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

From a Nineteenth-Century Classic to a Modern Graphic Novel:

Batman Noël as a Multi-level Translation Practice

By Naciye Saglam (Firat University, Turkey)


As a nineteenth-century classic, A Christmas Carol achieved instant success when published in 1843, paving the way for countless remakes of the story worldwide being produced in movie, theatre, opera, ballet, graphic novel, comic strip, parody and video game formats to this day. The graphic novel Batman Noël, published in 2011, which takes the Christmas story into the fictional city of Gotham, is one of these remakes. The work is at once an intersemiotic translation of the classic into a graphic novel while also being an adaptation of the story into the Batman universe. Lee Bermejo, the creator of Batman Noël, maintains faithfulness to the nineteenth-century classic with respect to the main idea, characters and language, but also creates a double meaning regarding the main character and transforms the message of the story by combining the verbal and the visual. In addition, Batman Noël , this time as a source text, and its translation into Turkish published under the same title (2016) reveal another fruitful area of investigation. In this interlingual and multimodal translation, while the elements such as icons, font size, and book cover are closely recreated, inconsistencies concerning so called “linguistic paratexts” (Celotti 2008) raise the question of agency. This study thus aims to explore what happened when A Christmas Carol was first transformed into the graphic novel Batman Noël and then translated from English into Turkish. The former is the process of intersemiotic translation and adaptation of the story – hence a semiotransadaptation (Chesterman 2018), whereas the latter is the process of multimodal and interlingual translation of the graphic novel.

Keywords: Batman Noël, A Christmas Carol, intersemiotic translation, interlingual translation, graphic novel

©inTRAlinea & Naciye Saglam (2023).
"From a Nineteenth-Century Classic to a Modern Graphic Novel: Batman Noël as a Multi-level Translation Practice"
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/2628

1. Introduction

Translation studies has come a long way from linguistic theories to how translation is understood today. With regard to the types of translation, Roman Jakobson’s tripartite classification has been regarded as a milestone. In his seminal paper “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation”, Jakobson (1959: 233) put forward three ways for the interpretation of a verbal sign: translating a verbal sign into other signs of the same language, that is intralingual translation; translating a verbal sign into another language, that is interlingual translation; and translating a verbal sign into non-verbal sign systems, that is intersemiotic translation. Until recently, translation studies has prioritized interlingual translation, in alignment with Jakobson’s naming of such as ‘translation proper’. However, attempts of later scholars in rethinking Jakobson’s threefold taxonomy are important in showing that “Jakobson’s tripartition is not sufficient for discerning the cultural variety of translation processes, although it has provided its conceptual basis” (Torop 2008: 256).

In his 1986 paper, Gideon Toury criticizes Jakobson’s classification as being limited to the linguistic level. For him, signs may pass through different semiotic borders in the process of translation. Thus rethinking Jakobson’s classification, he notes the first distinction between intra-semiotic translation and inter-semiotic translation (Toury 1986: 1114), with the former referring to the translation practice happening within a semiotic system and the latter translation between different semiotic systems. Similarly, Umberto Eco (2001: 73) sets forth a typology of thirteen subcategories falling under three main categories. He gives the example of an adaptation of a novel into a comic-strip under the subclass of his third category, that is, intersystemic interpretation with mutation of continuum (Eco 2001: 118). Such attempts laid the groundwork for the inclusion of translation on the linguistic level and between non-linguistic semiotic systems. Today, the definition of a text itself does not have to be limited to written or linguistic material: a drama performance, a sculpture or a song can also be treated as texts. This understanding stretches the notion of translation accordingly as well as our understanding of the practices in which many forms of texts transformed into other forms of texts are recognized as intersemiotic translation and studied from different interdisciplinary perspectives.

