Neil Cohn, Who Understands Comics? (Bloomsbury Academic: 2020)

About the scholar

Dr. Neil 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.

About the book

Cohn, Neil. Who Understands Comics? : Questioning the Universality of Visual Language Comprehension. London UK: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020.

Official blurb: Drawings and sequential images are so pervasive in contemporary society that we may take their understanding for granted. Dr Cohn asks: how transparent are they really and how universally are they understood? 
Combining recent advances from linguistics, cognitive science and clinical psychology, this book argues that visual narratives involve much 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, Dr. 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?