Announced! Graphic Novel Translation
My last novel before Moonwalking, Surviving Santiago, came out in 2015, but that didn’t mean I was completely out of publishing for seven years. Between 2015 and 2020, I translated six picture books from Portuguese to English that were published in the United States and one middle grade novel that was published in Brazil in a trilingual (Portuguese, Spanish, English) edition. While I’ve enjoyed writing my own books, I’ve also missed translating. There’s a special joy in helping a book from another country — a book I love — find a new readership in English.
I’m experiencing that joy right now as I finish work on my first translation of a graphic novel. This week, the announcement came out, so I can talk more about the book and help build some buzz, since the book is scheduled to appear nine months from now. In an industry which can take two years or more between the sale of a book and its publication, nine months feels like instant gratification. And it’s even more gratifying because of how much I love Joana Estrela’s Pardalita. It’s a beautiful love story, a hybrid of graphic novel and verse novel as Raquel writes poetic letters to the older schoolmate she sees from afar, hoping Pardalita notices her from afar as well. There’s a moment where she does, and it’s done with such subtlety that one may miss it at first and then realize later that the ending was foreshadowed all along.
While this is my first graphic novel translation, I’ve learned from other translators who specialize in this genre, notably Sandra Smith, with whom I spoke at a Brooklyn Book Festival Bookends panel three years ago about translating visual stories. At that panel, she talked about translating the graphic novel edition of Albert Camus’s The Stranger from French to English. She talked about the unique challenges of the graphic novel format, most memorably the need for economy of language in order to fit the translated text into the tight spaces of each panel.
In translating Pardalita, I had the advantage of English being an economical language in terms of word count, while Portuguese is much wordier in general. However, when graphic novelists create the script, they do so knowing that the text has to be concise — and precise. They choose the most economical ways of expressing description, internal monologue, and dialogue in that language. What can be expressed by one word in its source language may need many words to express in the new language. To some extent, this is also true for picture books, and I’ve found that the early drafts of most of my picture book translations have had 20-30% more words than the final versions. With less space and more pages, I’ve tried to do my cutting before I turn in the draft, and I’m sure my brilliant and insightful editor, Nick Thomas, will find even more to trim.
The fact that this is in part a verse novel fits in with my own writing in this genre, both in Moonwalking and a newer historical YA project featuring a teenage poet who writes free verse as rebellion against the repressive conditions of her life. I appreciate the opportunity to work with another poet’s style, which I also did with Zetta — although our goal in Moonwalking was to preserve our unique voices as we channeled Pie and JJ.
My manuscript is due this week and I’m now checking it over. On September 12, I’ll be talking about what I learned as part of my webinar on translation for the Eastern PA chapter of SCBWI. I’m the second presenter in a two-part series titled “Found in Translation.” On September 6, literary agent Ellen Goff will talk about how foreign rights are sold, translation contracts, and the publishing process in various countries. I will focus on the translator’s perspective — how to become a translator, what makes an effective translation for young readers, working with editors, and getting the best contract. Both events are free and begin at 7 pm Eastern Time. Register here, and I hope to see you next month!