With this viewpoint in mind, this study examines translation practice at two levels. The first level concerns the graphic novel Batman Noël (Bermejo 2011a) published by the renowned American comics publisher DC Comics. Similar to a palimpsest, Batman Noël has been re-written onto the story of A Christmas Carol in the adaptation process, while at the same time the linguistic elements are translated into visual components as intersemiosis. This first level is crucial in showing the convergence of adaptation, semiotics and translation; therefore, the term semiotransadaptation proposed by Andrew Chesterman (2018) seems ideal for this kind of practice as it embraces the three disciplinary categories. In addition, the Turkish-language graphic novel Batman Noël (Bermejo 2016), translated by İlke Keskin and published by JBC Yayıncılık as an interlingual and multimodal translation, constitutes the second level of the examination. This network of interrelated texts also demonstrates that the concepts of source and target are not fixed but rather depend on the perspective of the viewer.

2. Intersemiotic translation and adaptation: semiotransadaptation

Translation studies, as an interdisciplinary field, is the site of convergence of various disciplinary perspectives. Alternatively, it may also be claimed that several disciplines or sub-disciplines share a common ground and investigate the same types of cultural products only from different angles. In her 2019 article, Vasso Giannakopoulou highlights the intersection of three disciplines:

This area can and has been investigated by at least three rather distinct fields of academic inquiry, namely Adaptation Studies, Translation Studies, and Semiotics, which nevertheless have had minimal contact among them up to quite recently and even less so on the topic of intersemiotic translation (Giannakopoulou 2019: 200).

The conceptualization of translation practice depends on “research focuses, academic traditions and institutional agreements” as noted by Chesterman (2018: 27). With this in mind, the transformation of a literary classic into a graphic novel can be seen as an instance of intersemiotic translation. Alternatively, it may be viewed as an example of adaptation, as it involves adjusting the text for new purposes and audiences.

In response to the overlap but also lack of cooperation between the three related disciplines, Giannakopoulou (2019: 202) proposes intersemiotic translation as a bridge concept, suggesting that interdisciplinary studies are essential and can be carried out without prioritizing any of the disciplines. Although intersemiotic translation was first introduced by Jakobson for the translation of verbal signs into non-verbal signs, translation studies now offers a broader perspective on the concept of intersemiotic translation. The starting point for this approach is that all signs carry meaning and are thus as translatable as verbal signs (Kourdis, 2020: 80). Taking this understanding a step further, Nadine Celotti (2008: 111) prefers to use the term visual sign to stress its autonomy instead of defining it as the negative of the verbal sign.

While Giannakopoulou sees intersemiotic translation as a bridge concept, Evangelos Kourdis and Pirjo Kukkonen (2015: 7) suggest the concept of multimodality to link translation studies, semiotics and adaptation. The multimodal approach takes its point of departure from the idea that “meaning is not only communicated by language but also many other modes” (Borodo 2015: 23). The precursors of the multimodal approach, Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen (2001: 21), defined modes as “semiotic resources which allow the simultaneous realisation of discourses and types of (inter)action.” Under these circumstances, modes such as image, music or color should be treated as possessing equal meaning making potential rather than “as merely an embellishment or illustration of the textual” (Borodo 2015: 23).

With regard to translated comics, the pioneer of the multimodal perspective was Klaus Kaindl (1999). For him, the elements to be studied in the translation of comics are “on the linguistic, typographic, and pictorial levels” which necessitate investigating “both verbal and nonverbal textual material” (Kaindl 1999: 263). Michal Borodo also suggests applying the multimodal approach to translated comics, as he believes multimodality shows “how the relationship between the verbal and the visual modes may be exploited in the translation process” (Borodo 2015: 22). As Borodo notes, this sphere of translation studies is still “largely unexplored” (ibid.: 40) and needs further attention. Accordingly, this article aims to address this gap in the following sections.

Another point that needs addressing is that in intersemiotic translation the standard should not be equivalence but similarity. While in the search for equivalence the focus is on sameness, the notion of similarity opens ways to different interpretations without losing the connection with the source text. Accordingly, this study will seek “the semiotic notion of similarity in the information load” (Kourdis 2020: 83) rather than attempting to pursue equivalence.

