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

The Translation and Transcreation of Adventure Comics

By Michał Borodo and Karl Wood (Kazimierz Wielki University, Poland)


The article focuses on the concept of transcreation, explaining how it may be fruitfully applied to the translation of comics to better understand its complexity. It first defines transcreation from the perspective of Translation Studies and then examines English translations of the popular European fantasy adventure comic book series Thorgal, using one of the most critically acclaimed titles in the series, The Archers, as illustrative material. The article demonstrates that the US translation clearly differs from the UK translation and the Franco-Belgian source text in textual, visual, cultural and ideological terms. We argue that, when viewed holistically, the departures from the original text and the overall non-literaliness of the US translation may be viewed as part of a larger, overarching strategy, namely transcreation.

Keywords: adventure comics, transcreation, translation, Thorgal, Franco-Belgian comics

©inTRAlinea & Michał Borodo and Karl Wood (2023).
"The Translation and Transcreation of Adventure Comics"
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/2632

1. Introduction

Rather than being perceived as a solely linguistic process or merely an instance of what is called ‘constrained translation’, the translation of comics is now explored in multiple and complex ways which pay more attention to the interplay between the verbal and the visual and treat comics as artefacts anchored in diverse graphic conventions and cultural traditions. This is largely thanks to the innovative work of scholars such as Klaus Kaindl and Federico Zanettin. In his ground-breaking edited volume Comics in Translation (2008), Zanettin presents a broad range of perspectives of a number of researchers and draws analogies between comics translation and localization. In a 2014 inTRAlinea article, he identifies a wide range of categories of “visual adaptation strategies”, illustrating them with a fascinating collection of examples of changes in publication format, colours, drawings, lettering, balloons, panels and page layout. As early as 1999, in his influential “Thump, Whizz, Poom: A Framework for the Study of Comics under Translation”, Kaindl laid the foundations for systematic analysis of translated comics, drawing attention to their socio-cultural environment as well as the composition of comics and its relevance for translation research. Focusing on comics as verbal-visual entities, he categorizes the signs in comics into three groups, that is, pictorial, typographical and linguistic, and identifies six strategies for translating these signs in comics, including 'repetitio', 'adiectio', 'detractio', 'transmutatio', 'substitutio' and 'deletio' (1999: 275). These perspectives have allowed for a more complete understanding of translated comics and served as an inspiration for other researchers. In this article, we wish to further explore the translation of comics from yet another perspective. The aim of the paper is to demonstrate that another useful concept for studying comic translations is that of transcreation.

The article will initially reflect on the notion of transcreation and then apply this perspective to English translations of Thorgal, a popular European fantasy adventure comic book series. First published in instalments in the Belgian Tintin magazine in the 1970s, the Thorgal series has become internationally known thanks to translations into multiple languages. This article aims to examine how it fared in the Anglophone world specifically using one of the most critically acclaimed titles in the series, The Archers, as illustrative material. The paper will look in particular at the US translation which diverges from the Franco-Belgian source text and from the UK translation in a number of ways, adding, deleting and modifying meanings as well as introducing changes in the visual. To the best of our knowledge, no other academic publication has to date focused on this American translation vis-à-vis the British and the Franco-Belgian texts. The article thus offers a fresh perspective on one of the most popular European adventure comics, paying attention to the theoretical concept of transcreation.

2. What is transcreation?

It is argued in this paper that translated comics may be deeply transformed and enriched with new meanings absent from their source texts through the creative practices falling under the rubric of transcreation, a term recently gaining more ground in Translation Studies. Rather than drawing attention to a lack of accuracy, transcreation underlines the creative and interventionist role of translators or other agents involved in textual transfer, who consciously abandon literalness seeking to appropriate, re-interpret and re-adjust the source text. In this sense, transcreation may be viewed as a textual practice at the intersection of translation, adaptation and original writing which aims to produce material that will resonate with the target audience. The term transcreation evolved from tradition in India where it was understood as “symbiotic intermingling of the original with the translation, of the tradition with the individual genius” (Bassnett and Trivedi 1999: 10). The application of the term to the field of translation may be tracked back to the poet, scholar and translator Purushottama Lal, who in the 1950s observed, in reference to his English translations of Sanskrit plays, that “faced with such a variety of material, the translator must edit, reconcile, and transmute; his job in many ways becomes largely a matter of transcreation” (as cited in Katan 2015: 11). Apart from the Indian translation tradition, the concept of transcreation played an important role in the Brazilian-Portuguese tradition. It was used by Haroldo de Campos with reference to the translation of poetry: “to transcreate is not to try to reproduce the original’s form understood as a sound poetry, but to appropriate the translator’s contemporaries’ best poetry, to use the local existing tradition” (as cited in Vieira 1999: 110). Drawing attention to the assimilative and interventionist role of the translator, the concept of transcreation is not restricted to poetry translation and the postcolonial context, however.

