A Brief History of Foreign Language in Comics

As Comic-Con has descended on our headquarter city of San Diego, California it brought up thoughts about diversity and foreign language in comic books.
By: Interpreters Unlimited
SAN DIEGO - July 22, 2022 - PRLog -- PART 1: As Comic-Con has descended on our headquarter city of San Diego, California for its first full scale event since the pandemic, it brought up thoughts about diversity, foreign language, and their representation in comic books. So many comics contain characters from different worlds, as well as different cultures in our own world, so one would imagine many languages would be present, but that wasn't always the case.

Non-American and Non-English speaking characters in comics have had a bit of a dark history, being portrayed with negative stereotypes and racial depictions. While some may say it was parody and comedy, much of it, especially in the early 1900s, was blatantly derogatory, offensive and in bad taste. As comics date back to the late 19th century, times when racism and hate were more prevalent and accepted, the books were influenced by the reality of the times, which has in turn evolved as society saw race relations and foreign acceptance improve over the years.

Fiction often mirrors reality and the times during which the writers and artists are working. From the World War era where the enemies of America became the enemies and villains in American comics, to the progress into inclusion and equality that we see and strive for today, there has been a great shift in the diversity and culture representation in comics. Whether it is implied that a character speaks another language, or it is directly shown in the comic text, from Super Man to Star Trek, other languages have been slowly weaved in.

Early on, most comics would not have any text other than English, so when depicting a Non-English speaking character, the text would be written in a way that exaggerates the English language so the reader sees it as that race, communicating language with typed accent stereotypes and pronunciation. In some cases, it makes sense, like distinguishing between an American and someone British, where they speak the same language but there needs to be a differentiation. For example, words like "Ello" instead of "Hello". A real-world example comes from a 1956 comic, Yellow Claw #1, with the line "I vould neffer vork for you", providing a German stereotypical accent with distorted English rather than using the actual language with American translation beside it.

When it comes to showing multilingual text rather than just distorted English, that took decades to occur. It started with a combination of languages being used, like "Spanglish", the combination of Spanish and English... Read Part 2 at https://www.interpreters.com/blog.

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