As the subject of research of both translation studies and adaptation studies the concept of adaptation has been defined in different ways. In translation studies, adaptation may be understood, for instance, as the most target-oriented strategy of the seven procedures by Jean Paul Vinay and Jean Darbelnet (1995). Julie Sanders (2006: 19), on the other hand, defines adaptation as making “texts ‘relevant’ or easily comprehensible to new audiences and readerships via the processes of proximation and updating.” Indeed, the root of the word, “to adapt”, suggests the adjustment of a source text to new circumstances, flexibility and suitability in the new context. Adaptation can be considered translation with emancipation in the sense that there may be changes, omissions or additions, but the existence of the author of the original is still significant. In our case, Batman Noël may not be at first sight regarded as an adaptation, unless its relation to A Christmas Carol as its source text is noticed.

Some scholars have stressed the distinction between adaptation and translation, though agreeing on their interrelation (e.g. Raw 2012), while others have claimed that the two terms refer to a similar phenomenon. Chesterman (2018: 273), for instance, asserts that “all translation is adaptation—in the sense of adapting a message to another audience” and similarly Eco (2001: 125) claims that “many adaptations are translations in the sense that they isolate one of the levels of the source text, and it is this level that the adapter wishes to render in another continuum”. Katja Krebs also stresses the similarities as follows:

Both translation and adaptation—as (creative) process, as product or artefact, and as academic discipline—are interdisciplinary by their very nature; both discuss phenomena of constructing cultures through acts of rewriting, and both are concerned with the collaborative nature of such acts and the subsequent critique of notions of authorship (Krebs 2014: 3).

Scholars pointing to overlaps between adaptation and translation, or translation and semiotics, have also proposed different labels. Yves Gambier, for example, introduces the term transadaptation for translation between all types of multimedia, while Dinda Gorlée (1994) and Ritva Hartama-Heinonen (2008) elaborate on the concept of semiotranslation. Chesterman suggests bringing together not just two but all three disciplinary categories, questioning the validity of adhering to the boundaries:

Within each of these categories, people have perceived enough similarity to warrant the formation of the concept in question, although within each category there is plenty of room for variation. Our three disciplinary categories all appear to be fuzzy ones. (Chesterman 2018: 272)

Chesterman believes that there is no essentialist line between translation, intersemiotic transfer and adaptation and observes “enough similarity for them to be placed in the same shared category” (ibid.). Therefore, pointing to this overlap, Chesterman suggests the term semiotransadaptation to “cover all three disciplinary categories” (ibid.: 274). The present paper adopts this very term as it offers an all-embracing approach that refers to the three related disciplines and because it covers the practices of intersemiosis, translation and adaptation. The semiotransadaptation of A Christmas Carol into the graphic novel Batman Noël, which will be discussed below, proves that these practices may be closely related to one another.

3. A Christmas Carol

Written by Charles Dickens and published in 1843, A Christmas Carol is the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, who is known for his miserly and nervous temperament. After hurting the feelings of warmhearted people on Christmas Eve, he returns home alone and the ghost of his dead partner Marley visits him in chains, announcing that three spirits will arrive to warn him. The first spirit, The Ghost of Christmas Past, is a childlike phantom who takes Scrooge back in time to his childhood Christmases. There, he sees himself alone in his room while others are at home celebrating the holiday. Moving forward in time, he is startled to observe young apprentice Scrooge being treated with warm generosity by his kind employer. Then, he sees his ex-fiancée breaking up with him because of his obsession with money. The second apparition, The Ghost of Christmas Present, a huge spirit with a green robe, shows Scrooge the present Christmas celebrations of his nephew, whose invitation Scrooge rejected, and his employee’s family, the Cratchits, celebrating Christmas despite their poverty. The third spirit, The Ghost of the Christmas Yet to Come, is a dark, hooded figure who shows Scrooge his future death. The dark phantom shows him the death of an unnamed person who he learns is himself. After these ghostly experiences, Scrooge decides to change his fate by becoming a humane and affectionate person. He wakes up as a different man. He sends an anonymous gift to the Cratchits, attends his nephew’s celebration, and donates money to charity. The story revolves around the themes of good and evil and the transformation of a character, with the use of evangelical motives. The book achieved instant success upon its publication in 1843 and its remakes, sequels, and adaptations are still being produced worldwide. Among them there have been public readings, audio productions, animated versions, podcasts, theatre, film and television adaptations, opera, ballet, graphic novel and video game versions.