In Translation Studies, transcreation is applied in a variety of contexts, ranging from advertising through audiovisual translation and game localization to the translation of children’s literature. In the sphere of marketing and advertising it may be understood as a strategy which aims to introduce necessary modifications to ensure the success of a campaign in target markets while remaining true to the intent of the original creative campaign (Pedersen 2014: 58). It should thus present the original content and brand persuasively and add local meanings and cultural nuances in order to have the desired impact and be effective and relevant in the target context. This may involve producing catchy, captivating and entertaining content, often with the use alliteration, idioms and wordplay, to establish an emotional connection with the intended audience – “to intrigue them, entice them, persuade them, or even make them laugh” (Bowker 2023: 127-128, original italics). In a similar vein, as Joanna Dybiec-Gajer and Riitta Oittinen (2020: 3) point out in the context of translated children’s literature, transcreation is “concerned more with effect and emotions than meaning”, adding that “transcreation is not only about communicating effectively, but also affectively”. In the context of AVT, Serenella Zanotti (2014) points to the transcreational practices used in dubbing, which sometimes involve extensive changes and radical manipulation, and Elena Di Giovanni (2008) discusses the concept of transcreation (albeit in a very broad sense, closer to original production than translational reproduction) in reference to productions showing different representations of India broadcast in Italy. The concept of transcreation has also been applied to game localization to denote the transformative operations which aim to recreate the gameplay experience and appeal to new players in new settings (O’Hagan and Mangiron 2013: 199). As these two authors argue, some examples of game localization discussed in their book can be “represented as transcreation, which still expresses the concept of translation and yet gives way to the fresh avenue of the creation of a new entity” (ibid.).

What are some other important features of transcreation as well as the potential limitations and problems related to the application of this concept? First is all, it is difficult, if not impossible, to clearly distinguish between translation and transcreation. They may be positioned at different points of the continuum stretched between the poles of literal translation and original writing, but it is not possible to draw a clear-cut demarcation line between the two. Translation is creative reproductive activity while transcreation is also a creative reproductive activity leaning towards the pole of original creation, yet the extent and nature of the process will depend on a specific text, product, localized game or marketing campaign. Then, transcreation is often the result of teamwork and “a highly collaborative process” (Bowker 2023: 135), which may be the cause of potential difficulties in conducting research. The collaborative nature of transcreation has been examined by Zanotti, who demonstrates on the example of dubbed films that the final version is the work of multiple agents (e.g. translators, dialogue adapters, dubbing directors), each of them contributing in different ways at different stages of the process. Although she managed to access ample material from Italian archives for analysis, Zanotti (2014: 131) also observes that “given the multiple agency behind transcreation, the role played by each individual agent may be difficult to pinpoint”. Indeed, it may sometimes be problematic to identify, track and contact the agents behind specific transformative practices, to ‘peep behind the curtain’ to fully understand to whom the creativity and agency should be ascribed and what really happened in the preparation of new material in the process of transcreation.

Another point of note is whether transcreation should be understood as a primarily verbal or a verbal-visual or even verbal-visual-auditory process. Does transcreation entail visual transformations of the original entity, for instance, or do they fall beyond the scope of the concept? Discussing the concept of transcreation in game localization, O’Hagan and Mangiron (2013: 199) point to the modifications of the visual imagery, which may involve changes to character design, costume, props, lighting or background scenes. They observe that the transformation of a game “involves not only verbal but also nonverbal signs, widening the scope of transcreation beyond words” (ibid.: 197). Di Giovanni also uses the concept of transcreation in a broad sense, not merely focusing on linguistic transfer but on multidimensional cultural representations in cinema and television, emphasizing the crucial role of the visual and of the interplay between words and images. She observes that “the term ‘translation’ has proven inadequate to account for processes of transfer where verbal and visual language cannot come apart, as images always determine the semantic content and, ultimately, the perception of words” (Di Giovanni 2008: 40). This also applies to comics, where the verbal and the visual are closely intertwined. Moreover, translated comics undergo not only verbal but also graphic, technical and ideologically motivated metamorphoses, being adjusted to new cultural and publishing conventions. Such changes may relate to the use of colour, lettering, book formats, covers, paratextual information or may even involve redrawing certain comic book panels or erasing parts of them when deemed culturally inappropriate or unacceptable. This may be illustrated with the examples of redrawing characters to present them with culturally acceptable garments in the translations of Disney stories published in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, for instance, or the replacement of a page with culturally problematic animal treatment in the translations of Tintin in Congo published in Sweden and Italy (Zanettin 2014). Such transformative practices have been convincingly compared by Zanettin to the process of localization. Transcreation could be used as an alternative term to grasp the nature of such graphic transformations. Having introduced in this section the concept of transcreation, let us now shed more light on the nature of the Franco-Belgian comic book series in question.

3. The Thorgal series and its English translations

Created by the Belgian writer Jean Van Hamme and the Polish artist Grzegorz Rosiński, Thorgal is a series of Franco-Belgian fantasy adventure comic books with elements of science-fiction and Norse mythology. It was first serialized in Tintin magazine in 1977 and then, since 1980, republished by the Le Lombard publishing house in the format of classic, 48-page A4 comic book albums, addressed to both younger and adult readers. After four decades, Thorgal remains popular with readers today, with a new album published approximately once a year along with several spin-offs to the main series having been released within the last decade. To date, the series has been translated into many languages, including Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Polish, German, Czech, Croatian, Serbian, Greek, Turkish, Tamil and English, among others.

