Finding the Funny

A combination of strategies derived from Klaus Kaindl (2004), Salvatore Attardo (2002), and B.J. Epstein (2012) inform what I suggest to be a viable approach to translating comics containing humor. What I will proceed to illustrate now are the practical issues to consider in translating the humor used in comics. Exemplifying this are the two Italian comics series mentioned above. I will look at examples, offering my own translation solution for each, and from there provide strategies for the typology as a whole.

Where Is the Humor?

Using Kaindl’s five different categories (2004, 176), I analyzed the first issue of each series in order to identify the frequency of humorous instances (Table 18.1). The choice to focus primarily on these issues is due to my belief that, for a comics publisher, the sales of the first issue of a new series will determine whether further installments are viable or not. Very much like a pilot episode of a television series, the first issue of a new comics series is indicative of whether it will continue selling. Additionally, this pragmatic approach is in keeping, I would argue, with the functional stance of my chapter as a whole.

As expected, Ortolani’s Rat-Man, which started out as a parody of the American superhero comic book genre, is the comic containing the higher frequency of humor. These results further prove the claims of Zanettin, who regards humor as one of the integral properties of a text, especially in longer narratives, rather than “just located at specific points in the text” (2010, 44), and of Mangiron Hevia, who recognizes the value of humor as a tension breaker and intensifier of enjoyment derived from the plot (2010, 91).

Table 18.1: Sign-play in two series

Types of sign-play


Le Sconvolgenti Origini del Rat-Man!



Only verbal signs



Verbal reinforced by nonverbal





6 0

Nonverbal reinforced by verbal


6 0

Only nonverbal signs



Total panels


3 98

Total instances of humor

29 (34.9%)

31 (7.8%)

The brief quantitative analysis of the presence of “sign-play,” which I define as the comedic tension between image and text, to convey humor in both Rat-Man and PKNA emphasizes the importance of the co-presence of both verbal and nonverbal signs. It does not, however, help to identify what types of humor are being used in the source texts. There is heavy reliance on multimodal-dependent humor in both series, but this only informs a translator about having to rely on the visual aspect; a strategy to translate that verbal/nonverbal dependency is still lacking. The current approaches shown above are more useful in a descriptive analysis, rather than suggesting a working method, which is my intention below.

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