Isotopy as a Tool for the Analysis of Comics in Translation: The Italian ‘Rip-Off’ of Gilbert Shelton’s Freak Brothers

By: Chiara Polli


Volume: 07
Issue: 02:2021
ISSN: 2459-2943
DOI: 10.18680/hss.2021.0016
Pages: 17-43
Lic.: CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Gilbert Shelton



This article examines a corpus of selected Italian translations of Gilbert Shelton’s underground comic strip The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (initially collected in 13 issues by Rip Off Press, 1971–1997) using isotopies as a key tool in the analysis of comics in translation. After discussing the role and potential applications of isotopies (cf. Bertrand 2000; Greimas 1966b; Rastier 1972; Greimas and Courtés 1979), we argue that the act of translating comics inherently entails the selection, magnification, narcotization, and even erasure of the isotopies of the source text as well as the creation of new ones belonging exclusively to the target culture. Subsequently, Shelton’s works are analyzed as an example of politically-committed, subversive social satire, which can be considered the epitome of the 1960–70s’ US-countercultural zeitgeist. In Italy, Shelton’s comic strips received multiple translations from both alternative, militant publishers (Arcana and Stampa Alternativa) and mainstream houses (Mondadori and Comicon). This allows for a diachronic comparison of multiple translations of the same comics, each showing the signs of changing translational approaches, editorial policies, and target audiences. Finally, the contrastive analysis of original works and translations may provide insight into the negotiation and communication of cultural, social, and political identities through the medium of comics. In this respect, we employ a semiotic approach that disentangles the ideological and culture-bound premises and the hermeneutic frames that intervene in translating comics of such vital (counter-)cultural value as Shelton’s Freak Brothers.


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