Superman is one of the most recognizable characters in the world. Some of that has to do with his longevity, of course, as well as a fair amount of marketing. But part of that comes from the fact that Superman’s stories are available around the globe. But not exactly the comics we have here in the United States. Not everyone can read English, after all. His adventures are translated into Spanish and Arabic and Russian and Japanese and just about any other language you might know. That can happen because others have recognized the character’s broad appeal and have convinced DC that licensing the character and printing the stories with local translations is profitable. Needless to say, if the stories don’t sell in that language, those comics are eventually discontinued.
But there are two things relevant here to our discussion of webcomics. First, Superman has the backing of a large corporation with a lot of money. DC has the weight that allows them to hire translators, if they choose, or subcontract that work out to regional printers or licensees. Second, the primary motivator for Superman comics is money. DC has kept Superman in print for over 75 years, not because the character was a pet project of an individual editor or publisher, but because the character has continued to be profitable. Sometimes more profitable than others, but always profitable.
There are no webcomics, by contrast, that have the recognition levels of Superman. There are no webcomics that have the weight of a company like DC. (Or its parent, Warner Bros.) The desire to have any webcomic translated into another language is almost certainly not based on any sort of monetization plans. There are very few webcomics that might even consider getting translations done; it’s just not that likely to bring in enough money to make it worthwhile.
But there are webcomics out there presented in multiple languages. These generally fall into two camps. First, those which are done by a multi-lingual creator who’s fluent enough in both languages that it’s not much extra work to provide translations themselves. Second, those which have a caught the attention of a multi-lingual fan, who is so passionate about the work that they willingly provide translations to the creator for free. In both cases, though, it should be noted that motivation is not, as is the case with Superman, based on generating more income, but in passionately sharing the work with a wider audience.
I frequently talk about the benefits of webcomics over print comics, but it’s worth pointing out here that webcomics are generally at a disadvantage when it comes to becoming internationally known. Unless a creator can translate the work her/himself, or has a devoted and continually reliable fan who takes on the task over the long term, those comics with a larger financial backing will win when it comes to the language issue.