In English, Thorgal appeared for the first time in the US in 1986, published by Ink Publishing (Tucson, Arizona) and distributed by Donning Company Publishers (Norfolk, Virginia). Translated by Chris Tanz and Jean-Paul Bierny, in North America the series began in 1986 with the album Child of the Stars (orig. L’Enfant des étoiles, 1984), followed in 1987 by The Archers (orig. Les Archers, 1985) and then in 1988 by The Sorceress Betrayed (orig. La Magicienne Trahie, 1980). Notably, the books were published in a different order than in Belgium, where The Sorceress Betrayed was in fact the first book in the series, Child of the Stars came out as the seventh book and The Archers was ninth. While this is difficult to verify, as the Donning Company has not published comics for decades, Child of the Stars was made the opening book in North America most probably because it describes Thorgal’s childhood years, so this decision most likely aimed to simplify the chronology. The reasons for choosing The Archers as the second album in the American context may have been that it was one of the most successful and critically acclaimed books in the series. On the one hand, changing the sequence might be perceived as a reasoned marketing decision on the part of the publisher – this untangled the chronology and it was simply feasible by 1986 as the backstory of Thorgal’s childhood had already been published in the Franco-Belgian hardcover series. On the other hand, the decision may also be viewed as an intervention in how the stories unfold and are presented to the readers, diverging from the order in which they were created by Rosiński and Van Hamme. Thorgal’s first appearance in English also seems relatively short-lived – after the publication in the US of these titles the series was apparently discontinued. The new English translations only reappeared in English translation some twenty years later, this time in Britain.

In 2007, the publication of the Thorgal series was resumed by Cinebook (or “Cinebook, the 9th Art Publisher”), a British comic book company based in Canterbury, Kent. The series was not simply reprinted from the US editions, however, but translated anew, this time by Luke Spear, and included many more titles than in the North American context (24 books have been published in Britain so far, according to the publisher’s website[1]). Interestingly, similar to its US counterpart, the British publisher also changed the album order to simplify the chronology. In Britain, the series opened with Child of the Stars (the seventh album) and Aaricia (the fourteenth album), precisely the two albums describing Thorgal’s childhood years. Another difference between the British and Franco-Belgian publishing strategies was that in Britain the series was published in longer, double albums (96 pages instead of 48) each containing two of the original stories in one comic book. Thus, for example, the opening Child of the Stars and Aaricia were published together in one album, and not as two separate comic books as in Belgium. Just as in the US, the British publisher thus intervened with regard to how the story unfolded and was presented to the readers.

Having sketched the extratextual context of the series overall, let us pay more attention to The Archers, the main focus of this article. The original album, Les Archers, was published in Belgium in 1985 by Le Lombard, winning the Prix du Grand Public in Paris and the Prix de la Presse in Durbuy, Belgium, the same year. In North America, The Archers was published by Ink Publishing in 1987, with the information “translated by Chris Tanz and Jean-Paul-Bierny” and “edited by Kay Reynolds”. Reynolds, either working alone or likely as part of a team, adapted and revised the album before publication. The exact nature and extent of this work remains unknown and difficult to determine, just as Zanotti (2014: 131) cautions with reference to dubbing. Reynolds is now retired and attempts to contact her directly for this publication have gone unanswered as of March 2023. Her translation of the Franco-Belgian adventure story, examples of which will be discussed later in this article, was well-received. In Graphic Novels: A Bibliographic Guide to Book-Length Comics, D. Aviva Rothschild (1995: 57) observes: “The Archers is one of the finest pieces of heroic fantasy I have ever set eyes on. The plot is original, the characters are interesting and individual, and the color art is tasteful and gorgeous”. Rothschild also notes “[o]n the surface, Thorgal is yet another individual who has Conan-style adventures. However, the art and the stories are worlds better than any American swords-and-sorcery comic can offer” (ibid.: 56), adding that “[t]his is a series that deserves far greater recognition in North America” (ibid.: 57).

What is the story of The Archers which so deeply impressed Rothschild? The narrative starts with a pair of mercenaries, a beautiful, dangerous and unscrupulous Kriss of Valnor, the femme fatale of the series, and her partner Sigwald stealing a precious religious artefact from a northern tribe, the Caledonians. At roughly the same time, Thorgal, sailing to meet his family, is shipwrecked during a storm, meeting Tjall the Reckless, a constant daydreamer, and his much more rational and sensible uncle, Peg Leg, a master weapon-maker. Their paths cross soon afterwards when Kriss and Sigwald visit Peg Leg’s armoury in order to buy new weapons they need to participate in an archery competition. Offering a small fortune as a prize, the contest eventually entices them all. Since only pairs can take part, Tjall and Peg Leg enter the contest together, while Thorgal (who needs to buy a new boat to return to his family) and Kriss (who cannot participate with Sigwald, who was injured while escaping the Caledonians’ wrath) decide to join forces despite the animosities between them. During the competition, the participants must repeatedly shoot at targets which are hung around their partners’ necks, risking killing one another. When only Thorgal, Kriss, Tjall and Peg Leg remain, Thorgal stops the contest. The prize is to be split between the four of them (though there are still some unexpected twists of action that follow, including Kriss’ anger at not winning the whole sum and the Caledonians’ relentless pursuit of her and Sigwald). One crucial event which should be mentioned, which is recounted earlier on in the album, is when Kriss is kidnapped by marauders, who hold her captive and sexually abuse her until she is freed by Thorgal, Tjall, Peg Leg and Sigwald, prior to the archery competition. This event is notable because its  panels were handled differently in different language editions, as will be discussed below.

