No, this is not your usual What-Did-I-Learn comic review. Instead it’s something special. This first-ever interview on ArtPatient is with Scott Tapp of the Casey & Scotty comic. Beneath the comic, Scott provides a transcript but it’s designed to do far more than it first appears to.
D: Many comic artists would like to provide a transcription of their comics. What made you decide to put the effort into it?
S: I have a good friend, Blake, who is blind. He is an amazing and inspiring individual and is one of my biggest supporters. His wife reads the strips to him and describes the action, but since he has the ability to use special software which reads a webpage to him, I thought it would be a good thing to include a transcription right on the page so he would not have to always have her read it to him. If others who are visually impaired can use this too, great. If not, at least I know my buddy can enjoy the strip along with the rest of our readers. If that’s the only thing I ever get out of it, it is totally worth the effort.
D: Have you taken any extra steps to make the transcription friendly to the visually impaired?
S: Although Blake currently uses speech software and not the Braille hardware (although he has in the past), I try to describe a little detail in the transcriptions for when there is action with little or no dialogue in a panel. I also do not use abbreviations or odd characters in the transcriptions. I could be a lot more descriptive, but, I figured out that if I have described the characters in detail on the ‘Cast’ page, I don’t have to say things like “NUB, an overweight Rottweiler”, I can just say “Nub” and it still gets the point across. Blake is always on my mind when I am writing, and when I draw the strips, and that at least keeps me in the ballpark.
D: Are there situations where your friend would prefer extra description? (Or perhaps especially prefer you didn’t over describe?)
S: Usually, the only time he remarks is when I reach out to him to ask if a particular transcription is showing up so he can read it. But, he’s never asked for anything extra, nor has he asked me to cut back.
D: There is a Google translator utility beneath the blog section, which I didn’t even know existed. Are there any special requirements or things to know about using it?
S: After I discovered Casey and Scotty had a few loyal readers from other countries, I realized this is truly a ‘two birds, one stone’ sort of thing, since the transcriptions can be translated to other languages. You can download the script from Google Widgets and they pre-seed the list of values for all the languages. However, because I am not a linguist by any stretch of the imagination, sometimes my writing does not map correctly to certain languages. I try my best to write the transcriptions so there is no slang, but, for example, “Fixin’ to”, a VERY Texan phrase, does not map properly, so although I may have a character saying this in the panel, I might substitute “preparing to” or “getting ready to” in the transcription. But, I continue to learn in this process, and I’m always open to comments from readers that will make the transcriptions better.
D: Would you recommend keeping sentences as grammatically simple as possible?
S: Yes, whenever possible. There are some times when Google does not translate based on the sentence structure, so keeping it simple is a plus. Words like ‘buddy’ and ‘heck’ and ‘crap’ don’t translate well to all languages, but, this is the way most of my characters speak, so I leave those in there, even though they do not translate well.
D: Is the process for adding the transcriptions somehow automated?
S: It’s a very small piece of code from Google that can easily be pasted into a ‘Text’ WordPress Widget. I’ve often wondered if there were a piece of code that would allow me to include the transcription in the image itself (so that translating the page would automatically show the proper language in the callouts), but this presents a unique problem in that some phrases and words in English are longer or shorter than other languages, so the callouts would never be the right size. However, I’m still looking into this. YouTube has done great things with the little callouts right on the video, so it’s probably only a matter of time. For now, they will just have to be located at the bottom. Additionally, when I write the strips, I write them in the Transcribed format, so it’s just a little cut and paste into the ‘four block’ table I have created in the page each week.
D: Are there any major difficulties you ran into while implementing transcriptions?
S: Not with the software itself, but because I butcher English all the time with East Texas vernacular, sometimes my writing does not map correctly to certain languages. Nub and Grandpa’s lines are especially challenging, because they tend to drop their G’s(IE: HAPPENIN’ instead of happening). But despite my best efforts, sometimes when I check a language, I’ll still see whole sentences being not translated by Google because they just don’t fit well. I try to correct these when I see them, but since I only speak one language, I’m at the mercy of my readers to tell me when something does not translate. They have been VERY gentle with me about this so far.
D: How do you check the translation into other languages?
S: I don’t. You caught me. I wish I spoke a couple more languages, but I am at the mercy of Google when it comes to the accuracy of the translation. From time to time, I’ll check a language to see if there are whole sentences in English, and I’ll change those up in my English transcription to see if I can get them to translate into the other language. But, whether it is right or not, only our non-English speaking friends know. I am hopeful that as the strip grows in readership, maybe I’ll have some folks check my grammar in other languages and make suggestions to me.
D: Have you seen different or better visitor traffic after adding transcriptions?
S: Actually, I see a lot of returning visitors from other countries. It makes me smile when I get a comment from someone in another country, especially the non-English speaking ones. Oddly enough, Coach Bob, who I thought would be a very American character, is very popular with everyone, no matter where they live, because everybody knows a cool teacher or coach like him.
D: Have you also seen improved search engine results because of the extra content indexed?
S: The search in my site works much better now. When I am looking for a certain strip (and I do this often to try to keep some consistency in the strip), I can simply search for ‘Moose’ and it will return all strips that contain the character Moose, but also all those where he is referenced in other conversations. I have not found the time to go back and transcribe ALL of the nearly 500 strips we have done so far, but I do plan to do this now that I have the translator working like I want it on the page. But, it will take a little time.
So it’s safe to safe there are a lot of benefits to providing a transcription of our comics and that the hard work does pay off. Thank you for answering these questions, Scott.
To see more useful transcription examples, take look at Scott’s Casey & Scotty comic. I would also encourage readers who have supplemental questions to ask them in the comments and hopefully Scott will be answer them.