different ways in which
they handle movement. In manga as in western comics, the pictures are still, arranged in spatial
successions on the page. However, open to a synoptic view, they enable readers to choose their own
path of reading. The moving film image is bound to a linear time-sequence as well as to a fixed,
standardized aspect ratio (Lefèvre 2007: 5–6).9 Consistently, when the young protagonist in Tatsumi’s
A Drifting Life runs away from his parental home after he discovers that his artwork has been torn
apart by his ill and envious brother, this event is depicted in a series of 31 still panels that span
across seven pages in the original graphic novel (Tatsumi 2009: 149–55). In these panels, the boy’s
body is shown in running poses headed into changing directions as well as tossing and turning on
the ground close to the bank of a local pond until the sun sets and he finally notices a swarm of fire-
flies. As parts of the overall page layouts, these pictures of different actions are arranged next to each
9. Lefèvre puts much
emphasis on the
different ontological
qualities of the drawn
picture of the comic
and the photographic
image of film (Lefèvre
2007: 7–11). This
difference, however,
seems to be of less
importance regarding
the status of animated
adaptations of comics –
a phenomenon Lefèvre
willingly excludes
(Lefèvre 2007: 2).
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Sebastian Bartosch | Andreas Stuhlmann
Figure 3: Khoo, E. (2011), Tatsumi, Singapore: Infinite Frameworks.
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Reconsidering adaptation as translation
other, where they subsequently become interrelated in more ways than just a linear flow of move-
ments. On the contrary, a continuous movement remains absent from Tatsumi’s original drawings
because of their very status as manga panels. As Gilles Deleuze clarifies, ‘you cannot reconstitute
movement with positions in space or instants in time: that is, with immobile sections’, because any
movement will always occur between those sections and with a ‘qualitative duration’ they must fail
to represent (Deleuze [1983] 2005: 1). Thus, only the abstract idea of movement can be added to
pictures that are themselves immobile. Because of the process of animation, the possibilities in the
Tatsumi film are quite different. Even though Khoo’s anime translations of the aforementioned
panels from A Drifting Life strongly resemble the latter’s perspectives and compositions, they can be
recognized as the result of a transformative process: Within the succeeding shots, the animated
body of the young artist now moves as he runs across a field or watches the buzzing fireflies. As the
film follows these continuous motions, it captures a wider angle of the storyworld, which makes it
necessary to depict more of this world.10 Erwin Panofsky has called the ‘dynamization of space’ a
possibility specific to film (Panofsky [1934] 2003: 71): According to Panofsky, film does not only
present bodies moving through space, but also a space that has become moveable itself – due to
movements, focus adjustments of the camera, and due to cuts, editing or special effects (Panofsky
[1934] 2003: 72). This description originally intended to separate the medium of film from theatre
and stage play is also helpful to understand how the differences between comic and film can
shape a process of translation. If the animated version of the passage from A Drifting Live presents a
space set into motion, this reflects the status of the cinematic ‘movement-image’, to which no further
movement needs to be added (Deleuze [1983] 2005: 2–3). Thus, movement functions as a factor of
difference between A Drifting Life and Tatsumi’s gekiga stories on the one hand and the Tatumi film
on the other hand that allows the latter to supplement the former ones. As the static images are
translated into the moving images of an anime film, this leads to a dynamization of the fictional
world’s space that within the new medium constitutes a new storyworld that fills gaps of the original
In this article, we have proposed to understand both adaptations of literary texts into comics and of
comics into films as translations. To read them as such, we suggest considering translation as both
the framing of the transformation process and its result. Following Ryan, we claim that each medium
shapes the creation of a unique storyworld for each story, and translation from one medium into
another creates a new, yet possibly overlapping storyworld. Following Benjamin, the pre-text
supplies the translation with its governing laws, defining its ‘translatability’, without aiming for like-
ness or ‘fidelity’ to the source. Therefore we see the translation as a sovereign supplement, containing
10. This necessity is
reinforced by the new
format and size of
the images: As Khoo
explains, ‘a lot of the
Tatsumi panels […]
are pretty small, and
sometimes you don’t
have the information,
like a background,
so we had to change
that for the big screen’
(Gravett 2012).
