Drawings and sequential images are an integral part of human expression dating back at least as far as cave paintings, and in contemporary society appear most prominently in comics. Despite this fundamental part of human identity, little work has explored the comprehension and cognitive underpinnings of visual narratives—until now.
This work presents a provocative theory: that drawings and sequential images are structured the same as language. Building on contemporary theories from linguistics and cognitive psychology, it argues that comics are written in a visual language of sequential images that combines with text. Like spoken and signed languages, visual narratives use a lexicon of systematic patterns stored in memory, strategies for combining these patterns into meaningful units, and a hierarchic grammar governing the combination of sequential images into coherent expressions. Filled with examples and illustrations, this book details each of these levels of structure, explains how cross-cultural differences arise in diverse visual languages of the world, and describes what the newest neuroscience research reveals about the brain’s comprehension of visual narratives. From this emerges the foundation for a new line of research within the linguistic and cognitive sciences, raising intriguing questions about the connections between language and the diversity of humans’ expressive behaviours in the mind and brain.
“Neil Cohn's The Visual Language of Comics is a smart, carefully organized, and exceptionally well-argued work of comics scholarship. I suspect it will become one of a very small number of truly crucial texts in the burgeoning field of comics studies. The book provides an original yet persuasive account of the relationship of comics and language and introduces key terms and conceptual distinctions that are likely to become part of the common sense of comics analysis and criticism. It also explores the ways in which comics have been used as tools of communication and self-expression across a variety of cultural contexts. Over the past decade Neil Cohn has published a number of important research articles on comics that make use of his training in linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience. The Visual Language of Comics builds on this interdisciplinary scholarship but it also offers new insights and opens up new avenues of inquiry. Recommended for anyone with an interest in comics, language, and what Richard Gregory calls "the eye-brain system."” – Kent Worcester, Professor of Political Science, Marymount Manhattan College, USA,
“Neil Cohn thinks about the comics medium and visual literacy on very deep and enlightening levels. In The Visual Language of Comics, Cohn shares his research and insights on how the mind works when processing sequential visuals. It's fascinating reading for anyone interested in visual communication.” – Carl Potts, Former Executive Editor, Marvel Comics and Author of 'The DC Comics Guide to Creating Comics: Inside the Art of Visual Storytelling',