Special Issue: Reimagining Comics - The Translation and Localization of Visual Narratives

Changes in the Visual Qualities of Translated Sound Effects Outside Speech Balloons:

Focusing on Korean Graphic Novels Translated into English and French

By Jagyeong Kim (Ewha Womans University, Korea)


Sound effects, especially when located outside speech balloons, serve as visual elements in comics. As graphic devices, they can be employed to evoke feelings through the modulation of graphic and extratextual elements, such as size, shape, color, and disposition in space (Rota 2008: 80). However, the visual qualities of sound effects in translated comics have drawn little scholarly attention. Against this background, this study aims to examine visual changes to translated sound effects outside speech balloons of Korean graphic novels, which have been rarely addressed in comparison to Japanese manga. The analysis is based on the English and French translations of Korean graphic novels by two artists — Keum Suk Gendry-Kim and Yeon-sik Hong — with a focus on the visual changes in terms of location, position, and size, along with the deleted and untouched sounds. The results demonstrate a variety of changes to the visual qualities of sound effects in translated comics. Sound effects are often resituated to a more noticeable position, or closer to the source of the sound. They are rearranged horizontally from top-to-bottom vertical orientations, written in a smaller font size, or the changes in the size of original sound effects are not reflected. Deleted and untouched sound effects are also found with some repetitive sounds omitted or sounds integrated into the drawing remaining untouched. The examples presented in this study include not only engaging changes that improve the interplay with the image but also irrelevant changes that make it difficult for translated sound effects to function as adequate visual cues for readers, highlighting the need for further investigation into the visual changes of translated sound effects and the underlying sociocultural causes of such changes.

Keywords: sound effects, translation of sound effects, visual changes of sound effects in translated comics, visual transformations in translated comics, Korean graphic novels

©inTRAlinea & Jagyeong Kim (2023).
"Changes in the Visual Qualities of Translated Sound Effects Outside Speech Balloons: Focusing on Korean Graphic Novels Translated into English and French"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Reimagining Comics - The Translation and Localization of Visual Narratives
Edited by: Michał Borodo
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2634

1. Introduction

Visual elements of comics can undergo transformations in translated texts. As Zanettin (2008: 21) points out, verbal language is not the only component of comics that is translated and visual components are often modified in translated comics. Borodo (2015: 25-26) notes that both the visual and verbal modes of comics can be altered for a new target readership, because their aspects are firmly grounded in the traditions of a particular culture. Indeed, many interesting examples of visual adaptation strategies involving various publication formats, colors, drawings, page layouts, and panels have been well illustrated (Rota 2008; Zanettin 2014).

Visual changes can also be employed for sound effects, especially when located outside speech balloons. Such effects are integrated into pictures; as stated by Kokko (2013: 53), they are “embedded” in the pictures, unlike “loose” sound effects inside the speech balloons. Their visual representation is an integral part of the picture, evoking emotions and setting an atmosphere for the reader. The sound effects graphically depict what they describe and give readers a rare chance to “listen” with their eyes (McCloud 2006: 146). Hence, different visual cues of sound effects can significantly influence the reading experience, as evidenced by Rohan et al.’s (2021) eye-tracking experiment empirically demonstrating that different visual translation strategies influence readers’ interactions with sound effects.

However, the translation of sound effects has mostly been explored from a linguistic perspective (Garcés 2008; Mansur et al. 2020) with changes to visual qualities of sound effects in translated comics drawing little attention. Only a limited number of studies discuss visual changes of sound effects and most of them are concerned with the issue of manga translation (Elveljung 2020; Huang and Archer 2014; LaPlante 2008; Petersen 2009; Rohan et al. 2018; Rohan et al. 2021; Taran 2014). Therefore, more attention should be paid to visual changes of sound effects in translated Korean graphic novels, given that sound effects drawn outside speech balloons in Korean graphic novels are typically permeated with the artists’ unique and creative style, combining an important pictorial element with communicative effects. Furthermore, sound effects conveyed in Korean Hangul letters have distinct visual features when compared to those in alphabet-based English or French.

Against this background, this study sets out to investigate visual changes to sound effects outside speech balloons in Korean graphic novels translated into English and French, based on seven translated books authored by two Korean artists, Keum Suk Gendry-Kim and Yeon-sik Hong, focusing on changes in location, position, and size of sound effects, along with the deleted and untouched sounds. The goal of this study is to provide vantage points from which to discuss sound effects as important visual elements in the context of comic translation.