4. The treatment of nudity, brutality and sexual violence

In the English translations of The Archers, there are graphic adaptations of the two frames (Figure 1) in which Kriss, captured and sexually abused by bandits, lies tied up on the ground with an assailant approaching her. In the original Belgian edition (Rosiński, Van Hamme 1985: 20) these two images are the most explicit with regard to nudity, showing Kriss’ exposed breasts and nipples. The UK edition is less explicit – Kriss’ nipples were partly obscured although she is still barely covered in the first image, and in the second the fabric is not present, allowing the viewer to imagine exposure through the lack of a clearly drawn piece of fabric (Rosiński, Van Hamme 2008: 68). In the US edition, Kriss’ breasts are clearly covered with fabric, her nipples obscured (Rosiński, Van Hamme 1987: 20). The original image was thus cleaned up and toned down significantly in the US edition (adding fabric and deleting nipples), somewhat less for the UK (obscuring the nipples but having a more suggestive fabric covering), with the general trend observable in the Franco-Belgian original being fairly explicit (Figure 1a) and in the US edition being the least suggestive (Figure 1b).

Fig. 1a: The depiction of nudity and sexual violence in the original Franco-Belgian edition[2]
© Editions du Lombard by Rosiński and Van Hamme

Fig. 1b: The graphic treatment of nudity and sexual violence in the US edition
© Editions du Lombard by Rosiński and Van Hamme

The more sexually explicit mainland European comic book was graphically transformed in the new cultural setting. The example could be viewed as an illustration of a more general tendency to alter or delete parts of images or even whole panels in editions of comic books directed at different audiences (e.g. Kaindl 1999, D’Arcangelo, Zanettin 2004, Zanettin 2014). Here, however, graphic interventions concern nudity. This edition appeared at a time when comics publishing was changing in the United States, with the growth of independent presses and direct distribution. Donning imprints were among “publishers that appeared in the later 1980s and early 1990s that retained the adventure tropes […] but which also explored new kinds of stories, and new storytelling techniques” (Cook 2017: 42) including publishing translations. While independent distribution allowed a press to avoid the strictures of the Comics Code Authority, a form of self-regulatory censorship by mass-market publishers and distributors, these new independent presses largely remained “disciplined by the publishing practices of the commercial mainstream” (Hatfield 2005: 27), which among other things meant avoiding content which was too explicit in terms of nudity, sexuality, or graphic violence. One evident result was the modification of these panels.

This is consistent, in terms of explicitness and the depiction of controversial content, with the textual differences that appear prior to this scene. For example, there are some minor textual differences on the previous page where Sigwald, observing the bandits’ camp from a distance together with Thorgal and preparing to rescue Kriss, alludes to the bandits having repeatedly raped her (Table 1). In the US edition, Sigwald comments: “She never cried out once -- but what they did to her...! I could tear them apart with my bare hands!” (1987: 19, original punctuation). In the UK edition, he says: “She didn’t make a single noise. But for what they made her suffer, I could skin them clean with nothing but my teeth” (2008: 67). This is closer to the French original (1985: 19), making a reference to “skinning the bandits with teeth” and painting a more brutal and suggestive image: “Elle n’a jamais poussé un seul cri. Mais pour ce qu’ils lui ont fait subir, je pourrais tous les écorcher vifs rien qu’avec mes dents” [She never let out a single cry. But for what they put her through, I could skin them all alive with just my teeth.]

Les Archers

The Archers (UK)

The Archers (US)

Elle n’a jamais poussé un seul cri. Mais pour ce qu’ils lui ont fait subir, je pourrais tous les écorcher vifs rien qu’avec mes dents. (1985: 19)

She didn’t make a single noise. But for what they made her suffer, I could skin them clean with nothing but my teeth. (2008: 67)

She never cried out once -- but what they did to her...! I could tear them apart with my bare hands! (1987: 19)

Table 1: Depiction of brutality in the UK and US editions

Then, as Kriss, after being rescued, is about to kill the last of the bandits, the text is again different in the US and the UK editions (Table 2). In essence, the fuller UK translation, which follows the original more closely, allows the reader to imagine the worst, whereas the US edition rules out certain nastiness. Specifically, when the fight is over and the last bandit is about to be killed by Sigwald, Kriss stops him and in the US edition she addresses him with a rather vague “This one is mine! I’ve been waiting for this...” (1987: 23), whereas in the UK edition there is a more grisly “This one’s the worst of them. His death mustn’t be too gentle.” (2008: 71). The latter translation is closer to the French “C’est le pire d’entre eux. Il ne faut pas que sa mort soit trop douce” [He is the worst of them. His death must not be too gentle] (1985: 23). This seems to be in line with the more general tendency to tone down brutality in the US edition.

