Maybe Scanlators Just Gotta Scanlate

Lately I’ve been following a most insightful user on Twitter called otaku dog. A Japanese person running an otaku goods import service, otaku_dog has made his presence known on the internet through his desire to engage with the English-speaking anime fandom. While I have not tried out his “Otaku Personal Import Agency,” I have had a chance to have a few discussions with him via Twitter.

It was in one conversation that he talked about how he is not only a fan of anime and manga, but also American comics, particularly Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. He spoke of his desire to read more of it, but that the translation never finished and that in general translation projects of American comics tend to die down and never revive.

“American comics translating projects often do not continues to last….(;- -)”

I do not know if he meant official translations or fan ones. Regardless, it made me think about the scanlation and fansubbing community, and how for all of the negatives in those communities, from the egotism to the translations wrought with errors to the personality clashes and drama and millions of other problems fan translators can have and often do, things still get translated. It might be the most popular series which get the most attention, but we see translation groups occasionally gravitate towards  fairly obscure series, even if the motive is to garner attention and praise. This is a huge contrast to otaku dog’s description of the reverse and in a way it’s quite impressive.

One possible factor for this wide disparity might be the fact that Japanese comics generally have significantly less text than their American counterparts, particularly with someone like Neil Gaiman penning the work. This is related to the differences in storytelling through panels that emerged between the two countries, and even those from the Golden Age that were produced purely for the enjoyment of children and not today’s older audience tended to be densely packed with text, making translating American comics possibly more time-consuming.

The difference in text density between Japanese and American comics also makes me think about that old stereotypical moment from throughout the decades, where a parent takes a child’s comic book away because it isn’t “really reading,” and that pictures in books are a sign that it’s juvenile. If only those parents knew about the brevity of dialogue in manga…

(By the way, I’m well aware that the title of this post can be a bit misleading.)

4 thoughts on “Maybe Scanlators Just Gotta Scanlate

  1. Oh, awesome opposum, I am also an admirer of both manga/anime as well as Western comics. I’ve been a long time fan of Sandman, and have read the volumes many times, so I can see how translating it would be difficult. I don’t read Japanese in order to compare to my English translations, but you are right on that point, most mangas appear more simple and short in comparison to some Western comics. Sandman, on the other hand, have narratives along with character’s speech bubbles and it has an entire complexity’s worth of diction and words–so translations would have to focus on keeping true to that.

    Haha, I don’t even know if this relates to your post, but I got too excited on seeing two things that I adore written about on a blog. If only parents knew of the brevity of dialogue in manga? I would like to add, if only parents knew the heavy stuff in comics in general ;]


  2. One thing I’d REALLY like to see is more scanlators translating European stuff. The Japanese stuff isn’t in danger of losing any publicity soon, but there’s literally TONS of French / Spanish stuff just waiting to be translated.

    You can see a few examples in this ScansDaily link:

    As I mentioned in my blog entry here:

    “I’ve long thought that if there was a scanlation site that had 1% of the energy that most Manga scanlations have, we would have more access to European stuff other than Asterix or Tintin. (In fact, a Manga site once DID scanlate a series, Lanfeust of Troy, but they quickly dropped it once they changed servers) If I had more knowledge of French, and the knowledge & patience to scan & translate BDs from the library, I could’ve made a serious contribution to the comics world.”

    Given the amount of hoopaboola the Smurfs has gotten, would seeing more childish stuff other than what’s printed in the pages of Heavy Metal hurt?

    After all, “Part of what made Manga so impentratable to American audiences for years was that so much of what was translated was adult in nature. It was only when they started bringing over Children’s Mangas that they started to gain a serious foothold that has yet to let go. That’s the basic corporation formula that American comics have long forgotten – attract the children first, and they’ll follow you down to the pits of hell.”

    “A few of those are only just recently being translated by Cinebook. Various titles include: Iznogoud, written by the same author of Asterix. Thorgal, the Viking whose adventures I prefer to Conan. Melusine, the 100-year young witch. Lucky Luke, the gunslinger faster than his shadow. Papyrus, Yoko Tsuneko, Yakari and other titles I don’t know are also good reads.”

    There needs to be a scanlation site that allows casual readers to find European comics such as Gaston Lagaffe, Spirou, Nathalie, etc, etc.


  3. Frankly, i fail to see what is it so special about Sandman that everyone is pissing boiling water because of it. Tried reading it, incredibly boring story, that 70 years prison or something. I predict that right now someone will jump out and say “oh, but you must read 10 volumes in and THEN it gets real good” – you know what – you dont put your worst material in the start of a project. And yet apparently many people just had time to spare on this boring comic.

    And really, if the only artist available to you is a crappy one – just write a damn book. Comic is a visual medium as well, and Sandman art is disgustingly bad.

    Gaiman’s writer talents are also far less than some give him credit for. I used to love Tim Hunter’s character for a long time, until his story pretty much blew up in incostistencies and self-contradictions, not having any focus whatsoever didnt help.


  4. Actually, the first volume of Sandman is, as David Welsh proclaimed, probably the LEAST reader-friendly volume of the series. Most of it had to tie in to some way to the DC universe, unless comic “fans” wouldn’t bother picking it up. This is one of the major stumbling blocks of the “Big Two” in the comic pamphlet world – they want to attract a new audience, but they don’t want to alienate their current audience, so they pander to both, and wind up attracting neither.

    It’s why, when it was first being published in book collection, the second story arc, The Doll’s House was printed first, since it was more identifiable. Myself, I’d recommend the 3rd volume, Dream County, which is a quick read – 4 short stories and a good starting point. If you’re still unsure, try the 4th volume, a regular fan favorite.

    DC isn’t the first publisher to do a first printing with later issues – the same thing happened with Cerebus, which printed the second major story, High Society, and a lot of people recommend it for their first foray into the intimidating telephone books. Myself, I’d rather recommend Jaka’s Story, where the story and layouts are simpler in comparision, and you only really need to know three things:

    1. Cerebus used to be Prime Minister and then Pope before losing it all.
    2. Cerebus loves Jaka.
    3. Jaka’s Uncle Julius looks and acts exactly like Groucho Marx.

    It’s worth it for the emotional turmoil alone, and considered the high point of Dave Sim’s career before he went off the deep end. Before he revealed his misogynist ramblings, Cerebus had a surprisingly high female readership.


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