4. Semiotransadaptation: from London to Gotham, from linguistic to visual modes

The semiotransadaptation of A Christmas Carol into Batman Noël can be analyzed with a focus on three categories: characters, storyline, and language, which are sometimes interwoven. With regard to the characters, in some cases the original names have been assigned to characters, whereas others have been adopted from the Batman universe. Table 1 below shows the character correspondences in the semiotransadaptation.

A Christmas Carol

Batman Noël


Scrooge/Bruce/Master Wayne

Bob Crachit

Bob Crachit

Tim Crachit

Tim Crachit



Ghost of the Christmas Past


Ghost of the Christmas Present


Ghost of the Christmas Yet to Come

Joker or is there a third visitor?

Table 1: Character correspondences in the semiotransadaptation of A Christmas Carol into Batman Noël

The name Scrooge is used for the main character of Batman whereas the name Batman itself is hardly mentioned in Batman Noël. This use of the name underlines the connection between the source and target texts. The use of the names Bob Crachit who works for Scrooge and his son Tim Crachit with a bum leg strengthens this connection. Then, the original ghosts are replaced with the figures of other DC superheroes. Similar to the vision of Marley who is Scrooge’s deceased partner in the source text, Robin is portrayed as the vision in the target text since he is also Batman’s lost best friend. The Ghost of Christmas Past is represented by Catwoman, a figure from Batman’s past, and the Ghost of Christmas Present is depicted as Superman, a contemporary figure for Batman. Finally, although the existence of the Ghost of the Christmas Yet to Come is uncertain, Joker is portrayed as the third ghost.

Concerning the storyline, in A Christmas Carol the story begins with a third person narration about Marley and Scrooge while Batman Noël starts with a meta-level third-person narration, with the narrator stating that he will be telling a story his father told him on Christmas. In addition, the phrase “with respect to Charles Dickens” at the beginning of the book indicates that the story will probably be a retelling of A Christmas Carol.

In the source text, the story begins with Scrooge hurting the feelings of his clerk Bob Crachit, his nephew and the people asking for charity donations. In the Batman story too, Bob Crachit, who has no other choice than working for Scrooge, is introduced. At this point, intersemiotic translation plays a crucial role in re-creating/transforming the core character/s of the story with the use of visual modes. While adapting the story, an ambiguity was created regarding the character of Scrooge. As Borodo (2015: 23) asserts:

[i]n a comic book, the visual mode plays the primary role and the verbal mode has a subordinate and complementary role to play, but these two modes constantly interact, at times overlapping in what they communicate and sometimes diverting from each other in the meanings they express. (italics mine)

Figure 1: Joker’s letter to Bob in Batman Noël[1]
© DC Comics

As can be seen in Figure 1, Bob is pictured with Joker’s letter, with the visual mode implying he works for Joker. A page later, the verbal mode informs the reader that Bob is working for Scrooge. Obeying what was written in the letter sent by his employer, Bob takes the bag. On the way, Batman catches Bob trying to learn where Joker is, but Bob asserts that his boss communicates only through notes. Batman decides to leave the bag with money to Bob so that Joker could come and Batman can catch him. Here, while Joker is Bob’s implied boss based on visuals, it is Batman pictured and named as Scrooge in the following pages. This complexity created with the interplay between visual and verbal modes may only be unraveled at the end of the story.

Figure 2: Scrooge/Batman pictured in his cave in Batman Noël
© DC Comics

As can be seen in Figure 2, we then turn to the cave where Bruce/Batman, pictured visually and referred to verbally as Scrooge, lives. The depiction of Batman as Scrooge is a deliberate choice of the adapter. In Bermejo’s words:

Batman has gone through so many different iterations throughout the years where the character of Scrooge is extremely well defined and unbending. The interesting comparison between the two for me was more how these changes Batman has undergone over the years in the cultural consciousness reflect the changes Scrooge underwent in his life (Bermejo 2011b).