Les Archers

The Archers (UK)

The Archers (US)

C’est le pire d’entre eux. Il ne faut pas que sa mort soit trop douce. (1985: 23)

This one’s the worst of them. His death mustn’t be too gentle. (2008: 71)

This one is mine! I’ve been waiting for this... (1987: 23)

Table 2: Depiction of brutality in the UK and US editions

Finally, when it comes to Kriss doing in her worst assailant in one of the next frames, the US edition tells us specifically what is being done: while Kriss approaches with a knife, in the US edition Thorgal responds to her actions directly, saying “The fight’s over, Kriss! Stop! You can’t gut a man like a - -” (1987: 23). The UK edition, on the other hand, allows the imagination to run a bit more freely about what is being done, as with the earlier image. In the UK translation, Thorgal exclaims “Hey?! What’s she going to do now!? That’s enough now! Stop!”, which is again in line with the French original (“He?! Qu’est-ce qu’elle veut encore faire!? Ça suffit comme ça! Arrête!”). The next frame shows a grisly scream in blood red, whereas in the final frame of the scene Kriss stands over the now dead bandit with a bloodied knife in one hand and a trail of blood on the bandit’s leg. The US text was explicit in stating that the bandit was gutted like an animal, again eluding direct references to sexual violence, whereas the UK edition allows the implicit message that Kriss castrated the bandit as a suitable revenge for what he had done to her (Table 3).

Les Archers

The Archers (UK)

The Archers (US)

He?! Qu’est-ce qu’elle veut encore faire!? Ça suffit comme ça! Arrête! (1985: 23)

Hey?! What’s she going to do now!? That’s enough now! Stop! (2008: 71)

The fight’s over, Kriss! Stop! You can’t gut a man like a – (1987: 23)

Table 3: Depiction of brutality in the UK and US editions

References to brutality, sexual violence and nudity were thus partly toned down in the American edition, sometimes subtly, through minor textual changes, and sometimes quite explicitly, as was the case with the graphic modification to the two frames presenting Kriss captured and sexually abused by the bandits.

5. Textual condensation in the American version

A general conclusion which can be drawn with regard to the two English translations on the basis of the above excerpts is that the UK translation follows the source text more closely whereas the US version is less literal, partly diverging from the Belgian original. This is corroborated by the analysis of many other speech balloons from both versions and is illustrated below with examples. They fall under the category of Kaindl’s (1999) procedure of detractio, which means that parts of linguistic, typographic or pictorial elements are eliminated in the translation process.

One such example is shown in Figure 2, in which the US version (Figure 2b) is much shorter than the UK translation (Figure 2a). In the American version, the text was reduced, omitting the reference to “Aegir, the giant of the sea” but also using more straightforward syntax. Compare “why I ever wanted to live on an island” from the US edition with the syntactically more complex “what got into me that made me want to live on an island” from the UK edition, a reflection Thorgal has while sailing home shortly before his boat is destroyed on the rocky seashore in a storm. As a result, the US translation consists of 9 words, and the UK translation is 19 words long (Table 4).

Les Archers

The Archers (UK)

The Archers (US)

Par Aegir, Géant de la mer, qu’est-ce qui a bien pu me prendre de vouloir vivre sur une île?! (1985: 7)

By Aegir, giant of the sea, what got into me that made me want to live on an island?! (2008: 55)


Why I ever wanted to live on an island…! (1987: 7)

Table 4: The more literal UK translation versus the condensed US version of Les Archers


Fig. 2a and 2b: (a) The translation of Thorgal’s reflection as expressed in the UK edition ; (b) Simplified, compressed version in the US edition
© Editions du Lombard by Rosiński and Van Hamme

Another example illustrating the same tendency (Table 5) is a dialogue between Tjall and Kriss, who is teasing him about his uncle not being skillful enough as an archer because of his age. Here, the more complex syntax of the first sentence was condensed in the US version (“your old uncle’s eyes are good enough?”) and more closely recreated in the UK translation (“your old uncle’s eyes are still as good as he’d have us believe?”). Compare also the more literal, but also more ironic and threatening, “it’d be a shame to see your pretty stomach pierced by an arrow” from the British version with the American “he looks shaky to me?”, a shorter and straightforward message expressed in a more informal style. As a result of these changes the UK version is 30 words long and the US version consists of 15 words.

Les Archers

The Archers (UK)

The Archers (US)

Es-tu sûr que les yeux de ton vieil oncle soient encore aussi bons qu’il voudrait le faire croire? Ce serait dommage de voir ton joli ventre transpercé d'une flèche. (1985: 36)

Are you sure that your old uncle’s eyes are still as good as he’d have us believe? It’d be a shame to see your pretty stomach pierced by an arrow. (2008: 84)

Are you sure your old uncle’s eyes are good enough? He looks shaky to me? (1987: 36)


Table 5: The more literal UK translation versus the condensed US version of Les Archers

One may hypothesize about the reasons behind these modifications. It is unlikely that comic book formats or the changes of the size of speech balloons were a cause of condensation and omission. The format of the US edition is only slightly smaller than that of the original album and it is larger than the UK edition, which is nevertheless more dense with text and closer to the source text. Lettering may have played a role. The US edition uses handwritten letters which are occasionally put in bold or enlarged for emphasis. This, however, may not serve as a sufficient explanation since some of the speech balloons with compressed sentences still have some space that would allow for the inclusion of more text. It may be hypothesized that these changes are linked to the target readership and cultural conventions. Zanettin (2014: online) points to a similar tendency in the textually condensed American edition of the Italian Dylan Dog comics series, which “can be seen as an adaptation to US comics reading pace and conventions, which privilege action over dialogue”. The American translation of The Archers is also more compact, with the more complex and nuanced passages from the French original often replaced with simpler and shorter forms in speech balloons. Yet even if this is the case how to evaluate the US version in translation terms? We suggest that, when examined holistically, the non-literaliness of the US translation may be understood as part of a larger, overarching strategy, which is transcreation, the argument which will be developed in the next sections.