2. Visual aspects of translated sound effects in comics

2.1 Sound effects outside balloons, an indispensable pictorial element in comics

Onomatopoeia, typically called sound effects by comic book creators and readers (Guynes 2014: 62), reproduces all possible and imaginable sounds (Carreras i Goicoechea et al. 2008: 12–13; as cited in Igareda 2017: 346). According to Guynes (2014: 60), two observable types of onomatopoeic expressions are used in mainstream comic books: vocalizations, which are usually conveyed within the confines of speech balloons, and sound effects, which are word/image combinations, drawn outside of speech balloons to graphically express sounds not imaginably produced through the use of speech. Sound effects adopt image-like qualities that enable them to more seamlessly integrate with the images (Pratha et al. 2016: 93).

Especially when located outside speech balloons, sound effects play a role as a pictorial component in comics — their visual representation is usually distinct, drawing on diverse stylized graphic designs. This means that even sound effects with the same linguistic expressions can evoke strikingly different feelings and emotions in readers, depending on their visual features, such as size, location, tilt, and thickness. Taran (2014: 95-96) emphasizes that the design of sound effects has a distinct visual appeal — normally written in large, colorful, frequently uneven letters, and arranged in panels in a very distinct way, usually not laid out neatly in straight lines, and often occupying a significant amount of space. Thus, they are often depicted using highly stylized fonts, different from the typeface used in the standard text of the comic, to visually emphasize a particular sensory experience (McCloud 1993). Rohan et al. (2018) argued that they are not only used as verbal expressions but also part of aesthetics through their particular visual presence, like “whoooom” presented along the vertical flow of meteor movement, as though it is part of the meteor’s impact. Rota (2008: 80) aptly notes that they are graphic devices employed to evoke feelings through the modulation of elements like size, shape, color, and disposition in space, all of which are graphic and extratextual elements. Hence, changes in the visual aspects of translated sound effects outside balloons should be explored as important pictorial elements with distinct visual representation in comics.

2.2 Translation of graphically represented sound

Much scholarly attention has been paid to diverse visual modifications in translated comics such as publication format, page layout, coloring, and drawing (Rota 2008; Zanettin 2014; de la Iglesia 2016); however, visual changes of sound effects have rarely been focused on. This is partly because a considerable number of sound effects outside speech balloons remain untranslated and without retouching efforts when they are understandable without translation. Kaindl (2004: 175) states that several German comics publishers mentioned “international comprehensibility” as a reason not to translate sound effects (as cited in de la Iglesia 2016: 11), because German-speaking readers can easily guess the sound implied by American sound effects, which, combined with the financial issue, explains why many English sound effects remain untranslated in foreign-language comics.

However, sound effects often undergo visual modifications when translated. Petersen (2009: 169-170) points out that the translation of Akira differs in that the Japanese sounds appear in the background of the picture, radiating against the speedlines, while the English text does quite the opposite by resting in the foreground between the two front figures. Kokko (2013) who examines sound effects in seven different English comics and their Finnish translations observes various visual changes. For example, in Dreamtime Duck of the Never-Never, the original version has colored sound effects whereas the translations have no colored sound effects; this is compensated by a greater variety in the orthography, such as shaky, rumbling characters, with translations relying more on typography to show the loudness of a sound. Conversely, in Batman: Year One, the embedded sound effects are untranslated with no effort to change them, and a large sound crossing an entire panel is often made smaller in the translations. In an Indonesian translation of Kite Runner (Setyaningsih and Soelistyarini 2018: 262), the English sound effects appear in a larger font, while in the translations of Akira (de la Iglesia 2016: 12), more diversified lettering is employed for various sound effects colored and graphically designed to add more emphasis.

Specifically, the translation of sound effects that are deeply integrated into a picture has been widely regarded as a tricky problem that would pose technical complications and incur additional expenses. LaPlante (2008: 46) points out that the more pictorial the sound effect becomes, the more difficult it is to change without significantly altering the visual language of the overall picture. Badi-Ozaman et al. (2021: 5) also explain that the sound effects’ integration in the drawing may cause technical complications in the process of translation. A similar concern is voiced by Taran (2014: 95-96) who notes that the translation of sound effects integrated into drawings is much more complex than the translation of the text in speech balloons which are usually delivered empty to an editor. Rohan et al. (2021: 61) refer to the translation of sound effects as highly embedded in a picture and work-intensive translation, adding that a close linkage between the form and meaning of sound effects makes the translation more challenging. When translating Asian comics with non-alphabet-based letters into Western comics due to different visual qualities (including Korean graphic novels with the unique visual features of Hangul and stylistic use of sound effects by graphic novel artists) the translation of sound effects and modifications of pictures is even more complicated and thus requires more time and graphical skill. This is why letterers with illustration skills are necessary to handle redrawing, and Érico (2015: 15) asserts in this context that the individual responsible for these graphic features in the translated text should be considered part of the translation process.

