Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Proofreading Four Miss Steaks

Dave Egger's lesser-known title of
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
First off, I’d like to apologize for the quality of my recent posts. Some of them have been almost scant in length and writing detail compared to some of my past entries.

I've been enjoying reading English scanlations of European BDs that I've only just been able to understand by following the pictures alone. However, my enjoyment is greatly diminished by the great amount of misspellings, sentence structures, and wonky dialogue that don't exactly ring true. Lately, some of the recent scanlated releases I've seen have become almost unreadable, since it looked like they were purged through Babelfish without a second look.

To give one such example, for the prelude Inspector Canardio book, when the mad scientist was ranting, he said that the world would see how "genious" he was, when he should've meant "INgenious".

Likewise, in the fourth book of Alone, when the children were having a chat near the fire about a theory of the universe expanding and reducing, they called it the “Big Crush”, when anybody who'd ever read Bloom County would know it by the proper terminology as "The Big Crunch".

Usually, when I see slight spelling mistakes such as these, I make subtle corrections on my copy so I won't feel too upset when I read them again. However, the amount of mistakes increased far beyond my capacity to bother fixing them in the first place. As much as I enjoyed Alone, the fifth album was almost completely ruined by the numerous amount of silly mistakes and clunky translation. Rather than "In the Eye of the Malestrom", it would read better as, "The Eye of the Storm".

But when a scanlator mentioned that he was going to include Régis Loisel’s Peter Pan as one of their releases, I decided I couldn't sit back anymore and let this attroicity continue. I offered to lend my proofreading expertise to their scanlation efforts so it would be all fixed before I read it in the first place.

I've long believed that if Manga scanlators put in 1% of their efforts into the European comics scene as they did for their Manga faves, we would have a much larger output. One part of a large hurdle that European comic scanlations face is that many of them are of the serious artwork variety rather than the cartoony variety. Just like how Manga didn’t begin to gain a foothold until publishers started aiming material at children, the same should be done for European comics. I’d like to see more scanlations of children’s BDs, even if most of them are rather boring.

Of course, my intentions are less than altruistic, since I just wanted an excuse to read the comics in the first place. At least my selfishness ensures that others will be spared the agony of dealing with clunky sentences.

Proofreading is more than just checking for spelling mistakes and punctuation. Anybody with spellcheck and a Word document could do that - why bother asking for proofreaders in the first place? Feeling dismayed, I offered to give my expertise elsewhere to people who could afford my unvarnished criticism. Only a select handful were brave enough to risk finding out how little command of English they had, and they’re better off for it.

Here are some sobering facts from a scanlator who wished to remain anonymous:
  • The number of European scanlators is around 20 people, if not much less, compared to Manga which has no end of enthusiastic volunteers willing to help out.
  • A typical scanlation can take between 10-40 hours of translation work and research, 10 of which would be used for retexting and proofreading.
  • The above numbers would account for typical 48-62 page albums, which are dense compared to Manga pages, and are closer to translating American comics. Larger projects would take at least 20-60 hours of work, or longer, if the background sound effects are included.
  • A single book can take a week to complete.
  • In addition to all the classic BDs in the past, there are around 1000 new comic albums being released in France a year... and those are conservative numbers, not counting reprints of older material.
  • The devoted few (and there are very few) do this in their spare time with no pay, and also have their jobs and families to deal with too.
That means, even if the fastest scanlator worked daily, the results would be very slipshod without enough re-reading efforts to check for mistakes. Eventually, fatigue would set in, resulting in lower quality for future releases, making whoever read them wonder what all the fuss around these books is about. Otherwise, you wind up with warped text that only barely retains any resemblance to the source material. One of the most famous examples of mangled Engrish is the Chinese translation of the 3rd Star Wars Prequel, better known as The Backstroke of the West.

However, even legitimate publishers of novels aren’t safe from falling prey to this trap, as can be seen from these examples of various alternate titles and phrases for people not familiar with the language. (My personal favorite is #8.) This is why context is important, people!

#8. In the Brazilian edition of Jacquelyn Mitchard’s novel “The Deep End of the Ocean,” the passage “Beth truly wanted to be mad. A few bricks shy of a load. A few ants short of a picnic” was translated as:

a) “Beth felt like a drunk who couldn’t get served a drink.”
b) “Beth felt like an ant who hadn’t been invited to the picnic.”
c) “Beth felt like a brick that had been pulled from a wall.”
d) “Beth felt like a picnic. A big, crazy picnic.”

Even foreign publishers can fall prey to being too faithful to explaining the joke. One such example is the “middle-aged-housewives-obsessed-with-boybands genre”, 110 Per¢ by Tony Consiglio.