Bermejo draws a parallel not only between the characters of Batman and Scrooge but also in relation to the setting and the sequence of events. Similar to Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Batman/Scrooge lives in a place as dark, “dingy, dim and empty … as his heart” (Bermejo 2011a: 35). As in the Christmas story, a vision arrives to warn Scrooge/Batman. Similar to the ghost of Marley in the source text, the character of Robin is introduced as the vision to warn Scrooge. Marley and Scrooge are “two kindred spirits” (Dickens 1905: 7) in A Christmas Carol, and a similar relationship can be observed between Robin and Batman in Batman Noël, since the two are known as the “Caped Crusaders” or “the Dynamic Duo”.

Regarding the first spirit, The Ghost of the Past, in the source text, Marley tells Scrooge to “expect the first tomorrow, when the bell tolls One” (Dickens 1905: 26), and in Batman Noël we learn through the visuals that Catwoman as the ghost of past has arrived when the bell strikes one. The reason why the ghost of the past is translated into the figure of Selina the Catwoman might be explained with the complicated love-hate relationship between Catwoman and Batman. In addition, Catwoman is a figure from Batman’s past having childlike characteristics and playing a game with him which draws a parallel with the source text. The Catwoman brings “a rush of emotions he had long since forgotten” (Bermejo 2011a: 50) and Batman is surprised to see himself young again. Figure 3 below exemplifies this part of semiotransadaptation.

Figure 3: Semiotransadaptation of Scroooge’s past in Batman Noël
© DC Comics

In the above example, the transformation of Scrooge’s past into Batman’s past and of the Ghost of Christmas Past into Catwoman constitutes adaptation, whereas the replacement of the verbal mode with the visual mode represents intersemiotic translation. Since these aspects are recreated simultaneously, the use of the term semiotransadaptation seems fitting. Through the combination of colors, depiction of the characters from the past, background drawings, speech balloons, and textual material, a similar meaning is re-created, taking the reader into Batman’s past.

Regarding the description of the second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, in A Christmas Carol Dickens draws a clear picture in the reader’s mind:

… there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see… It was clothed in one simple deep green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur... its capacious breast was bare… set here and there with shining icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and free; free as its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanor, and its joyful air. (Dickens 1905: 55; italics mine)

The striking features of the spirit in the source text are sparkling eyes, cheery voice and joyfulness. As can be seen in Figure 4, the semiotransadaptation of the Ghost of Christmas Present into Superman – which is expressed through visuals – exemplifies the intersecting dynamics of adaptation and intersemiotic translation. In this semiotransadaptation, the original character has been replaced with Superman with sparkling eyes and red robe at the adaptation stage, while the shift to the visual mode necessitated intersemiotic translation.

Figure 4: Adaptation and intersemiotic translation of the Ghost of Christmas Present into Superman in Batman Noël
© DC Comics

The semiotransadaptation of the Ghost of Christmas Present into Superman specifies the similarities between the two characters: beside physical resemblance, both bring hope, showing Scrooge the Christmas that is being celebrated.

As Superman leaves, a sudden explosion breaks out. While in the visuals Joker is dragging Batman to a grave, in the verbal mode the narrator observes that he realized that there is no third visitor. At this point, the contradiction between verbal and visual modes in the semiotransadaptation opens the way for multiple meanings. On the next page, the reader sees the chaos that may ensue if Batman dies and learns that no one will mourn for him after he dies, the fate Scrooge is warned of in the source text. Just as Scrooge wakes up changed, Batman rises from the grave as a different man. As Scrooge becomes a good-hearted person in the source text, in the adaptation Batman’s efforts to become a better man can also be observed: he prevents Bob from killing Joker, reminding Bob that he is not a criminal, and pays his debt to Bob, giving him a salary raise and his benefits.

