Ask a Book Question

Ask a Book Question: The Sixteenth in a Series (Comics and Cognition)

By posted at 12:07 am on April 12, 2004 0

Tom writes:

First of all, thanks for suggesting Our Band Could Be Your Life. I am about halfway through and its great. My question is unrelated. It is: are there any books that attempt to bring together cognitive science and comic books in a similar style to Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics? If not, do you know of any more general books about the cross-section of literature and cognitive science? I am looking for something that discusses the scientific specifics while remaining readable and interesting. Thanks.

I held a grudge against cognitive science for a long time because of a really bad class I took my freshman year of college. My professor spent much of the semester showing us home movies of her toddler learning how to talk, and I finished up with a bad grade and no knowledge of cognition at all. Now, if Scott McCloud had taught the class, I might be singing a different tune. Understanding Comics is a very special, and peculiar, book. For those who haven’t read it (I have delved into it here and there, but I will read it all the way through sometime soon), McCloud writes a comic that teaches us how we perceive comics as a storytelling medium. It’s very meta. The literary equivalent would be a novel about how and why we understand novels. Because of how peculiar McCloud’s book is, it doesn’t seem likely that there are any comparable books which take either comics or literature as the subject matter. There may, however, be a couple of books that expand upon the base of knowledge provided in Understanding Comics

McCloud provides a bibliography at the end of Understanding Comics. From among the books he lists as source, the most useful for your purposes seems likely to be Comics & Sequential Art by Will Eisner. Eisner is considered to be the father of the graphic novel, and this book, the textbook for a course he teaches, discusses the principles of graphic storytelling. This book will go much more into detail from an artists standpoint than McCloud’s book does, but the central idea remains tapping into the human capacity to understand a visual narrative.

I was very intrigued by the idea of a book that is a melding of both literature and cognitive science and I suspect that there is some dense novel out there that wrestles with this idea (or perhaps Borges has it covered), but I was also curious to see if there is any readable academic literature on the topic. After doing some research, there is indeed a lot of UN-readable literature on the subject, but one slim volume did catch my eye. Metaphors We Live By was written by a linguistics professor and a philosophy professor. The book explains how metaphors, one of the more expressive aspects of language, can tell us a lot about the human mind. It certainly seems rather dry compared to McCloud, but it might prove useful as another perspective on the intricacies of human creativity.

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