3. Methods

This study examines sound effects outside speech balloons in seven translated graphic novels authored by two Korean graphic novel authors, Keum Suk Gendry-Kim and Yeon-sik Hong. Sound effects presented outside balloons in their graphic novels are strongly characteristic of the distinctive visual qualities reflecting their unique drawing style. Moreover, graphic novels are usually associated with longer, more refined, non-serialized graphic stories in a book format, aimed at an educated adult readership (Zanettin 2018: 445); therefore, graphic novels are deemed fit for this study with a purpose to look into visual changes of sound effects based on small-scale data, assuming that they are available in a published book format and rendered in a way that respects the intention and style of the artists. In addition, the two artists’ works are widely translated in English and French, garnering widespread readership overseas. For example, Grass, a graphic novel telling the story of “comfort women,” was awarded “Best International Book” at the Harvey Awards in 2020, making Gendry-Kim the first Korean artist to win the award.

The data for analysis are collected from a total of seven translated graphic novels, four published in English and three in French: Gendry-Kim’s two works translated into English, that is, Grass (Drawn & Quarterly 2019) and The Waiting (Drawn & Quarterly 2021), two French translations entitled Les Mauvaises Herbes (Delcourt 2018) and Jun (Delcourt/Encrages 2020), Hong’s two English translations, that is, Uncomfortably Happily (Drawn & Quarterly 2017) and Umma’s Table (Drawn & Quarterly 2020), and one French translation entitled Le Goût Du Kimchi (Sarbacane 2017).[1] While only the substitution strategy (original sound effects erased and substituted with typographic replica, according to Rohan et al. 2021: 61) is used for English translations of the works of the two artists, annotation (translated words presented in a smaller font size positioned in proximity to the original text; ibid.) as well as substitution strategies are utilized for their French translations. However, only the translations using the substitution strategy are chosen for data in this study with an aim to shed light on visual changes; thus, two other French translations of Gendry-Kim’s works — Jiseul (Sarbacane 2015) and Alexandra Kim la Sibérienne (Cambourakis 2020) — are excluded, because subtitles are placed near the original sound effects in Jiseul and explanatory footnotes are added in the gutter for Alexandra Kim la Sibérienne.

The data are collected manually by comparing the sound effects in the source and target texts in terms of their location, arrangement, and size, in addition to the Hangul letters left or simply omitted in the picture. These aspects can showcase different visual representations of Korean sound effects when translated into alphabetic letters and influence the way readers understand the works. Unlike English or French, Korean Hangul letters are combined into blocks of two to three characters for each syllable. For example, while alphabetic letters are placed in a sequence like p+l+o+p, the same sound effect in Korean is not written like ㅌ+ㅓ+ㄹ+ㅆ+ㅓ+ㄱ, but as “털썩,” two blocks of three syllables each with consonants and vowels. Many Korean sound effects are also constructed with several blocks, frequently with one or two blocks (e.g., 툭, 흑, 흠, 헉, 쭈욱, 부릉, 흐뭇, 화악, 푸욱, 불쑥) and repetitive patterns (e.g., 탁탁, 콩콩, 엉엉, 히히, 끄덕끄덕, 보글보글, 콜록콜록, 절뚝절뚝, 찰랑찰랑, 두근두근, 짝짝짝, 헉헉헉, 헥헥헥, 징징징, 크크크, 하하하, 킥킥킥, 윙윙윙, 취취취취[2]). Treated as single units, blocks are often fragmented, spread out around the picture in the panel, and are written in different sizes. In addition, many sound effects outside speech balloons in the two authors’ graphic novels are written vertically with top-to-bottom lines, partly because Hangul letters were traditionally written vertically in columns from top to bottom, although today they are usually written horizontally from left to right.