6. The treatment of emotional and psychological aspects

As noted above, the US translation follows the source text less closely. This is not only a matter of condensation and omission at word and sentence level but also of additions and reformulations, which refocus some aspects of the original story. These additions and modifications may either be the choices of the translators (Tanz and Bierny) or editorial ones (Reynolds). The first and most salient textual change comes late in the story, before the archery competition, when Thorgal and Tjall are conversing in the forest, with Thorgal pensive. The way that the scene unfolds is clearly different with a different text being inserted for the American audience (Figure 3b).


Fig. 3a and 3b: (a) The translation of dialogue in the UK edition; (b) Creative re-interpretation of this dialogue in the US edition
© Editions du Lombard by Rosiński and Van Hamme

In the UK edition, Thorgal is thinking about his family, in the US about his home, which is a subtle difference. How Tjall reacts to Thorgal’s reflections, however, is clearly different. After reassuring Thorgal in both editions that whatever happens at the tournament he would soon have his boat and be able to return, in the UK edition Tjall asks “but how can a man like you let himself be tied to a woman and...” (2008: 79). This seems consistent with the overall image of a strong, independent type of hero that Tjall (and an uninitiated reader) might imagine Thorgal to be. As shown in Table 6, this also closely follows the French original (1985: 31): “Mais comment un homme tel que toi a-t-il pu accepter de se lier à une femme et des…” [but how could a man like you agree to bind himself to a woman and some...]. The US edition, however, strikes an entirely different chord, which cannot possibly be the result of different interpretations of the source text. In the US edition, Tjall follows up on his reassurance, saying to Thorgal “Why don’t you tell me about your home? My uncle says sometimes it helps to talk” (1987: 31).

Les Archers

The Archers (UK)

The Archers (US)

Mais comment un homme tel que toi a-t-il pu accepter de se lier à une femme et des… (1985: 31)

But how can a man like you let himself be tied to a woman and... (2008: 79)

Why don’t you tell me about your home? My uncle says sometimes it helps to talk. (1987: 31)

Table 6: Literal translation (UK) versus creative re-interpretation (US) of Les Archers

Using Kaindl’s typology, this may be categorized as an instance of adiectio, that is, of adding material which did not appear in the source text to replace the original material. However, it can be argued that, especially when examined holistically with many other changes introduced in the US edition, this can also be viewed as an example of transcreation, an instance of introducing entirely new meanings and creatively re-interpreting the text in order to establish an emotional connection and make it resonate with the target audience. Here, rather than supporting the idea of the loner-hero who should not be tied to any woman, as the UK edition does clearly following the original, the US edition contains a major departure from the source text, in which the domestic ideal is upheld. While this could have been simply an editorial decision to emphasize Thorgal’s longing for home, the unexpected character shift would suggest something more. By inserting a line of emotional sensitivity, the US edition seems to be opening a richer character arc for Tjall, making him a character that readers could connect with on different levels, while opening up the story arc to the enrichment of his character in relation to other characters.

The change described above is consistent with another interpretative adaptation, or transcreation, observable in the US edition, which again revolves around Kriss, but here it is more related to questions of romance. In the UK edition, Tjall’s attraction to Kriss seems more incidental, really only coming out in the end when Kriss kisses him in order to hit him in the head with a rock and escape. In the US edition, the translator, or the editor, seems to have wanted to make a stronger point of a love story in the making. For example, when Tjall first sees Kriss and her skill with a bow, he exclaims “what a gorgeous girl!” in the US (1987: 14), but “say, that girl is superb!” (2008: 62) in the UK edition, more a reference to her skill (compare to the French “dis donc, elle est superbe, cette fille!”, 1985: 14). The emphasis on Tjall’s attraction comes out again later, when he and Thorgal are riding past a group of bandits in the forest, and notice that one of the marauders is wearing a jewel around his neck which previously belonged to Kriss. As shown in Table 7, in the US edition Tjall cries out “Did you see that? Kriss’ Jewel!” and “I won’t leave her!” (1987: 18) whereas in the UK edition it is a more innocuous “Did you see that?! We have to…” and “Would you be a coward, Thorgal?!” (2008: 66) only later saying that if she is in their hands, he will save her himself, which more closely follows the French “Tu as vu!? Il faut les…” and “Serais-tu lâche, Thorgal!?” (1985: 18). These alone seem minor adaptations, perhaps questions of interpretation, but they seem to support the idea of wanting to place a stronger love-story element in the US edition. This would be consistent with the aforementioned dialogue altered on page 31 where Tjall, rather than questioning family and devotion, clearly supports it, and, one might infer, perhaps dreams of that for himself with Kriss.