The Ghost of the Christmas Yet to Come in A Christmas Carol is a silent phantom wearing a black attire, covering almost all parts of the body, while in the Batman story the third visitor is Joker. However, one detail brings an answer to the ambiguity first aroused regarding the identity of Scrooge in the graphic novel. While at the beginning it is implied through the visual mode that Joker is Bob’s boss, and thus Scrooge, at the end of the story, suspecting that there may not be a third visitor, one may come to the conclusion that Batman and Joker – in other words, good and evil – may be two sides of the same person. Here the text recontexualizes the source idea through positioning two characters in the place of Scrooge: Batman and Joker. Therefore, the main idea that “people can change” is still prevalent, carried onto a meta-level and posing the question whether both good and evil may represent dark and bright sides of a person. While Scrooge is portrayed as a character with unappreciated values and the story revolves around his journey to be a better person in A Christmas Carol, in the target text two characters with opposing features are presented: Joker standing for crime and Batman trying to protect Gotham from crime. Although Batman might be a frightening figure, his duty is to protect Gotham, while Joker represents the evil side of human nature. It can be claimed that the combination of these two characters gives life to the spirit of Scrooge and encourages a rethinking of the binary opposition between good and evil. These new meanings which can be inferred from the graphic novel may be explained with the freedom that adaptation permits to the adapter. As Bermejo stresses, he didn’t want to produce a faithful version so that “it's up for interpretation a bit more and you can condense and expand on elements as you see fit” (Bermejo 2011b).

Concerning language, although both texts open with third-person narration, the more colloquial language in Batman Noël serves the meta-narrative function of telling the story of the story. Bermejo indicates the motive behind his meta-narrative adaptation: “… you're never going to write as good as Dickens, so why try? I thought it would be more interesting to have a narrator with a very specific voice telling you the tale almost as if it was a bedtime story” (Bermejo 2011b). Being aware of Dicken’s perfection in language, adding a meta-narrative strategy was in line with the idea of re-creating by not breaking the bonds with the source text. Additionally, certain key words (e.g. vision, sparkling eyes or surplus population) and descriptions have been recreated on the linguistic and intersemiotic levels, also indicating parallels between the two texts. One striking example is the place where Scrooge lives. In the source text, the description of Scrooge’s house is as follows:

It was old enough now, and dreary enough; for nobody lived in it but Scrooge, the other rooms being all let out as offices. The yard was so dark that even Scrooge, who knew its every stone, was fain to grope with his hands. The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold (Dickens 1905: 13).

Dickens’ descriptions are reflected in the graphic novel since Batman lives in a cave-like place, as can be seen in Figure 2 above. The place is dark, “dingy, dim and empty … as his heart” (Bermejo 2011a: 35), with the visual mode enhancing this similarity. In this example, the description of the place is recreated with verbal and visual modes, being a case of semiotransadaptation where different practices are interwoven. 

Another such example is the representation of London as Gotham. The Christmas story takes place in London, while the setting in Batman Noël is the city of Gotham, which is depicted as having visual similarities with London. The depiction of the atmosphere is as follows in A Christmas Carol:

It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: .... but it was quite dark already—it had not been light all day—and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that, although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms (Dickens 1905: 7).

The similarities between the descriptions of London and Gotham are only perceptible via intersemiotic translation with linguistic descriptions recreated through the visual mode, as can be seen in Figure 5.

Figure 5: The representation of the city of Gotham in Batman Noël
© DC Comics

In the picture, one can visualize the cold, foggy, dimly lit Gotham both as a place resembling London and as a setting for the Batman story. As Bermjero observed in an interview: “I think Gotham lends itself to a very Victorian scenery, but honestly I just tried to infuse how I generally approach the city with a bit more atmosphere and scope” (Bermejo 2011b).   

Regarding the semiotransadaptation of A Christmas Carol into Batman Noël, in line with what Kourdis (2020: 80) asserted, rather than seeking equivalence, a stress has been put on “the notion of similarity in the information load”. Within this context, the target text can be perceived as mirroring the source text in the semiotransadaptation process. In this mirroring, some elements may be recreated, some may be modified or reversed, and some elements, such as the evangelical motives or women, omitted.

5. Interlingual and multimodal translation: Batman Noël in English and Turkish

Batman Noël as the semiotransadaptation of A Christmas Carol became the basis for interlingual translation, as in 2016 the graphic novel was translated into Turkish and published under the same title by JBC Yayıncılık. Below, we will examine this translation with a focus on linguistic and multimodal issues.