4. Findings and discussion

The analysis of sound effects located outside speech balloons in the seven translated versions of the Korean graphic novels confirmed that the translated sound effects were altered as visual elements: they were relocated in 161 panels, horizontally repositioned in 63 panels, deleted in 127 panels, left untouched in 24 panels, and size change effects were added in 25 panels. Although a simple quantitative comparison is not appropriate, considering that a substantially larger number of sound effects outside balloons were used in Hong’s works compared to Gendry-Kim’s, a comparison of the translations of the same source text demonstrated that the English versions had more frequent changes in terms of location and size, while their French counterparts exhibited more deletions and horizontal repositioning.

4.1 Location

Fig. 1: Panels with relocated sound effects[3]

Sound effects were more frequently relocated in the English translations when compared with the French translations. The English versions based on the same original (Umma’s Table and Grass) had more location changes than their French counterparts (Le Goût Du Kimchi and Les Mauvaises Herbes). Further, Uncomfortably Happily in particular exhibited most changed locations. In contrast, Les Mauvaises Herbes and Jun rarely relocated the sound effects. It is also noteworthy that the more recently released English translations were more faithful to the original locations: Umma’s Table (released in 2020) had fewer changes than Uncomfortably Happily (released in 2017); and The Waiting (released in 2021) exhibited fewer changes than Grass (released in 2017), which suggests that faithfulness to the original can be different even when the translated books are released by the same publisher and it may be influenced by the time of release. For example, as shown in Figure 2, The Waiting (unlike Grass) more closely recreated the locations from the Korean version.

Fig. 2a, 2b: Panels from The Waiting

Sound effects in translations were often combined in a single position to attract the attention of readers more easily. Sounds — originally spread around the character — were combined in one place in their translated versions. In Grass, the sounds of panting, originally spread out around the girl, were all placed above her head in the English version, as shown in Figure 3, and the sounds of a girl’s heart beating were relocated together beneath her feet, the very place where she surprisingly found the money (Figure 4). The sounds of chewing, located near the man’s jaw on both sides in the original, were moved higher above the forehead, interestingly positioned in the direction of his gaze. This repositioning of scattered sounds improves the interplay with the image, intensifies the textual narrative, and makes the sounds more visually appealing (Figure 5).

Fig. 3a, 3b, 3c: Panels from Grass[4]

Fig. 4a, 4b, 4c: Panels from Grass

Fig. 5a. 5b: Panels from Uncomfortably Happily

As the position of sound effects in the panel can indicate their origin, they were sometimes moved closer to the source in the picture to more clearly explain the origin of the described sound. The sound “SQUEEZE,” originally placed near the door, was relocated closer to the man tightly holding his child, and slightly bent, just like his posture (Figure 6). The original equivalents of “CLATTER” and “CLACK”, located above the husband’s head and around the wife’s face in the source text, were moved below nearer to the dishes and their hands using chopsticks, suggesting the clacking sound of eating with chopsticks (Figure 7). The crows’ sound was also moved closer to the birds in the French translation, as if to indicate that it was originating from each bird, although it was located farther away from the birds in the original version (Figure 8).


Fig. 6a, 6b, 6c: Panels from Umma’s Table

Fig. 7a, 7b: Panels from Uncomfortably Happily

Fig. 8a, 8b, 8c: Panels from Umma’s Table

Sounds were also relocated to make them fit more smoothly with the drawing. As shown in Figure 9, the sound of an insect crawling on the skin was located next to the insect in the original, but in the English version, it was moved below, placed parallel along the insect’s long stretched path, accentuating its movement. Furthermore, it is interesting to note the relocation of the sound to the other panel. The sound effect “흑!” was originally located in the panel with a girl looking at her hair with concern, conveying the sound of sobbing triggered by discovering hair loss. In the English version, however, the sound appears more directly associated with the image, as it was moved to the next panel where a girl is crying with her hands covering her face (See Figure 10).

Fig. 9a, 9b: Panels from Uncomfortably Happily

Fig.10a, 10b, 10c: Panels from Grass

Even so, some relocations appear problematic, causing concerns regarding possible misinterpretation. As shown in Figure 11, the sound effect “후,” originally positioned on the right side of the grandmother, was moved to the right side of the man in the English version, a change that might cause a reader to think that the sound is the man’s sigh. However, the sound is, in fact, a sigh of relief by the grandmother, who has a habit of staring at the ground while walking, which is caused by her traumatic experience. As demonstrated in Figure 12, the sounds of the son calling his mother, irregularly overlapped in the original and indicative of the emotional state of the mother paralyzed with the fear of losing her son, were neatly rearranged without overlapping outlines in the French version, reducing their meaning as a visual cue for conveying the emotions and feelings of the character.

