What is “Scanlation”? A Look at the Fan Translation of Comics in the 21st Century
Fan translation is not a new phenomenon; unofficial translations by dedicated fans have been produced for decades. However, the phenomenon has begun to be closely observed in recent years due to the rise of the Internet; the appearance of online communities as well as translation software has caused fan translation to grow in scale. Fan translation can pertain to different kinds of media and works; however, a particularly interesting occurrence of this phenomenon has been occurring within comics. The act of fan translating comics is colloquially referred to as “scanlation”- a portmanteau of the words “scans” and “translation”. While the term is mostly used to refer to the translation of Japanese serialized comics known as manga, over the past decade the term has been used to refer to the act of amateur scanning, editing and translating of any chosen comic titles. While scanlation was, and continues to be, a violation of copyright laws, it is seen as a solution to the lack of licensing and release of foreign language titles that mainstream publishers deem unpopular to officially translate. Interestingly, the appearance of official online comics platforms has not caused the disappearance of scanlation, which was especially popular in the first decade of the 21 st century, but continues to thrive; scanlation continues to be done by single fan translators and online communities on a lesser but significant scale. The reasons for this range from keeping a sense of online community to producing faster, simultaneous translations.
Scanlation has been credited with popularizing foreign language titles in many countries, and has positively impacted the accessibility of media and cultural exchange. However, it has also brought up the question of legality, copyright and translation quality, as often “scanlators” are amateur translators who are often culturally conscious, but lack the necessary language skills to produce high-quality translations. Therefore, the following lecture will take a closer look at this recent phenomenon, outlining a brief history and examples of practices. A discussion will follow after the lecture.