According to Kaindl (1999: 263), three types of elements can be distinguished in comics of relevance in the context of translation. The first category is linguistic, including “text[s] in speech bubbles, narrative texts, onomatopoeia and captions”; the second is typographic, including “typeface and type size”; and the last includes pictographic elements, including “speedlines, ideograms, … and pictorial representations of persons, objects and situations” (Kaindl 2004: 173). In the translation of Batman Noël into Turkish, typographic and pictographic elements have been preserved in the target text.


Figure 6: Translation of the typographic and pictographic elements
© DC Comics

As can be seen in Figure 6, the typefaces and type sizes as well as the use of bold, italic, lower and upper cases have been preserved in the target text.

Linguistic material needs to be problematized further, however, as it is integrated with visual material. Borodo claims that the verbal-visual channel in Gottlieb’s classification can be analyzed under four sub-categories, that is:

a) dialogues appearing in speech balloons, b) commentaries and narrative passages appearing as part of or above/below comic panels, c) instances of written text in the form of names of shops, newspaper titles, signposts, etc., and d) a variety of onomatopoeic expressions (thump, whizz, zzz... etc.) (Borodo 2016: 70).

Similarly, Celotti (2008: 108) also identifies verbal signs outside balloons and inside drawings, such as “inscriptions, road signs, newspapers, onomatopoeia” referring to them as “linguistic paratexts”, which may be regarded as parallel to the last two categories suggested by Borodo. In this paper, the categorization by Borodo (2016) will be used in the following analysis. Additionally, we will consider Valerio Rota’s (2008: 209) claims that in the field of comics two main translation (or, better, adaptation) strategies may be adopted, that is domestication and foreignization (from Venuti 1995). While for the first two of the above categories, the foreignization strategy has been adopted, there appear to be certain inconsistencies in the remaining two categories.

The strategy of foreignization may be illustrated with the example from one of the Dialogues appearing in speech balloons presented in Figure 7. It may be exemplified with the borrowing of “eggnog” in the Turkish translation followed by a footnote at the bottom of the page explaining that it is a special drink served on Christmas.


Figure 7: An example of foreignization in the translation of dialogues in speech balloons
© DC Comics

As regards Commentaries and narrative passages appearing as part of or above/below comic panels the use of the word “Noël” may be considered. Preserving the expression “Noël” in the very title has a foreignizing effect on the Turkish reader for two reasons: firstly, Turkey is a Muslim country and Turkish readers generally do not celebrate Christmas, and secondly, the letter “ë” is not used in the Turkish alphabet.

Instances of written text in the form of names of shops, newspaper titles, signposts, etc. have been translated into Turkish inconsistently using both foreignizing and domesticating strategies. As can be seen in Figure 8 below, the newspaper and the letter by Joker have been translated into Turkish although they are embedded in pictures and thus require graphic changes and additional financial expenses.



Figure 8: Interlingual and multimodal translation of the newspaper and the letter by Joker
© DC Comics

Furthermore, as can be seen in Figure 9 below, the date “April 17” on one of the gravestones has been translated as “nisan 17”, just as the phrase “loving memory of” on another gravestone, which has been translated into Turkish as “anısına”, although it may be noted that the same phrase has been left untranslated in the same picture.

Figure 9: Translation of cemetery inscriptions
© DC Comics

Another contradictory strategy may be observed in the translation of the names of shops. As can be seen in the Figure 8 above, the shop name “The Jack in the Box” has been left untranslated. In the Figure 10 below, on the other hand, one can notice a partial translation of the shop name “Kane’s Electronics”. While the possessive ‘s’ is retained in this “linguistic paratext”, the word electronic has been translated into Turkish, which results in a phrase which is neither Turkish nor English.


Figure 10: Translation of shop names into Turkish
© DC Comics

Such examples of inconsistent translation/non-translation within the same picture are prevalent in the book. It may be true that “intervening in the picture would involve greater expense and require a high standard of graphic skills” (Valero-Garcés 2008: 574). However, the above examples show that the publisher did not seek to avoid the economic cost and yet there seems to be no consistency in the adopted strategy.