Fig. 11a, 11b, 11c: Panels from Grass

Fig.12a, 12b: Panels from Jun

4.2 Horizontal rearrangement

Fig. 13: Panels with horizontally-rearranged sound effects

Many Korean sound effects in the two artists’ graphic novels were vertically positioned with top-to-bottom writing, and some of them were rearranged horizontally in both the English and French translations. In addition, the French translations had generally more horizontal and flattish repositions, while the English translations tended to maintain more of the original’s vertical arrangement, though often presented in a diagonal line. It is also noteworthy that Uncomfortably Happily, released in 2017, had a sizable number of horizontal rearrangements. However, Umma’s Table, an English translation of the same author released three years later by the same publisher and letterer, rarely changed vertically written sounds to a horizontal line. Meanwhile, no sound effects in Grass were repositioned horizontally, and The Waiting remained faithful to the original’s vertical arrangement with only one case of reposition (a sound of the dog’s bell).

As shown in the examples below, various vertically written sounds in the original were written in a top-to-bottom style in the English translations, similar to those of the Korean versions — like “DROOL” still flowing from top to bottom in English albeit with a slight rearrangement, in contrast to the left-to-right horizontal lines in French (Figure 14). The sound “INHALE,” which appears as blown cigarette smoke, stretches in a long vertical line in the English translation, maintaining the original’s vertical arrangement (Figure 15).

Fig. 14: Panels from Grass Fig. 14: Panels from Grass

Fig. 14a, 14b, 14c: Panels from Grass

Fig.15: Panels from Umma’s Table

Fig.15a, 15b, 15c: Panels from Umma’s Table

It is also interesting to note that a single-block Hangul sound was mostly positioned in a left-to-right horizontal line in the French translations, in contrast to top-to-bottom vertical or diagonal lines in the English translations. As shown in Figure 16, the sound “DROOL” ran from top to bottom along the seam of the skirt, and “SWISH” was arranged vertically, moving rhythmically with the shape and fall of the braided hair, while they were placed horizontally in the French version (see Figure 17). The English sound effects placed in a top-to-bottom line in a dynamic interplay with the drawing act as a pictorial element in the panel, adding a sense of movement and vibrant energy to a still image.

Fig. 16: Panels from Grass Fig. 16: Panels from Grass

Fig. 16a, 16b, 16c: Panels from Grass

Fig. 17a, 17b, 17c: Panels from Grass

The panels below are examples of vertically-positioned sound effects repositioned horizontally in the translations. The sound “털썩,” originally positioned vertically and adding a directional effect to the man’s flopping, was rearranged horizontally in the translation (Figure 18). In addition, as shown in Figure 19, the sound “와락,” written in a vertical column in the original — nearly filling up the space in the left part of the panel and, reinforcing the strength of the character’s grabbing, as she was running downhill and could not stop — was repositioned horizontally in the translation, occupying a smaller space in the upper part, thereby, reducing the feel of the impact.

Fig. 18a, 18b: Panels from Uncomfortably Happily

Fig. 19a, 19b: Panels from Uncomfortably Happily

Finally, the rearrangement of vertically written sounds may contribute to the atmosphere of dynamism and action in a given scene. For example, the sound “FLAP” conveys the feeling of a bird flying in the sky in the original and English version with the vertical arrangement adding a sense of movement (see Figure 20). As shown in Figure 21, the sound “번쩍” vertically cutting across the panel gives the impression of a strong lightning strike extending down from the sky, but it was changed horizontally in the English translation, where this effect was lost.

Fig.20a, 20b, 20c: Panels from Grass

Fig. 21a, 21b: Panels from Uncomfortably Happily

4.3 Size

Fig. 22: Panels with the original size change not reflected or with a newly added size change

Many Korean sound effects written outside speech balloons were made smaller in both the English and French translations, especially in Le Goût Du Kimchi, with the translated sound effects mostly presented in a smaller and thinner font. In this regard, rather than noting changes in the sizes of sound effects, this study calculated when the original’s size changes were not reflected or when size change effects were added in the translations. The results showed that the English translations more actively added size variations than the French translations, except for The Waiting.