Les Archers, 1985

The Archers (UK)

The Archers (US)

Tu as vu!? Il faut les… […] Serais-tu lâche, Thorgal!? (1985)

Did you see that?! We have to… […] Would you be a coward, Thorgal?! (2008: 66)

Did you see that? Kriss’ Jewel! […] I won’t leave her! (1987: 18)

Table 7: Literal translation (UK) versus creative re-interpretation (US) of Les Archers

In the US text, Kriss betrays this feeling more clearly than in the UK edition. On the last page of the album, after telling him what a worthy companion he is to the hero Thorgal, she kisses Tjall with the comment “would I lie?” in the US version (1987: 48) and “proof” (2008: 96) in the UK edition, which again closely follows the French “le preuve” (1985: 48) from the original speech bubble. As shown in Table 8, as she prepares to knock him out with a rock, with the same image of her looking charmingly and seductively at a smiling Tjall, in the UK edition she remarks clearly, in line with the French original, “Don’t I owe you my life? As well as, I presume, that nasty whack on the head..” (he had hit her earlier as part of a deceptive scheme aiming to rescue her from the Caledonians) (2008: 96). In the US edition, however, she tells him “I owe you my life. I’ll never forget what you did for me” (1987: 48).

Les Archers, 1985

The Archers (UK)

The Archers (US)

Ne te dois-je pas la vie? Ainsi que, je présume, ce méchant coup sur la nuque... (1985: 48)

Don’t I owe you my life? As well as, I presume, that nasty whack on the head… (2008: 96)

I owe you my life. I’ll never forget what you did for me. (1987: 48)

Table 8: Literal translation (UK) versus creative re-interpretation (US) of Les Archers

In the original and UK translation the dialog, while laden with sexual tension, has clearly the issue of the blow to the head in the foreground, whereas in the US edition, Kriss seems more deceptive, playing on his Tjall’s romantic feelings, with the love-story element being again more foregrounded. These passages from the US translation were creatively re-interpreted, or transcreated, now carrying a different emotional load and partly refocusing this aspect of the original story.

7. Translation or transcreation?

Other examples illustrating the tendency to handle the source text freely and creatively are shown below. Figure 4 presents the first encounter of Thorgal and Tjall after their boats crash in the sea due to Tjall’s recklessness. Several of Kaindl’s (1999) procedures may be discerned here, that is adiectio (addition of “We’re […] on dry land” followed by the exclamation “Dry…!”), detractio (omission of the more indirect “Yeah, except something tells me that”), and substitutio (substitution of “with you my real problems are just beginning” with the colloquial exclamation “You’re a walking disaster!”). As can be seen in Table 9, some meanings were added, some were omitted, and part of the original passage was replaced. Apart from trying to pinpoint individual procedures, however, when looked at holistically, this brief text can be viewed as yet another example of an overarching strategy of transcreation, an attempt to re-write the source text and make dialogues in speech balloons more appealing, humorous and emotionally charged. This is the effect obtained with “Dry…! You’re not reckless, Tjall. You’re a walking disaster!” in the US edition. The overall non-literaliness of the American text is not a matter of chance or a matter of lack of translation skills but a deliberate strategy enacted through a series of techniques aiming to refocus the Franco-Belgian source text.

Les Archers, 1985

The Archers (UK)

The Archers (US)

– Nous  sommes vivants. Et à terre, c’est l’essentiel.

– Ouais. Sauf qu’un petit quelque chose me dit qu’avec toi les vrais problèmes ne font que commencer…

(1985: 9)


– We’re alive! And on land. That’s what counts.

– Yeah, except something tells me that with you, my real problems are just beginning…

(2008: 57)


– Well… We’re alive… And on dry land.

Dry…! You’re not reckless, Tjall. You’re a walking disaster!

(1987: 9, bold in US version)


Table 9: Literal translation (UK) versus creative re-interpretation (US) of Les Archers


Fig. 4a and 4b: (a) The translation of dialogue in the UK edition; (b) Creative re-interpretation of this dialogue in the US edition
© Editions du Lombard by Rosiński and Van Hamme

A similar tendency to treat the source text freely is observable in Table 10, which describes a conversation between Thorgal and Tjall preparing to rescue Kriss for the second time in the story, this time from the Caledonians who kept chasing and finally trapped her. While in the UK edition Thorgal refers to Tjall’s leniency and eagerness to rescue Kriss saying teasingly “would you be so indulgent if our thief was ugly, Tjall?”, the US edition is more sparse with words and reorganizes information from the source text. It begins with a straightforward command “Be calm and listen” followed by a compact “I have a plan…”, replacing the more syntactically elaborate “écoute ce que nous allons faire” [listen to what we are going to do]. The source text is more nuanced and leisurely, the US version more concrete and action-oriented, and thus a departure from the Franco-Belgian original.

Les Archers

The Archers (UK)

The Archers (US)

Serais-tu aussi indulgent si notre voleuse était laide, Tjall? Rassure-toi et écoute ce que nous allons faire… (1985: 43)


Would you be so indulgent if our thief was ugly, Tjall? Don’t worry: listen to what we’ll do… (2008: 91)


Be calm and listen, Tjall. Don’t worry. I have a plan… (1987: 43)


Table 10: Literal translation (UK) versus condensed and modified US version of Les Archers

The final example, shown in Table 11, is part of the conversation between Kriss and Thorgal shortly before they become partners and enter an archery competition as a pair. The British translation again more closely follows the original and uses ironic, stylistically refined words, which contrasts with the more straightforward American text. Compare the teasing and ironic “I don’t think you’re lacking in pretention” followed by “Do you even know how to use a bow?” from the UK version with the American “What makes you think you’re good enough to be my partner?”, a concrete and straightforward question, in which Kriss clearly shows confidence in her own value, and a demand that Thorgal prove that he possesses the right skills to be her equal.