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Sebastian Bartosch | Andreas Stuhlmann
both aesthetic losses and gains (Stam 2000: 62). Translation is also both a process of montage and a
hermeneutical process of interpretation, which emphasizes the differences in the mediality between
the old and the new medium.
The translation of literature into comics is governed by the rigorous selection of text samples for
text boxes and speech balloons, and the adjustment of the narrative rhythm of the text to the grid of
the panels. In a process of ‘reverse ekphrasis’, the comic supplies a surplus of visual stimuli to
encourage readers’ connotations. The synoptic panel-layout opens the flow of the narrative and
gives way to individualistic modes of reading. The translation of a comic into a film on the other
hand, reduces these opportunities for idiosyncratic modes of reception and binds the viewer’s gaze
to the consecution of the moving film images. Since film does not simply add motion to a set of
given still images, but appears as an original movement-image dynamizing space, the latter requires
a more fully furnished storyworld, supplementing the original storyworld of the comic.
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Sebastian Bartosch | Andreas Stuhlmann
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Bartosch, S. and Stuhlmann, A. (2013), ‘Reconsidering adaptation as translation: The comic in
between’, Studies in Comics 4: 1, pp. 59–73, doi: 10.1386/stic.4.1.59_1
Sebastian Bartosch is a final year M.A. student in the Media Studies programme at the University of
Hamburg. His main research interests include comics and their relations to other media (e.g. the fine
arts, literature, film and radio) as well as theoretical concepts of intermediality and transformation.
STIC 4.1_Bartosch_59-73.indd 72 6/17/13 1:51:42 PM
Reconsidering adaptation as translation
Contact: Universität Hamburg, Institut für Medien und Kommunikation, Von Melle Park 6, 20146
Hamburg, Germany.
Andreas Stuhlmann teaches Media Studies and Modern German Literature at the University of
Hamburg, where he is Academic Coordinator of the Research Center for Media and Communication.
In his research he deals with concepts of polemics and plagiarism, intermediality and intertextuality,
in literature and fine arts, as well as radio, films (documentary) and comics.
Contact: Universität Hamburg, Institut für Medien und Kommunikation, Von Melle Park 6, 20146
Hamburg, Germany.
Sebastian Bartosch and Andreas Stuhlmann have asserted their right under the Copyright, Designs
and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the authors of this work in the format that was submitted
to Intellect Ltd.
STIC 4.1_Bartosch_59-73.indd 73 6/17/13 1:51:42 PM
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... Inspired by Cattrysse and also based on the ideas of Even-Zohar and Toury, Yau (2016) proposes a systemic model to analyze film adaptation with knowledge of translation with respect to contextualization and ideology. Still aiming to investigate film adaptation, Bartosch and Stuhlmann (2013), in a case study, examine two-phase adaptations as translations, including that of literary texts into comics and that of comics into films. Researchers that have analyzed the animation Mulan include Tian and Xiong (2013), Chai (2021) and Hsiung (2021), all of whom observe the film adaptation through the lens of translation. ...
Full-text available
“The Ballad of Mulan”, a well-known ancient Chinese poem recording Mulan’s replacing her aged father and disguising herself as a man to enlist in the army, has been translated interlingually and intersemiotically many times into English versions, which are dominated not by faithful translated texts but by adaptations represented by Maxine Kingston’s novel The Woman Warrior (1976) and Disney’s animation Mulan (1998). To further learn about the dissemination of “The Ballad of Mulan” outside of China, this research examines its adaptations and their reception in the Anglophone world. Recognizing adaptation as translation by employing Jean-Paul Vinay and Jean Darbelnet’s concept of “equivalence” on the basis of Christine Nord’s preservation-adaptation percentage in translation, this study employs a descriptive approach to first chronologically brief “Mulan” English adaptations that fall into four major genres (including dramas, novels, picture books, and videogames), then scrutinizes the features of these adaptations and summarizes three adaptation types, and finally investigates the acceptance of “Mulan” adaptations of three kinds as per statistics collected from representative websites and mainstream media. It argues that the adaptations altering or fabricating parts of the original story outnumber those of other kinds and are generally the best received.
