A query on comic conventions

A query from regular reader Andy Sleeper on the 15th, about conventions in the comics. Andy reported on two cases where he’d seen flanking punctuation used to indicate that what was inside the punctuation was spoken in a language other than English. Andy wondered (a) whether this was an established practice in comics, and (b) whether artists have tried to use other means to solve this problem in their work.

I have to confess that I don’t know the answer to either of these questions, though I’ve spent some time looking around. So now I throw the questions open to the world, hoping that someone will know things I don’t.

Andy’s first example, from a 2010 Doonesbury:


Here, speech in Pashto is reported in English (awkward when the Pashto is awkward) inside parentheses ( ).

Andy’s second example, from K. B. Spangler’s A Girl and Her Fed of 6/22/15:


Here, speech in Japanese is reported (in English translation) within angle brackets < >. (It’s a long story, with a lot of speech in Japanese.)

5 Responses to “A query on comic conventions”

  1. larsmagne23 Says:

    It’s probably the most common way of marking speech in different languages in comics. See, for instance, this Beto Hernandez page from a 1991 issue of Love & Rockets. But it’s rare enough that it’s usual to see an explanation of what the brackets are supposed to mean, as Beto did at the bottom of the page.

    But he’s stopped doing that in more recent years, relying on people to understand the convention.

  2. Lee Sebastiani Says:

    Todd Klein is a great letterer. Here’s an example of “fancy” lettering used to indicate Arabic:


  3. Stan Carey Says:

    Nate Piekos’s page on comic book grammar and tradition covers this feature. It’s about halfway down, and includes a note to say:

    Often, the first appearance of the language will also end with an asterisk to denote an Editorial Caption that explains what language this is being translated from.

    It’s a clear and helpful page. In 2011 I blogged about it briefly at Sentence first – partly so I could always find it easily.

  4. Bob Richmond Says:

    Somewhat on-topic – there used to be a wonderful magazine, Mangajin, for people learning Japanese. Mostly Mangajin parsed the texts of manga cartoons. In manga, when a foreigner is speaking Japanese, his dialog is written in katakana. Lafcadio Hearn, popular in manga, is depicted speaking in katakana.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: