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Humans are hardwired for comics?

Eric Jaffe explores the idea that humans are hardwired for the visual language of comics.

Language is more than just a series of words strung together. A sentence must have some essential structure, some system of rules governing words and clauses–a grammar. You don’t have to be Strunk or White to recognize this system at work; it’s automatic in the brain. In Noam Chomsky’s famous example, people know that the meaningless sentence “colorless green ideas sleep furiously” is grammatically correct the very first time they see it.

Psychologist Neil Cohn of University of California at San Diego believes comic strips operate the same way. Far from just a series of panels strung together, comics represent to Cohn a coherent, complex “visual language.” His research over the years–culminating in a new book called The Visual Language of Comics (Bloomsbury)–suggests that our brains register the presence of a grammatical system in the funny pages just as they would in a book’s pages.

Community Comments

#1 Joel Bader
December/21/2013
@ 12:14 pm

Why Peanuts? Why didn’t they study other comic strips such as Pogo or Beetle Bailey? Charles Schulz may have been great, but I think he is WAY overrated.

#2 b.j. dewey
December/26/2013
@ 6:32 pm

I can understand studying “Peanuts,” but do wonder why not include “Pogo” and also “Krazy Kat,” with their marvelous wordplay and languages all their own. Still, it’s a good study and good reading.

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