Believing “comics” are an object of inquiry would be akin to linguists focusing on “novels” as opposed to studying English, the language that novels are written in. Analogously, the sequential images used in comics constitute their own “visual language”. Thus, the behavioral domains of writing (written/verbal language) and drawing (visual language) should be the object of linguistic inquiry, stripping away the social categories like “comics,” “graphic novels,” “manga,” etc. Comics then become the predominant place in culture that this visual language is used. That is, contrary to the metaphor used by their authors, comics themselves are not a language, but comics are written in visual languages the same way that novels or magazines are written in English.[source]Neil Cohn is trying to build a formal linguistic framework for this languages including vocabulary, grammar and semantics, as well as a model of how we process these languages as human beings. There are two things I find personally very exciting about this line of work:
1) As Noam Chomsky put it, figuring out how we process language is a major enlightment on how our mind works as well. Steven Pinker argues that language is an intrinsic ability, that we are biologically "wired" to learn languages with a pretty universal framework, contrary to being a 100% learned skill. The arguments are pretty strong although it's in dispute where the line between intrinsic/learned is. If this is true and Neil Cohn is right that sequential visual images are a language like text and speech, it would mean we are biologically wired to draw a narrative out of a sequence of images!
2) Scott McCloud, as well as Will Eisner, emphasized the superior communication power of mixing an image sequence with written and spoken words. Understanding how visual languages mean, we could help leave behind the cultural preference we have for using only text as the "serious" way to communicate ideas. An example of mixed languages from Understanding Comics:
|Try describing this with only text and spoken word.|
But what does all this have to do with Storyteller?
Quite a bit, but I'll leave it for next monday because it might get long. As a teaser, spot the differences: