The Visual Language of Comics
People have used pictures to tell stories for a long time — dating back to cave paintings and seen most prominently today in comics. Despite their fundamental role in human expression, little research has explored the structural and cognitive underpinnings of these types of visual narratives.
A new book by UCSD’s Neil Cohn (The Visual Language of Comics) presents a provocative theory: that drawings and sequential images are structured the same as language. Building on contemporary theories from linguistics and cognitive psychology, the book creates a broad architecture for thinking about the language of comics, drawing, and graphic communication.
"I’d say a lot of the complexity [of comics] is not recognized — certainly not the idea of grammar," says Cohn. “That is controversial, and people often are very surprised by the results that I show.”
In one of his studies, he measured the neural responses of test participants (using electrode caps) as they read various types of comics:
"[Cohn] found that participants reading a "normal" comic strip showed the same brain activity that people show when processing semantics in standard sentences. He also found that participants reading an abnormal comic — with a blank panel inserted mid-strip, to interrupt the underlying structure — showed the same brain activity that people show when registering grammatical violations.”
(You can read our other posts about Cohn’s research here & here.)
Learn more about The Visual Language of Comics →