A sound effect’s size suggests the degree of an impact; therefore, if a sound effect originally written in a large font to emphasize its strength is changed to a smaller font, this might reduce the intensity of the sound. For example, the raining sound presented in a smaller and thinner font in the French version of Umma’s Table compared to the English version can weaken the impression of a heavy downpour (Figure 23). In Grass, the sound of the mother calling for her baby who has been taken away from her right after birth has a strong visual presence in the scene. The hand-written typography overwhelmed with pain conveys the feeling of a strong emotion from the way it is physically drawn, which is not reflected in the translations. Also noteworthy is the sound effect “MY BABY” written in a significantly smaller font in the English version compared to “MON BÉBÉ” in the French version. While the original’s sound effect “아가야” left little blank space in the panel (conveying the mother’s intense pain), the smaller sound effect might decrease the impact of the wailing mother’s intense emotion that is conveyed to the readers (Figure 24).

Fig. 23a, 23b, 23c: Panels from Umma’s Table

Fig. 24a, 24b, 24c: Panels from Grass

Sounds in comics are expressed in different sizes to create different degrees of sound presence; the larger the word, the louder the sound. Thus, some sounds become bigger or smaller in the same or following panel to give the impression of increasing or decreasing sound levels; however, such transitions in the original were often not reflected in the translations. For example, as shown in Figure 25, in Jun, the sound “흐엉” becomes larger in the following panel, hinting at the child crying louder. However, in the translation, this hint is not indicated by the sounds written in the same font size. In the following panel presented in Figure 26, the helicopter’s sound “두” grows larger, indicating that it is approaching, but the same-sized sounds in the translation seem to be equally loud without the effect of directionality. In the next example in Figure 27, a repeated sound “덩,” smaller at the bottom of the original panel, suggests a varying volume of the drums, thus creating an effect of beating of the drums. However, in the translation, three equally-sized “BOM” sounds appear. Finally, as shown in the last example in Figure 28, the sound of the door sliding open “스륵” uses different sizes of blocks, and the second block in the following panel is much larger, a visual cue suggesting the change in the atmosphere and tension caused by the drunken father’s sudden arrival. While the sound is extended in two panels with letters getting slightly bigger in the French version, it is located in one panel in the English version with all letters of the same size and, seemingly equal weight.

Fig. 25a, 25b: Panels from Jun

Fig. 26a, 26b: Panels from Jun

Fig. 27a, 27b: Panels from Jun

Fig. 28a, 28b, 28c: Panels from Umma’s Table

As demonstrated in the following examples, sound effects in the translations were often expressed in different sizes when no size change existed in the original, particularly more often in the English versions in which such changes were found in 23 panels compared with 2 in the French versions. For example, as shown in Figure 29, “SKREEE” became larger, with the final “E” much larger; “VROOOOM” became slightly larger and had a different size from “VROOM” at the top, adding the effect of directionality and distance. Moreover, repeated sound effects were rendered in different sizes in the English translations, unlike in the original. For example, two sounds, “PAT” and “HEH,” were presented together with the one below written in a slightly smaller font size (Figure 30 and 31) and three “BURBLE” sounds above the boiling pot were presented in different sizes with the one in the middle slightly smaller (Figure 32). Such repeated sounds appearing in slightly different sizes can give readers a less monotonous impression.


Fig. 29a, 29b: Panels from Uncomfortably Happily

Fig. 30a, 30b, 30c: Panels from Umma’s Table

Fig. 31a, 31b, 31c: Panels from Grass

Fig. 32a, 32b, 32c: Panels from Umma’s Table

4.4 Deletion

Fig. 33: Panels with deleted sound effects

Deletions were found in six out of seven translations, both in the English and French versions, meaning that most translated texts contained some deleted sounds. Surprisingly, however, Le Goût Du Kimchi had deletions in 98 panels, a very large number, compared with the same original’s English translation (10 panels) or other French translations (three or four panels). In this text, a wide range of sounds — including those generated by animate objects and characters, such as a dog or a baby, as well as those generated by inanimate objects or describing states of being — were deleted. In this regard, why so many sound effects were deleted in Le Goût Du Kimchi necessitates a further investigation.

