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Translation Convention in a webcomic:

Hi guys! I'm working on a (fantasy) webcomic in which two of the main characters are bilingual and a lot of conflict revolves around the interactions of three cultures, each with its own language (let's call them languages A, B and C). I'm trying to come up with the best way of making it clear which language is being spoken at any given time. Language A is spoken most often, so I was going to represent that as standard English. The options I came up with for showing that B or C are being spoken:

1) Use different fonts for the three languages. Worried it would look messy, though, and be hard to pick up on unless I went over the top with font design.

2) Use <english > or <<english>> to signal language change. This would be great if there was only 1 extra language... maybe I could use {english} or some variation for the other language?

3) Make up some gibberish B or C when I want to show these languages being spoken from the POV of a non-B/C speaker.

Argh. Anyone able to help me pick a translation convention please?

 
 2 jagillette, Wed, 12th Oct '11 10:40:30 AM from the middle of nowhere
Wimpy Mc Squishy
If it were me, I'd go with option 3. That one, at lest visually, makes it most clear that a different language is being spoken, plus it makes the readers curious. You could even weave it into the plot that there's some information that is purposefully withheld from the audience.

edited 12th Oct '11 10:42:34 AM by jagillette

 3 nrjxll, Wed, 12th Oct '11 1:45:50 PM Relationship Status: Not war
I used #2 in my comics whenever I depicted characters speaking a non-English language that had Translation Convention. In my case, though, it wasn't particularly important to show what language they were speaking, which isn't the case for you.

 4 JHM, Wed, 12th Oct '11 2:00:22 PM from Neither Here Nor There Relationship Status: We finish each other's sandwiches
Thunder, Perfect Mind
If I'm writing something in a comic-type format, I tend to go with the second option... unless I happen to know said language—however unlikely—in which case I go with #2 for conversations in said language and full-on Bilingual Bonus when not.

edited 12th Oct '11 2:01:35 PM by JHM

 5 Ronka 87, Wed, 12th Oct '11 6:23:17 PM from the mouth of madness.
Maid of Win
I'd advise against 1— using different fonts and such seems gimmicky and it's annoying to read. 2 is standard comics shorthand for "foreign language"— use it and some combination of clues to hint at what language they're speaking (like captions, editor's notes, setting, context, etc.).
Thanks for the all fish!
 6 nrjxll, Wed, 12th Oct '11 6:29:58 PM Relationship Status: Not war
The font thing isn't always gimmicky, depending on how it's used - generally, it works when there's actually supposed to be some weird effect to the speech (such as a Voice of the Legion). Used for different languages, though, it probably would get a bit tiring fast.

 7 Ronka 87, Wed, 12th Oct '11 7:31:56 PM from the mouth of madness.
Maid of Win
It really depends. It's true using effect fonts can be cool when characters don't say much (ex. a monster with a scratchy, jagged font, or as your say, the voice of the legion), but I find the more they speak, the more cumbersome the effect becomes. The primary concern with lettering always has to be legibility; if the reader can't understand the text or it's a chore to read, the lettering has failed.

A bit off-topic, but this happens a lot with colour, too— in their excitement over getting to play with colour, people use a font colour that's too light or clashes with the background colour. It can be painful to read. Modern superhero comics do it all the time when they make narrative textboxs match the colour scheme of the character speaking. Old-school "black on yellow" captions were kind of obnoxious, but at least you could decipher the words, as opposed to grey on black or red on yellow or red on blue. Colour-scheme captions can work, but they're often used carelessly and badly.
Thanks for the all fish!
 8 Noaqiyeum, Thu, 13th Oct '11 11:55:29 AM from the Shadowlands Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
the it-thingy
I point to Schlock Mercenary as a good source for giving different cultures different fonts, but it's used to indicate tonality, timbre, accent, &c, not (usually) actual language differences.

I also point to it to highlight a potential flaw with this practice.
“I don't deserve any credit for turning the other cheek as my tongue is always in it.” ― Flannery O'Connor
 9 nrjxll, Thu, 13th Oct '11 11:58:07 AM Relationship Status: Not war
Personally, I liked the old Gatekeeper font, but I agree that it's probably a case of taking this kind of thing too far.

Incidentally, another way I like demonstrate the tonal/voice effects stuff is playing with the speech balloon.

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Total posts: 9
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