You’re probably reading this column in English. That’s certainly the language I’m using to write it. Despite taking a few years of Spanish in high school and a semester of ASL, English is the only language I have anything resembling fluency. So it stands to reason that all of the webcomics I read are also in English. But it should come as no surprise that webcomics are written in all sorts of languages, and particularly languages from those countries like France and Japan that have a stronger history of comics more generally.
Personally, I’m interested in trying to read about ideas and experiences beyond what I might encounter normally, so I make an active point to seek out stories from other cultures. However, being only able to read English, that means I have to wait until a work is translated before I can read it. In the case of published works, I’ve been frustrated more than once that a foreign series I was enjoying the English version of was canceled due to low sales before it was complete. I understand the economics of this, and I’ve seen it in American comics before, but it’s more frustrating with foreign language books because I know there is a complete story out there, just not one that’s been translated into something I can read.
Now, there are a number of webcomics out there from foreign countries that I have no problems reading. I’m quite fond of Stand Still, Stay Silent by Minna Sundberg out of Finland, and Powernap by Maritza Campos and Bachan out of Mexico is quite good, for examples. But I am able to read and enjoy them because the creators take it upon themselves to translate them into English, presumably because they’re specifically trying to target an English-speaking audience. But that’s not something every creator has the ability (or even the desire!) to do.
Which is a shame since there are undoubtedly some excellent comics out there that aren’t getting seen by as many people as they might. At least in the cases of works by the likes of Osamu Tezuka, Herge, Alfredo Alcala, and others, publishers recognized the significance of their work and had it translated. We haven’t really seen much of that yet with webcomic creators, and many readers are left completely ignorant of a huge number of talented creators. The LINE Webtoons folks are bringing to light many Korean talents, but I’m hard-pressed to think of anyone else doing anything similar.
Some of that likely has to do with the relative newness of the industry. While webcomics have been around for around a quarter century here in the US, it’s a much more recent development in many other countries. (For a whole host of reasons that I don’t have the space to get into here!) So just as it took a solid twenty years for American publishers to catch on to this new wave of talent, I suspect it will likely be another five or ten years before we see anyone try translating/republishing something from French. Until then, English-only readers are stuck hoping for creators to translate their own works if they want to read something from another country.