It's scholarin' time!

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The most recent PhD Comics strip by Jorge Cham features real-life material from the scholarly side of the 2010 Comic Arts Conference, and especially the work of Neil Cohn, a psychology grad student at Tufts who "measures people's brain waves while they read comics".

You can read Neil's own account of his presentation on his blog, The Visual Linguist:

My talk seemed to go fairly well (thanks to those who came!), and I greatly enjoyed the discussions with people afterwards. This was the first year I got to present actually experimental brain data on comics, which I'd been looking forward to for awhile.

You can also check out Neil's Visual Language Research Bibliography (which doesn't seem to include any of his neuroscience work yet), or read a PR profile from the "Tufts Office of Web Communication". I also note that the web site for Tufts' Center For Cognitive Studies supplements the usual lists of affiliated faculty, courses, publications, etc., with a list of relevant Zippy cartoons, which may be a symptom of the factors that led Neil to pursue his studies there.

A quick Google Scholar search turned up Kuperberg, Choi, Cohn, Paczynski & Jackendoff, "Electrophysiological Correlates of Complement Coercion", Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 2009, which has "experimental brain data", but unfortunately doesn't have any comics in it. And there's Richards, Finlayson & Winston, "Advancing Computational Models of Narrative", CSAIL Technical Report 2009-063, which reports on a workshop where Neil Cohn talked about narrative structure in comics, but without any of that "experimental brain data". So I guess we'll have to wait for the Comic-Con2010 proceedings to come out…

Meanwhile, here's a clever cover parody from the previous PhDComics strip:

[Update — Neil sent me this citation and link:

Cohn N, Paczynski M, Holcomb P, Jackendoff R, Kuperberg G R., "Impact of structure and meaning on sequential image comprehension", 23nd Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing, 2010.

He notes that "Amusingly enough, this poster was also included in the actual DVD proceedings from the Comic Arts Conference".]


  1. Ray Girvan said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 8:13 am

    Geeky note: presumably "It's scholarin' time!" alludes to "It's clobberin' time", the trademark battle cry of The Thing.

    [(myl) Thanks, Ray — a failure of theory-of-mind reasoning (damn under-caffeinated paracingulate medial prefrontal cortex!) caused me to forget that some LL readers don't have a classical education. For their benefit, perhaps some other commenters could explain the many other classical allusions in Cham's ComicCon strips: the call "Academics assemble!" in today's strip, for example, or the alignment of iconographical and phrasal associations in the cover parody.]

  2. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 12:15 pm

    I've long hoped for brain-scan research, and old-fashioned survey research, on how people react to what they read, see, and listen to. Do the subtleties that critics point out make a difference to people's experience of books, art, and music? Does it matter whether the reader etc. notices them?

    Is there research on that kind of thing? Maybe I should hope for results from this comic study.

  3. Adam said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 2:36 pm

    "Academics Assemble!" is due to the Avengers:

  4. Jesse Hochstadt said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 3:51 pm

    "Free food sense – tingling!" said by the guy in the Spider-Man (never "Spiderman"), is an allusion to Spider-Man's "Spider-Sense," which basically detects danger before one can see it.

    The "Fear not – I am a doctor" guy is wearing Dr. Strange's costume.

    Wonder Woman woman's thought balloon relates to the fact that the heroine's "feminist" background: she comes from Paradise Island, whose population consists entirely of women. In some versions, she was sent to bring a message of peace to "man's world."

    The gal saying "Geekiness overload!" is wearing the costume of the X-Men character Phoenix, who died from an overload of the "Phoenix Power." (She's been through all kinds of returns and reincarnations since then, but let's not get into that morass.)

    Oh yeah, the little box saying, "Approved by the Internet" refers to the largely defunct Comics Code Authority, which was set up by a group of comics publishers in the 1950s to regulate their own publications after comic books were accused of contributing to juvenile delinquency ( Nowadays very few comics bear the CCA stamp of approval.

    I'm not sure I should sign my name to this….

  5. Jesse Hochstadt said,

    July 26, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

    Make that 'Wonder Woman woman's thought balloon relates to the heroine's "feminist" background.'

  6. bork said,

    July 28, 2010 @ 8:06 pm


  7. Peter Coogan said,

    May 2, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

    Jorge drew the Kirby scholar design and gave me the rights to make a t-shirt, I just haven't gotten to it. Yet.

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