Deletions in 18 panels stem from omitting part of the sounds that were repeated within the same or the following panels. Such examples are provided below. In the original, “왈왈” was located both above and below the father; however, the sounds below, around his hands, were deleted in the French translation (see Figure 34). As shown in Figure 35, the train-rattling sound repeatedly appeared in the scenes of the kidnapped girls on a train; the repetitive sounds presented in the five panels act as a visual cue for the background. In the French translation, however, the sound in the first panel was deleted. Similarly, the sound of clacking made by the autistic child, which was repeated in several panels in the original, indicative of the child’s presence and behaviour, was deleted in one of the panels in the French version (Figure 36).

Fig. 34a, 34b, 34c: Panels from Umma’s Table

Fig. 35a, 35b, 35c: Panels from Grass

Fig. 36a, 36b: Panels from Jun

The sounds may have been deleted because such repetitive sounds seem redundant or unnecessary. However, a more cautious approach is needed when deleting sound effects providing narrative information. For example, as shown in Figure 37, “냠,” located above the brother’s head, was deleted in the English version, but the sound is suggestive of the brother eating something inedible, which is why he cries out abruptly in the next panel. Deletion of the soup-making sound “보글보글” in Le Goût Du Kimchi is another example of deleting a visual cue suggestive of important narrative information (see Figure 38). It is symbolic of the mother cooking a stew for her son, which is why the scene of the mother’s death in the hospital is immediately followed by the scene of the stew boiling with the sound repeatedly popping up in the consecutive panels. The deletion of an evocative sound, which served as a visual cue to give the reader a hint of the son missing his mother, makes it difficult for the readers to understand the meaning behind the scene in the kitchen after the mother’s death and the emotions of the character.

Fig. 37a, 37b, 37c: Panels from Grass

Fig. 38a, 38b, 38c: Panels from Umma’s Table

4.5 Untouched sounds  

Fig. 39: Panels with untouched sound effects

Sound effects of Hangul letters outside speech balloons were found untouched in four translations. The French versions had more untouched sounds in six panels for Jun and 12 panels for Le Goût Du Kimchi. Interestingly, Le Goût Du Kimchi — the book with a surprisingly large number of deletions — also had the largest number of untouched sounds (See Figure 39). This is largely because the original sound effects remained undeleted in 10 panels along with the translations placed nearby, as shown in the example of Figure 40, although the method of placing subtitles was not used throughout this book. Moreover, a part of the sound effect was left undeleted even though the sounds were translated. For example, “륵” of “드르륵,” translated as “DRAAAG,” remained in the picture (Figure 41). Similarly, the rain sounds were translated but one of the sounds (“툭”) was not deleted (Figure 42).  

Fig. 40: Panel from Umma’s Table

Fig. 41: Panel from Grass

Fig. 42: Panel from Umma’s Table

Finally, in Uncomfortably Happily, four sounds were left untranslated and untouched — all of them written in a very small font, raising doubt that they went unnoticed. For example, the sound “헥헥” was not translated and remained in the picture (see Figure 43). In Jun, various sound effects deeply integrated into the drawing were left untouched as a part of the picture in the panel. As demonstrated in Figure 44, sounds of singing Pansori (“아”) and monsters’ noises (“쿵쿵” and “크르르”) remained untranslated in the background, and were treated as part of the illustration.

Fig. 43: Panel from Uncomfortably Happily

Fig. 44a, 44b: Panels from Jun

5. Concluding remarks  

This study investigated the visual changes of translated sound effects outside speech balloons, based on the English and French translations of Korean graphic novels, with a particular focus on changes in location, vertical position, and size, along with the deleted and untouched sounds. The results of the analysis revealed a variety of changes in the visual qualities of sound effects in translated comics. The sounds originally scattered in the panel were sometimes combined, thus creating a more noticeable visual element. Sounds were relocated to fit the picture smoothly and moved closer to the source. Sounds positioned vertically were often rearranged horizontally and some sounds were made smaller in the translations or did not reflect the changes in the size of the original sound effects. Deleted and untouched sounds were also found when some of the repetitive sounds were deleted, or when a translated sound remained undeleted and sounds integrated into the drawing remained untouched, treated as part of the illustration.

The significance of this study lies in drawing attention to translated sound effects as visual elements by shedding light on varying instances of visual changes in English and French translations of Korean graphic novels. While the translation of sound effects in comics has mostly been explored from a linguistic perspective, the findings from this study underscore the need to delve further into the visual changes in sound effects in the context of comic translation. The current study, however, has limitations, because only a restricted range of visual aspects were observed based on small data; thus, an investigation into a wider range of changes is required to identify other meaningful patterns of changes.  

