Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the United States and IDW is highly aware of it. The publisher has been releasing Spanish-translated graphic novels from their own library in an effort to bring in new readers into already successful stories, broadening their reach and opening up potential storytelling avenues in the future.
So far, IDW has released three books as part of their language program: Nos Llamaron Enemigo (They Called Us Enemy), Panda Rojo y Oso Lunar (Red Panda & Moon Bear), and Sonic the Hedgehog: ¡Consecuencias! (Sonic the Hedgehog: Consequences).
The Beat has reviewed all three of them, in Spanish, and has recognized the care that’s gone into the translation of each book so they capture the essence of their original English versions. As a first line of books, they’re a good example of how effective the use of a general or more universal type of Spanish can be in trying to reach the widest audience possible. This is especially helpful when placing these books in libraries and schools, two of the program’s target audiences.
Spanish is a multidimensional language with specific traits and traditions that vary depending on its country of origin (or on the linguistic background of the people that speak it). IDW’s translations strive for an accessible form of Spanish that’s inclusive and easy to jump into for any Spanish-speaker, and it succeeds at it for the most part.
The Beat spoke to IDW’s Editorial Director of Graphic Novels and Collections, Justin Eisinger, via email interview to learn more about the Spanish Language Program and to get a sense as to its scope, the importance of libraries for these type of programs, and future translations. Eisinger is also co-author, along with George Takei, of the graphic novel They Called Us Enemy.
Ricardo Serrano: IDW’s Spanish language program will be focusing on select graphic novels for translation. What goes into the decision-making process behind those selections?
Justin Eisinger: That is an excellent question, thanks! A simple answer is that we looked at our library, identified books that have had success finding and engaging with readers, and then prepared them to be discovered by entirely new audiences.
More specifically, the idea for an IDW/Top Shelf Productions Spanish language program came from an audience member’s comment during a 2019 American Library Association Auditorium Speech that I participated in along with the rest of the They Called Us Enemy creative team, including, of course, George Takei.
This librarian said they found George’s story hopeful and representative of the idea that the worst moments of our life do not need to define us, and related that to the suffering being experienced by immigrant families along the U.S. Southern border. They hoped that any people — especially young people — trapped in the system then (and now) could have access to this story to help them understand its message of hope.
At that moment a switch flipped and I thought “Yes, we need to work with a partner to make that happen!” then waited a beat and realized “Wait, I work for a publisher, we can make this happen!”
So fundamentally the program is about increasing access to ideas, and from there we use the available data to make the best decisions possible for tapping into an audience of some 41 million Spanish speaking individuals within the United States.
Serrano: With three books already available and getting good reviews, has the market responded well enough to see more Spanish translations moving forward?
Eisinger: Yes. And we are so thankful for the critical reception. Though of course the Covid-19 situation and its impact on schools and libraries has added some speed bumps in terms of directly engaging the anticipated audience. Not that it has stopped our rolling out what I consider Phase 2 of the program, which starts this fall with the arrival of Redbone: la verdadera historia de una banda de rock indígena estadounidense which is being simultaneously published in English and Spanish in October.
Beyond that, I can’t get into any specifics, but we’re in discussions right now with creators about both acquiring rights to other existing publications that could be folded into the program, as well as developing new stories that fit into the IDW and Top Shelf Productions brands that feature topics or themes which resonate with the Spanish speaking community.
Serrano: As an outlet for literacy, comics can help non-English speakers engage with original material in their home language. But it can go beyond that audience as well. Has there been talk of bringing in readers that are learning Spanish to these books as well?
We tend to think translations work best for those who do not speak English, but they can help those learning another language to deepen their understanding of it.
Eisinger: Great point. Let’s be honest, this program, and even those of other publishers moving into this space, are new and untested. There’s really no telling what the larger potential or impact of this all working is going to look like, except, I suspect, selling more books! Corporate bosses and salespeople like that, but from a storytelling or creative side, as I touched on before, a program like this lowers the bar of entry to these books for some 41 million readers. And creators like that! How teachers or educators decide to make use of these books remains to be seen, but I have no doubt that we’ll be inspired by their ingenuity in how they apply these tools to their mission. To that end, I know that we’ll support these titles with the same efforts we put behind other books in this space by creating teaching guides and other reference materials.
Serrano: Is it possible we’ll be seeing original Spanish graphic novels, by Spanish-speaking creators, produced by IDW as part of this program? Or is the focus solely on translations for the time being?
Eisinger: Yes, we’re open to exploring many different avenues to reach readers in the spaces where they are most comfortable. And thankfully there are Spanish language graphic novels available in North America already, thanks primarily to our European and South American publishing colleagues and the nature of foreign licensing. There is data out there for anyone who cares to dive in for a full picture. But right now, these initiatives are in early stages, so we’re primarily looking at acquisitions and translations in order to engage Spanish language readers and build momentum.
Serrano: Are there plans for translations in languages other than Spanish in the works?
Eisinger: Probably not right now. The stats say there are 239 million English speakers in the United States compared to 41 million Spanish speaking individuals. Spanish is the second-most spoken language. Number three? Chinese at 3.5 million. So just based on data I think we’re a ways off from exploring other languages for the North American audience.
Serrano: Do you already have the next batch of books ready for translation? What’s next for the Spanish translation initiative?
Eisinger: We do! Redbone: la verdadera historia de una banda de rock indígena estadounidense (Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band) will be released this October. Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Bienvenidos a Lovecraft (Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft) will go out for lettering this week. More scripts are standing by for translation by our awesome Spanish language editorial team — and we’ll share all that news soon. In the meantime, we look forward to the continued roll out of this program, learning how to strengthen and expand its mission, and hopefully surprising all of you with exciting announcements that show just how serious we are about expanding access to books for everyone.
The first three offerings from IDW’s Spanish language program are available in stores now.