Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Phantom: Lost in Translation

I regularly write scripts for The Phantom, the world's longest-running costumed hero. Created by Lee Falk for a newspaper adventure strip, the Ghost Who Walks appears once a fortnight in new stories commissioned and published by Egmont Sweden in its title Fantomen. I supply my script to Egmont Sweden in English and they get translated into Swedish [and several other Scandinavian langauges] for publication. The stories are reprinted in English by an Australian publisher, Frew Comics.

Unfortunately, Frew doesn't work from my original English scripts. I'm told they use online translation software to change the Swedish language version back into English. Unsurprisingly, this is a less than exact process. As a result, the Frew version of my dialogue bears only a passing resemblance to what I actually wrote. More often than not, the consequences read like I'm still getting to grips with English as a second language. Here are a few examples from the latest Frew comic, No. 1456, featuring Part 2 of the Circe's Island story I wrote. You'll see my original dialogue first, then what ended up in print...
Panel 15.
Artemis looms over the six guards. Guard #1 nurses his face.
Artemis: NO INTRUDER WOULD COME THIS FAR, YET FLEE SO QUICKLY!

Frew version:
Artemis: NO-ONE TAKES THE TROUBLE TO COME HERE JUST TO LEAVE IN A BIG HURRY...


Panel 18.
The Phantom watches this from the shadows on the opposite side of the open area, having circled round without being seen.
The Phantom (thinks): SHE MUST BE AT LEAST TWO METRES TALL – A FORMIDABLE WOMAN!

Frew version:
The Phantom (thinks): WHAT A TALL WOMAN! SHE MUST BE AT LEAST 200 CENTIMETRES TALL!


Panel 44.
Once the guards have passed, Diana emerges from the shadowy entrance.
Diana (thinks): THAT WAS CLOSE! I MUST BE MORE CAREFUL…

Frew version:
Diana (thinks): THAT WAS A CLOSE SHAVE! ONE OF THE GUARDS SAW ME! I MUST BE MORE CAREFUL...!


Panel 67.
Panzier points at the Phantom, while screaming at Artemis and the five guards.
Panzier: GET HIM!

Frew version:
HA! YOU'LL NEVER LEAVE HERE ALIVE! SEIZE HIM...!

The example below is one of my personal favourites from this issue...
Panel 83.
Diana turns away from the centre of the Parthenon, her mind racing.
Diana (thinks): IF HELENA’S SCHEME SUCCEEDS, SHE’LL BECOME RICH BEYOND IMAGINING. BUT HOW IS SHE DOING THIS? AND WHY?

Frew version:
Diana (thinks); IF HELENA SUCCEEDS, SHE WILL BE RICH. BUT SHE MUST BE STOPPED!

Yes, Diana, yes - we must stop Helena from becoming rich at all costs! The obviious question from all this is why doesn't Frew use the original English language scripts when they are available? I don't know. No doubt the editorial team Stockholm tweaks my scripts before they go to the artist and then has to sub-edit the scripts to match the art produced, but I think the real problem stems from the translation methods used. So, for anyone who reads Frew 1456 and winces at the cringe-inducing dialogue, you're not alone.

5 comments:

GermWorks said...

Unfortunally your story isnt the only one that gets "hacked" to pieces like that, David....

Bill F. alias renn. said...

Ever since the discussion about Roger Stern's Phantom story and how the translation of that was botched I have been a bit more forgiving of the way that FREW handles the dialogue, it is a problem that I can't see any improvement with unfortunately, I don't think that sending J.S. a copy of original scripts would be of any use because I'm pretty certain that the translations originate from Egmont, but don't quote me on that.

Anonymous said...

Frew does indeed translate themselves using some sort of computer programme. Parts of the dialogue has been changed by Egmont before that, however. I don't have the book here so I can compare and give examples though. /Andreas

Ivan Pedersen said...

Hi

I have seen your comments about "lost in translation" and can't let be to wonder; have you told Egmont about this?

If not, I find it hard to believe you telling the fans this, and not the company that ordered your work?

If, on the other hand, you have made a complain to Egmont and they will not listen, stop this, don't write for them any more, I guess you have your pride as a aoutor, and don't want your work being altered like this!

On the other hand, if no complains are given, I think it is unfair to tell the readers about it first! Because if you accept the situation, well then there is no more to say about it, is there?

Ivan

GermWorks said...

David are you actually complaining or you just noting an anomaly in the translations??

Even if you gave Frew the original translations, would they use them?