It is also worth noting that the English translations in this study were, in general, more actively involved in relocating sounds, keeping vertical positions, and adding size changes, with fewer deleted and untouched sounds, while the French translations seemed reluctant to relocate them, and exhibited more horizontal rearrangement. In particular, one of the French translations featured a disturbingly large number of deletions, along with partially-undeleted original sound effects. As such, it can be said that the English translations tend to be marked by more choices for interesting changes in the location and size of sound effects, while minimizing deleted and untouched sounds and maintaining more of the original’s top-to-bottom allocation, in contrast with French translations. When considering the possible causes of this, the role of the publisher Drawn & Quarterly, specializing in comics, deserves attention, given that all the English translations of the Korean graphic novels are released by a single publisher, unlike the French counterparts. As for the English translations, there is sound effect lettering copyright, and those responsible for the sound effect lettering are comic artists themselves, who are believed to understand the function of sound effects as a visual element and respect the authors’ style and intention. What are the exact reasons behind the creative interventions coupled with faithful renditions of the original sounds partly manifested in the English translations? This question is beyond the scope of the current study as extra-textual investigation is needed to understand the underlying causes of the visual transformations in the translated comics in question.

Another point demonstrated in this study is that, although there were engaging and creative changes that improved the interplay with the image, there were also irrelevant and problematic changes that made it difficult for translated sound effects to function as adequate visual cues for readers. There are many possible reasons for this, such as insufficient cooperation between a letterer and translator, disregard of the visual representation of translated sound effects, the financial issue faced by publishers, the absence of a letterer with “a keen eye for the aesthetics based on two different linguistic cultures” (Érico 2015: 266), or the lack of established lettering guidelines. Naturally, much work needs to be done to clarify the root of the problem, but translated sounds failing as visual cues, as illustrated in this study, call attention to the factors responsible for such changes in translated comics, with a view to making these comics better resonate with readers.


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[1] The author and publisher gratefully acknowledge the permission granted to reproduce the copyright material in this article.
Fig. 2a, 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 10a, 10b, 11a, 11b, 12a, 12b, 14a, 14b, 16a, 16b, 17a, 17b, 20a, 20b, 24a, 24b, 25a, 25b, 26a, 26b, 27a, 27b, 31a, 31b, 35a, 35b, 36a, 36b, 37a, 37b, 41, 44a, 44b: @ Keum Suk Gendry-Kim. Used with permission from the author.
Fig. 5a, 6a, 7a, 8a, 9a, 15a, 18a, 19a, 21a, 23a, 28a, 29a, 30a, 32a, 34a, 38a: @ Yeon-sik Hong. Used with permission from the author.
Fig. 2b: From The Waiting. @ Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, translation copyright Janet Hong. Used with permission from Drawn & Quarterly.
Fig. 3c, 4c, 10c, 11c, 14c, 16c, 17c, 20c, 24c, 31c, 35c, 37c, 41: From Grass. @ Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, translation copyright Janet Hong. Used with permission from Drawn & Quarterly.
Fig. 5b, 7b, 9b, 18b, 19b, 21b, 29b, 43: From Uncomfortably Happily. @ Yeon-sik Hong, translation copyright Hellen Jo. Used with permission from Drawn & Quarterly.
Fig. 6b, 8b, 15b, 23b, 28b, 30b, 32b, 34b, 38b, 40, 42: Le goût du Kimchi, by Yeon-Sik Hong @ Sarbacane, 2017.
Fig. 6c, 8c, 15c, 23c, 28c, 30c, 32c, 34c, 38c: From Umma's Table. @ Yeon-sik Hong, translation copyright Janet Hong. Used with permission from Drawn & Quarterly.

[2] All examples derive from the graphic novels that are the subject of this study.

[3] The number indicates the number of panels, as several sound effects can be drawn within a single panel.

[4] The panels are displayed in the order of the original followed by the French and the English versions.

About the author(s)

Jagyeong Kim is a lecturer at the Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation of Ewha Womans University in Korea. She received her Ph.D. from the same university in 2020. Her research interests include translator studies, translation process and multimodality.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Jagyeong Kim (2023).
"Changes in the Visual Qualities of Translated Sound Effects Outside Speech Balloons: Focusing on Korean Graphic Novels Translated into English and French"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Reimagining Comics - The Translation and Localization of Visual Narratives
Edited by: Michał Borodo
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: https://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2634

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