Les Archers

The Archers (UK)

The Archers (US)

Et moi je dis que tu ne manques pas de prétention, Thorgal Aegirsson. Sais-tu seulement te servir d’un arc? (1985: 27)


And I don’t think you’re lacking in pretention, Thorgal Aegirsson. Do you even know how to use a bow? (2008: 75)


What makes you think you’re good enough to be my partner? (1987: 27, bold in US version)


Table 11: Literal translation (UK) versus condensed and modified US version of Les Archers

The US version could potentially also contain such expressions as “would you be so indulgent if […]” or “I don’t think you’re lacking in pretention”, but instead it makes use of such linguistic choices as “I have a plan”, “You’re a walking disaster!” or “What makes you think you’re good enough to be my partner?” More seems to be at stake than divergent translation choices. The non-literalness of the US version, it is argued, is the result of a deliberate transcreation strategy applied in the process of preparing this Franco-Belgian comic book for publication for the US audience.

8. Conclusion

The US edition clearly differs from and the UK edition of The Archers and the Franco-Belgian original in textual, cultural, marketing, graphic and ideological terms. It was creatively transformed and re-interpreted in places by modifying psychological and emotional aspects, foregrounding the love-story element, and toning down nudity and sexual violence. While the UK text is an example of translation sensu stricto and closely follows the style of the Franco-Belgian original, the US translation contains numerous examples of textual compression, being expressed in a more straightforward style, which may have been an attempt to accommodate the series to American conventions which favour action over dialogue (Zanettin 2014). When viewed holistically, the numerous departures from the source text and the overall non-literaliness of the US translation may be interpreted as part of a larger, overarching strategy, namely transcreation. This is a useful concept which may be fruitfully applied in other studies of translated comics in the future to better understand their complexity.


Primary sources

Rosiński, Grzegorz, and Jean Van Hamme ([1985] 1999) Thorgal. Les Archers, Bruxelles, Editions du Lombard.

Rosiński, Grzegorz, and Jean Van Hamme (1987) Thorgal. The Archers, trans. by Chris Tanz and Jean-Paul-Bierny, edited by Kay Reynolds, Norfolk, Virginia, Ink Publishing.

Rosiński, Grzegorz, and Jean Van Hamme (2008) Thorgal. The Archers, trans. by Luke Spear, Canterbury, Kent, Cinebook Ltd.

Secondary sources

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Bowker, Lynne (2023) De-mystifying Translation. Introducing Translation to Non-translators, London, Routledge.

Cook, Roy T. (2017) “Underground and Alternative Comics” in The Routledge Companion to Comics, Frank Bramlett, Roy T. Gook and Aaron Meskin (eds), New York/Oxon, Routledge: 34–43.

D’Arcangelo Adele, and Federico Zanettin (2004) “Dylan Dog goes to the USA: A North-American Translation of an Italian Comic Book Series”, Across Languages and Cultures 5, 187–211.

Di Giovanni, Elena (2008) “Translations, Transcreations and Transrepresentations of India in the Italian Media”, Meta 53, no 1: 26–43.

Dybiec-Gajer, Joanna, and Riitta Oittinen (2020) “Introduction: Travelling Beyond Translation – Transcreating for Young Audiences” in Negotiating Translation and Transcreation of Children’s Literature: From Alice to the Moomins, Joanna Dybiec-Gajer, Riitta Oittinen and Małgorzata Kodura (eds), Singapore, Springer: 1–9.

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Pedersen, Daniel (2014) “Exploring the concept of transcreation – transcreation as ‘more than translation’?”, Cultus: The Journal of Intercultural Mediation and Communication, no. 7, 57– 71.

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Vieira, Else Ribeiro Pires (1999) “Liberating Calibans: Readings of Antropofagia and Haroldo de Campos’ Poetics of Transcreation” in Postcolonial Translation: Theory and Practice, Susan Bassnett and Harish Trivedi (eds), London and New York, Routledge: 95–113.

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[2] The author and publisher gratefully acknowledge the permission granted to reproduce the copyright material in this article. 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)

Michał Borodo is Associate Professor in the Department of English Linguistics at Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz, Poland. He has published on various topics in Translation Studies and his research interests include the translation of comics, children’s literature, volunteer translation, as well as translation and globalization. His recent books include Translation, Globalization and Younger Audiences (2017) and English Translations of Korczak’s Children’s Fiction (2020).

Karl Wood is on the staff of the Department of Literatures in English at Kazimierz Wielki University in Bydgoszcz, Poland, where he teaches courses in American Cultural Studies. His research interests and publications have included a number of articles on twentieth century US-American literature and culture, as well as work related to transnational spa culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He also contributed to the DIGITENS project, as part of the department's team in a Horizon-2020 international research consortium on forms of sociability in the long eighteenth-century.

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©inTRAlinea & Michał Borodo and Karl Wood (2023).
"The Translation and Transcreation of Adventure Comics"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Reimagining Comics - The Translation and Localization of Visual Narratives
Edited by: Michał Borodo
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