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2009-05-21 - - 12:40 p.m.

One of the things I have decided to give a serious go for the first time: collaboration.

Apparently I am a team player... at least, so it says on my performance reviews. But as with everything else on a performance review, that's complete and utter bullshit. I am committed to doing my part when I am contributing to a project, but only a tiny portion of that time is spent working collaboratively.

And I like it that way.

A while ago, I thought it might be a good idea to try an actual joint project for once. I figured the only way it could work out would be if it were something I felt personally motivated to do for my own interest and in my free time.

Now, I'm putting this to the test. I'm currently participating in a group effort to translate a series of Taiwanese young adult novels. It's not high literature or anything, but it involves videogames, comedy, and has a pretty strong feminist agenda. I'm editing and proofreading for the translation effort.

It's been interesting so far. We've been coordinating our efforts to make pretty rough copy into something smooth and readable that keeps the feel of the original text. This is harder than I thought - the sentences are usually a half page long, with lots of specialist vocabulary thrown in, mental interjections and little distinction as to what tense verbs should be.

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Fan translations of media from Asia - comics, tv, novels - is a pretty established practice with some generally understood guidelines.

Typically, in fan translation work, the flow is as follows.

  • Someone with the skills to translate and assemble (either image editing or subbing/encoding) will see a project and decide to make it available in English.
  • This is made available for download or online reading in some way for other people.
  • If the work is really popular, it's likely that a North American publisher/distributor will buy the English rights to the work from the original author or publisher.
  • Once a work is licensed, (usually) whoever is translating it will stop in order to avoid cutting into official sales or a C&D notice.

Unofficial translations are of dubious legality. For animation and comics from Japan (the source of most fan translated material), it's generally true that anything half decent will eventually be licensed for English release. Korean manhwa is also picked up with more frequency recently, but is less likely.

China and Taiwan, however? I can't really think of anything off the top of my head.

The situation I'm describing is mostly applicable to manga/manhwa/manhua - that is to say, comics. There's a decent market for it in English-speaking regions now. Popular young adult novels? Not so much.

In fact, even the ones from Japan that would have a chance in the market are usually riding the coat-tails of their popular manga or anime adaptations (Kino's Travels, Twelve Kingdoms).

The project I'm working on has a manhua adaptation. However, it doesn't seem likely that it would ever be picked up for English publication. The novel, even less so. To put this in perspective, take the entire wuxia genre of Chinese novels.

Wuxia novels are huge in the Chinese-speaking world. Wuxia has a long history and is pretty culturally significant due to its sheer popularity across all age groups (in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, the main couple were working on a wuxia series together - chivalric martial arts serials set in ancient China).

However, despite all that, I don't know of any wuxia novels that are readily available in English. Jin Yong's (in English, Louis Cha) The Legend of Condor Heroes is a trilogy that has seen many adaptations into film, tv, and animation. However, when I search Amazon for the novels, it isn't listed - and the only works with him as a credit are manhua adaptations of his other works - many out of print.

So compared to Jin Yong's works - which have a huge established market - there is the novel we're working on. It is written for young adults. Female young adults.

Female gamers who would be interested in a gender-bending, ambiguously gay romantic comedy, and who know their way around MMORPGs well enough that they are unfazed by paragraphs of character stats and moves from Street Fighter.

The game industry doesn't even seem to grasp the concept of female gamers who aren't interested in raising Barbie's pony. Or Imagine: Babyz. The possibility that this would ever be picked up for English publication is probably like snowball's chance in hell.

This is why we decided to work on it. To be considerate, we e-mailed the author and asked her to let us know whether she wanted us to stop sharing it. She replied to say that she was happy we were working on it, and "Jia You!" (keep working hard).

I thought this was pretty amazing. I wonder if that attitude is simply from being in the bootleg/piracy centre of the world?



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