How the visual language of comics could have its roots in the ice age

March 25th, 2020 by Neil Cohn's love of comic strips began in his family's attic. In one of his earliest memories, he recalls his dad climbing the stairs and pulling down a box of 1960s Batman and Superman books that he had stashed away from his own childhood. To Cohn's four-year-old self, it was as if they'd been imported from a strange and foreign place. "They had this kind of mystery to them," he says. Instantly he was hooked. It was not long before he became a compulsive comic artist himself; in his teens he even started his own mail-order comic company. As he set about his creations, he would often wonder how the brain makes the huge cognitive leap to piece together a story from the fragmentary, stylised pictures on his drawing board. Now a psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, Neil Cohn is finally getting the chance to answer that question, as he carefully dismantles comic strips such as Peanuts. His theory, presented in The Visual Language of Comics (Bloomsbury) next month, is provocative. At a neural level, he says, the pictures of comic strips are processed as another form of language, with their own vocabulary, grammar and syntax. "Human beings only have three ways to convey our thoughts," he explains. "We create sounds using our mouths; we can move our bodies with hands and faces; and we can draw things… My idea is that whenever these meaning-making channels get structured in a coherent sequence, then you end up with a type of language." If he is right, the hidden logic of cartoon panels could provide new vistas on art, language and creative development. Cohn's theory builds on a growing acceptance that the brain's language toolkit is a kind of Swiss army knife for many different kinds of expression, such as music or dance. In some ways the ties with art should be stronger, however – since, unlike music, pictures encode a definite meaning. "Drawing has always been about communication – to express an idea in your head to other people," says Cohn. The drive to tell stories with pictures certainly has deep roots. Stone age paintings in places such as the Chauvet cave in France seem to show scenes of galloping horses and pouncing lions, using techniques that would be familiar to graphic artists today. More advanced picture narratives appeared in works such as the Bayeux tapestry and Paupers' Bibles. In some indigenous Australian cultures, sand drawings are used as a regular part of discourse; in fact, drawing is so entwined with speech in the language of these cultures that you can't be considered fluent if you don't know the appropriate pictures. Read more: The Guardian

A New Language Could Help Bring Comic Books to the Blind

August 3rd, 2016 by Thanks to advances both high- and low-tech, more experiences previously inaccessible to the blind are now moving within reach: This past spring, for example, Twitter added a feature that translates tweets into Braille or audio text; an iPad app makes it possible to type emails in Braille from a tablet; and visually impaired kids have their own picture books, with images printed in 3-D beneath Braille words. But there are still some pockets of sighted life that neither Braille nor text-to-speech technology can reach. One of them is comic books: Words, whether spoken or Braille, can describe setting and action and dialogue, but they can’t fully convey what it’s like to read a comic. “Comic books have a language,” says comic artist Ilan Manouach. “They have specific devices” to convey certain actions or emotions, like “a lightbulb, [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][or] a drop of sweat,” that get lost when a visual story is translated into a fully language-based one. But Manouach believes he’s found a way to overcome that particular hurdle: His latest project is Shapereader, a tactile language designed to give the blind their own comic books. Unlike Braille, it’s rendered in visuals rather than letters and words: Shapereader is made up of 210 “tactigrams,” distinct textures that each evoke a different person, action, emotion, or other story element. “Dogsled,” for example, is a series of interlocking diamonds; “to rest” is a pattern that looks a little like wheat; “anxiety” is a zigzag; one character is represented by a patch of horizontal lines. (You can check out more tactigrams on the project’s home page.) Read more: NY Magazine[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]