... The elements are not placed on the page randomly, but are placed there for various purposes. As part of the comic adaptation, the verbal narrative is the result of deliberate selection and is usually adjusted to the narrative rhythm of the panels on the same page (Bartosch and Stuhlmann 2013). ...
Full-text available
This study highlights intersemiotic dissonance between two constituents of a multimodal page from a social semiotic perspective. The data under analysis is Tsai Chih-chung’s comic adaptation of the Chinese classic Journey to the West. Each page of Tsai’s comic book is divided into two halves: verbal narrative and comic strip. Instead of working mutually with each other to arrive at a unified meaning, the words and the comic strip often diverge. This divergence in meaning is defined as intersemiotic dissonance. Focusing on the ideational metafunction, the article analyses how the verbal narrative and comic strip each presents a different story, mainly through dissonance in the participants, processes and the projected speeches. The reason why there is such dissonance is also explained with a consideration of the field of context, that is, Tsai’s work as a social activity of adaptation. The verbal narrative serves as a sign of fidelity to the original, and the comic strip extends and subverts the original. It is in the dissonance between the two constituents that a deeper meaning is realized.
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Partiendo de la relación indisoluble entre la traducción y el medio migrante y transnacional del cómic, este artículo realiza una revisión teórica al estado de la cuestión de la traducción de cómic y la presencia de esta modalidad en los Estudios de Traducción y en los Estudios de Cómic. Se concluye que el lenguaje icónico-textual del cómic debe leerse e interpretarse como un todo, y que la traducción debe ir más allá de lo puramente interlingüístico. Se propone una definición de la traducción de cómic en continua expansión y se describen las contribuciones incluidas en el presente monográfico.
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Zanettin, F. (2018). Translating comics and graphic novels. In S.-A. Harding & O. Carbonell i Cortés (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of translation and culture (pp. 445–460). London & New York: Routledge.
Renowned literary scholar Linda Hutcheon explores the ubiquity of adaptations in all their various media incarnations and challenges their constant critical denigration. Adaptation, Hutcheon argues, has always been a central mode of the story-telling imagination and deserves to be studied in all its breadth and range as both a process (of creation and reception) and a product unto its own. Persuasive and illuminating, A Theory of Adaptation is a bold rethinking of how adaptation works across all media and genres that may put an end to the age-old question of whether the book was better than the movie, or the opera, or the theme park.
Venuti argues that translation theory provides a rigorous methodology for studying ekphrastic texts and their relation to their source images. The relation is not instrumental, nor is it a simple transfer of a formal or semantic invariant, but hermeneutic, an interpretation that varies source form and meaning through the application of an interpretant. The hermeneutic relation is transformative, because a key aspect of any interpretant is its relation to cultural traditions and social situations that differ from those of the source material. As a result, the hermeneutic relation can be treated not only as interpretive, but as interrogative, exposing the cultural and social conditions of the source material and of the second-order work that has processed it. The critic's application of an interpretant, whether a particular interpretation or critical methodology, determines the formulation of the hermeneutic relation and its interrogative effects. This procedure helps to avoid privileging either the source materials or the second-order creation and to turn the critic's work into an act of self-criticism. Ultimately, the hermeneutic model of translation holds the promise that we can study the relations between images and texts so as to allow them the relative autonomy that befits their distinctive forms and practices. Venuti's analysis of Rosanna Warren's ekphrastic poem, “Renoir” (based on Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party) illustrates his theory.
Fiction is commonly viewed as imaginative discourse, or as discourse concerning an alternate possible world. The problem with such definitions is that they cannot distinguish fiction from counterfactual statements, or from the reports of dreams, wishes and fantasies which occur in the context of natural discourse. This paper attempts to capture the difference, as well as the similarities, between fiction and other language uses involving statements about non-existing worlds by comparing their respective behavior in the light of an interpretive principle which will be referred to as the “principle of minimal departure”. This principle states that whenever we interpret a message concerning an alternate world, we reconstrue this world as being the closest possible to the reality we know. In the non-factuals of natural discourse the referents of the pronouns I and you are reconstrued as retaining the personality of the actual speaker as fully as possible, but in fiction they are immune to the principle of minimal departure.
  • M Bakhtin
Bakhtin, M. ([1929] 1984), Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics (ed. and transl. C. Emerson), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.