Neil CohnOct 30, 2023
Who Understands Comics?
Questioning the Universality of Visual Language Comprehension
Bloomsbury Publishing 2020
Drawings and sequential images are so pervasive in contemporary society that we may take their understanding for granted. But how transparent are they really, and how universally are they understood? Combining recent advances from linguistics, cognitive science, and clinical psychology, Who Understands Comics?: Questioning the Universality of Visual Language Comprehension (Bloomsbury, 2020) argues that visual narratives involve greater complexity and require a lot more decoding than widely thought. Although increasingly used beyond the sphere of entertainment as materials in humanitarian, educational, and experimental contexts, Neil Cohn demonstrates that their universal comprehension cannot be assumed. Instead, understanding a visual language requires a fluency that is contingent on exposure and practice with a graphic system. Bringing together a rich but scattered literature on how people comprehend, and learn to comprehend, a sequence of images, this book coalesces research from a diverse range of fields into a broader interdisciplinary view of visual narrative to ask: Who Understands Comics?
In this interview, Dr. Cohn discusses some common misconceptions about comics, the ability to read and make comics, and how drawings are at the core of so many creations.
Who Understands Comics? was Nominated for the 2021 Eisner Award for Best Academic/Scholarly Work
Dr. Niel Cohn is currently an Associate Professor at the Tilburg center for Cognition and Communication at Tilburg University, in the Netherlands, Neil Cohn is an American cognitive scientist best known for his pioneering research on the overlap in cognition between graphic communication and language. His books, The Visual Language of Comics (2013) and the 2021 Eisner-nominated Who Understands Comics? (2020), establish a foundation for the scientific study of comics' structure.
Elizabeth Allyn Woock an assistant professor in the Department of English and American Studies at Palacky University in the Czech Republic with an interdisciplinary background in history and popular literature. Her specialization falls within the study of comic books and graphic novels.