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I often see mute characters just gesturing and a person who can talk translating the mute person, but I would like to have both my mute and non-mute characters speak with sign languages without wasting a dozen of panels. Is there a way or standard on how to write dialogues from two mute persons in a comic book? What formatting and text bubbles are used for this purpose?

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    How about putting [Signs] in brackets before the speech? Jan 19, 2023 at 13:28

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I don't remember reading any comics where characters would be speaking sign language. I guess there probably isn't a standard for that... which means you can make any choice you deem fit. A specific shape of bubbles to denote sign language? Font? Colour? The tail of the bubble pointing to the hands, rather than the head? Not a bubble, but the text written straight on the background? All is at your disposal.

I'm sure you don't want to draw every single sign in a separate frame, for three reasons. One, huge lot of drawing. Two, very tiresome to read. Three, most of your prospective readers don't know sign language (and some readers do know a sign language but a different one than your country's). If you want to draw out your lines in a sign language, you probably want to do a mini-comics of the signs only inside of the bubble. Which I'm sure would be very cool, but most of us would still need a translation.

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This question applies to a bunch of potential communication issues.

  • Person who only speaks and understands a different language than most locals do not.
  • Person who understands the local language but cannot speak it for some reason. (Most closely with the usual mute. Somewhat overlaps some deaf people who can lip read.)
  • Sci-fi things like telepathy, brain implants, etc., both where the subject is reduced in capability, and when they are enhanced so everybody else is relatively challenged.
  • Unusual psychological issues such as pathological shyness, selective mutism, etc.

Probably I am missing some. But the issue is, one person has a semi-permeable barrier to communication. Meaning they have some difficulty getting understood by the background of people, but they can communicate to some degree with some people.

There are a bunch of ways to deal with it.

A translator is possible. Though it gets old very quickly. It can be fun when the translator goes "off script." That has several channels: The foreign speaker understand nothing of the local language, so is at the mercy of the translator. The foreign speaker understand a little so catches some of the differences. The foreign speaker is completely fluent but does not show it right away. Each has possible plots attached, many of which are cliché.

There was a character in the comic strip Doonesbury who was the translator for the leader of China. One day the leader ordered the Great Wall be torn down because it was a symbol of past tyranny. She reported the next day that a huge work force had been mobilized and the Wall torn down. The following day the leader decided that the Wall was actually a great symbol of Chinese culture and should be restored. The next day she reported that an even larger volunteer force had been mobilized, and the Wall restored in every detail. It makes a good story, but you can't go there very often.

Subtitles is one. You can even turn them "off and on" as required for the purposes of drama.

Have a few people around understand the speaker even though the audience does not. The people around reproduce enough of the conversation that we can get the point. Think some of the Sar Wars movies where a robot or a non-human would speak, then somebody would reproduce part of the conversation. Or we would just ignore it. Some repair droid wobbles out and goes "Squawk-a-driiiiiit Squerloo!" And a human says "Oh thank you, here let me sign for that."

I recall a sci-fi movie about a huge military robot. Sometimes called a Gundam. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gundam_(fictional_robot) The movie was originally filmed in Japanese. But the Gundam spoke only English, though it could understand Japanese. And its friendly human could speak Japanese but understood the Gundam's English. So watching the movie with English sub-titles for the Japanese parts was kind of weird because the Japanese hero was constantly repeating much of the robot's dialog. And the robot sometimes repeated the Japanese bits as well. So when the human and robot talked it was easier to understand what was going on by ignoring the subs.

The comedian Bob Newhart used to have a signature thing where he talked on the phone. He would do one side of the conversation. But you would get the idea.

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