Cross-cultural cognition via French Comic Translation Censorship?

I recently found this very interesting post about the “censorship” of French translations of Marvel Comics. Apparently this will be a chapter in a new book, but the examples they have posted (some relinked on the side here) are very interesting from the point of view of cross-cultural psychology and meaning.

While the post shows other types of censoring, the most overt things to me in the examples they show have to do with motion and action:

On the left is an originally American version of this page, while on the right is the French version of the same page. As you can easily tell, the biggest changes (besides the text) are the erasure of the impact star (the flashy star-shaped thing showing impact) and various speed lines (showing motion) and focal lines (emphasizing the impact point).

The post describes that this censoring took place to make these dynamic pages more “palatable” to children, as deemed by the government. However, I wonder if some other things are going on here as well.

First off, the lack of impact stars is interesting because it actually changes the meaning of the images. Daredevil and Captain America are no longer overtly strike each other. Without those stars, they may be interpreted as acrobatically dodging the blows. The impacts are no longer apparent.

Secondly, these changes may be a subtle way to try and make these American books appear more like native French comics. Several years ago, another presenter on a Comic-Con panel with me presented some interesting comparisons between French and American comics showing that French comics generally tried to show motion with few or minimal speed lines. The effect of erasing them in these pages makes the images closer to this native style. In other words, they are trying to translate the American Visual Language closer to French Visual Language.

As I was curious back at that presentation, I wonder if there can be a broader cross-cultural study done on this phenomenon. There have been several studies of “Paths” in linguistics and psychology, and speed lines are an overt manifestation of these types of paths. I am curious if:

1) American and European comics do in fact substantially differ in their proportion, usage, and type of motion lines.
2) If these differences reflect aspects of deeper issues in cognition related to the comprehension of path actions

Targeting these issues specifically could be an insightful way for using comics to study deeper aspects of cross-cultural cognition.

A broad look at a corpus of American and French comics could easily get to this issue. (My current corpus is lacking a good amount of French comics… if any of you French publishers are listening and feeling generous…). However, a follow up study looking at the Marvel translations and tabulating the proportion of these same items deleted could see if they truly are trying to translate the visual language in addition to the written language.


  • Great post.

    Of course one man's "cross-cultural cognition" is another man's "censorship".

    Sure, "translation" is far more than taking the source language and 'converting' it into readable prose in another: The gist of the piece needs to be maintained in the destination language, while being empathetic to its cultural and/or linguistic nuances. If not, the text reads 'like it's been translated.'

    But what safeguards do publishers implement to ensure that their content is suitably translated, resulting in the foreign-language reader getting the message in the way that the original author intended?

    In my experience (my work puts me in contact with a great many publishers throughout Europe and North America) is that they don't. Which means that authors and publishers are reliant on their licensees to control, maintain and deliver their "Brand Language".

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