Does Humor Translate?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

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Today’s feature story offers a profile of Iceland’s Okeibækur, a comic book publisher that specializes in the wild, wacky and profane. Among their titles are Zombie Iceland, a zombie apocalypse novel/Reykjavik travel guide, a series of absurd children’s books, and a fashion/lifestyle books where the advice is, simply put, crazy. All the ideas sound, in principle, hilarious. But as with any kind of translation, something is bound to get lost.

Humor is one thing that can translate wordlessly — there’s something universal about humiliation, absurdity, and exaggeration. Humor would seem to translate quite well, especially in a visual medium like comics books and graphic novels. Translating a humorous novel is likely a more difficult task. Prose, when its well written, often contains nuance that depends on a shared cultural framework and references — or, rather, context. Translating a book so it conveys the contextual framework while delivering the actual jokes is a daunting task indeed. (Not to mention the fact that not everyone finds the same things funny.) Can you think of any examples of translated works that have managed to pull off this particular magic trick?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.