The French version was renamed as follows:

For years, I always thought that I was unable to read the afterwords to the Italian graphic adaptions of literary classics such as Aladdin, Oliver Twist and Journey to the Centre of the Earth, simply because the words were so boring compared to the main story. Now, having had the chance to read them again years later, I now see that the problem was a translation that was too literal in its execution. As informative as it is, the information is almost impossible to make out without doing some “mental editing” of your own. The first sentence should read: “In literary circles, it's traditional that an author's second book be more memorable than his first, especially if it's a novel.

These kind of sentences are why I couldn’t get into Chuck “Fight Club” Palahniuk’s Pygmy, because it was so full of warped idioms through a disorted lens. I deal with enough rough English in my spare time - I shouldn’t have to struggle to enjoy my reading. That’s the very thing I do to help people avoid such situations like these.

I mentioned these concepts last year when I pointed out various aspects of scanlating that could've been improved. I also made a (premature) declaration of a Chninkel project. Even though (embarrassingly enough) it’s been a year since I made that announcement, my efforts at completing said project is still only 2/3rds complete. It’s become something of a Zeno’s paradox for me that the closer I come to completing it, the longer it takes for me to reach that goal.

When proofreading the text, I do my best to make sure that the words not only match up with the action on the page, but also reword the text properly so that it'll fit inside the balloon and sound natural. I work best when I have page samples to work from, so I can see what I'm working on, and can apply the words that'll best fit that page. Even better if I have two alternate translations to work from, so I can pick and choose the best version that works well.

If there are any words or sentences that I’m unsure of in the original context, I write back to the translator and offer my interpretations of that scene for further clarification, and whether my instincts were widely off or on the mark. One such instance was where a nomad made a perplexing statement for thanking a bartender for the turns, which I thought might’ve been beer or something.

Turns out my guess was pretty close, since turn is a straight Polish translation for the word rounds. Since the translator was juggling 3 languages at once, some leniency can be forgiven there. The annoying part is when just after I’ve sent in my submissions for corrections, I immediately think of other ways a text could’ve been improved on. One such instance was where the characters kept shouting out "Devil!" every time something went wrong. I suggested using "Lucifer!" instead to give the swears more resonance.

After being involved with several proofreadings, I’ve determined several factors for why there’s so many mistakes. The people familiar with these comics are from other countries where English isn't their first language. In many cases, the copies they’re working from are translations of a translation, and so we’re left with a less than faithful to the material product. Very often, their first instinct is to use the first word that matches in their French/English dictionary, instead of looking for another word that would work better, and as a result, we’re often given archaic terms that no one understands or knows. While this can be educational for descriptive passages, it plays havoc when used in casual conversation by people who wouldn’t know such words in the first place.

Sometimes there can be a conflict of interest in wanting to express a word a certain way, since it runs counter to the translator's ingrained learnings. In those instances, I have to give a very rationalized reason for why a sentence would work better with slang, and why the previous unchanged version wouldn't. After some back and forth dialogue, we agree on a statement that we're both comfortable with.

In addition, when using online translation sites, many subtleties such as feminine or masculine terms can be left out, and the translation makes them sound disassociative or dismissive. As a result, gender-neutral text can have people calling each other “it” all the time, instead of “he” or “she”. In other instances, there are sentences that lead into what Daffy Duck called “Pronoun trouble”. Some people have some difficulty knowing when to use prepositions at the right time. Telling the difference between “of”, “is”, “to” and “and” can be the difference between life or death. These silly little mistakes always drive me up the wall.

The ironic thing is, while I'm an excellent editor for correcting words that look wrong because they're spelled phonetically, I have a tendency to mispronounce words because I don't know how they sound. I say Cuu-ba instead of Kyuu-ba. Breeth-less instead of breah-thless. Plays-bo instead of Plas-bo. Spir-ral instead of spy-ral. Hoh-ston instead of Hyou-son. Since these words rarely ever come up in casual conversation, I hardly ever get blank stares from people who have no idea what I’m talking about. Only friends and family who know that I say words the way I think they sound have any idea of my true meaning, and will point out my mistakes wherever appropriate.

On the one hand, I hope for a day where my services will no longer be required, once the translators begin to understand their mistakes; and on the other hand, I secretly hope that they won’t learn too quickly, lest I won’t have as much reading material to help them out with. EDIT - here's a handy-dandy guide for avoiding many commonly made English mistakes. Especially the dangling participle (#15) where a sentence is structured in a confusing way. It may sound clear the first time around, but upon closer inspection, doesn't make much sense.

Manga has won the PR war. Now it’s the 9th art’s turn.