A variety of onomatopoeic expressions is the last category in Borodo’s classification. Except for the onomatopoeia “kaff kaff” which is translated into Turkish as “öhö öhö”, all the onomatopoeic expressions embedded in the drawings are left untranslated; they include “wump”, “runch”, “ka-boom”, “weet weet”, “kerash”, “click”, “thud”, “shunk”, “whoosh”, “knock knock”, “aaarghhh” and “klunk”.  Figure 11 shows that while “kaff kaff” has been translated as “öhö öhö”, the expressions “thud” and “klunk” are left untranslated although both are embedded in drawings.



Figure 11: Translation of onomatopoeic expressions into Turkish
© DC Comics

The non-translation of such onomatopoeias as “runch” or “thud” may result in a loss of meaning as they are not opaque to the Turkish reader. Even if the reader may guess the meaning of the onomatopoeia, it may lead to confusion when a door is “knocked” on in English while Batman is uttering “öhö öhö” in Turkish.

In speech balloons, the expressions “kaff kaff”, “hey aww”, and “hehehe fifnkk” have been translated, while the expressions “huff” and “yarrgh” (which sound awkward and meaningless in Turkish) have been retained. In the case of “kaff kaff”, it can be inferred that the onomatopoetic expression is translated in both speech balloons and when embedded in pictures, which implies a high degree of consistency with reference to the same expression. However, if “the norm appears to be to translate only those onomatopoeic expressions that do not require excessive expenses” (Valero-Garcés 2008: 574), translating only some of the onomatopoetic expressions in the same format and leaving the rest untranslated arbitrarily still requires an explanation. 

In general, the inconsistencies throughout the text raise questions about what the reason for these arbitrary choices could be, who is responsible for the final version of the translation before publication and whether there is enough cooperation in the preparation of such “linguistic paratexts”. Is the translator involved or does s/he only translate the linguistic material in speech balloons and panels, and in that case who manages the translation of the “linguistic paratexts”? This may lead to further studies on the agents involved in comics translation. These other agents may include a translation editor, editorial coordinator, graphic designer, graphic editor, and editor. As the examples above indicate, this practice requires both visual and verbal considerations.

6. Conclusion

This article has focused on the multi-level translation practice, placing Batman Noël graphic novel at the center of examination. In the first stage, the graphic novel Batman Noël is the target text and a semiotransadaptation of A Christmas Carol, and in the second, this target text has become the source text for an interlingual and multimodal translation. Concerning the first stage, by combining the perspectives of adaptation studies and semiotics with translation studies, the study draws attention to the translation practice as a broader concept reaching beyond language. In the semiotransadaptation of A Christmas Carol into Batman Noël, the Christmas story has been adapted into the Batman story and re-expressed with parallel characters, keywords and storyline, while at the same time the verbal mode has been re-articulated with drawings and colors. In the translation of Batman Noël into Turkish, on the other hand, various typographic and pictographic elements have been generally preserved, while certain inconsistencies have been noticed in the treatment of “linguistic paratexts”. These inconsistencies raise the question of agency in the preparation of translations, which also include graphic transformations. By examining Batman Noël as a multi-level translation practice between different media, this study has aimed to shed light on the multidimensional nature of the process. Since practices such as semiotransadaptation do not only include the translation of linguistic material but multimodal transformations, traditional understandings of equivalence may not be applied here. Adopting an understanding favoring the notion of similarity rather than sameness is crucial in examining such practices.


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[1] Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders and to obtain their permission for the use of copyright material. The publisher apologizes for any errors or omissions and would be grateful if notified of any corrections that should be incorporated.

About the author(s)

Naciye Saglam is an assistant professor at the department of translation and interpreting at Firat University in Turkey. She translated two books by Luce Irigaray into Turkish: To Be Born and Sharing the Fire. Her research interests include literary translation, the sociology of translation, multimodality, and intersemiotic translation.

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©inTRAlinea & Naciye Saglam (2023).
"From a Nineteenth-Century Classic to a Modern Graphic Novel: Batman Noël as a Multi-level Translation Practice"
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/2628

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