What is it about?

Comics & graphic novel scholarship can benefit from cognitivist approaches in other disciplines. Linguistics has produced several fruitful theories. In this chapter I briefly discuss conceptual metaphor theory (CMT, pioneered by Lakoff and Johnson 1980), blending theory/conceptual integration theory (BT/CIT, pioneered by Fauconnier and Turner 2002), and relevance theory (RT, pioneered by Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995), discussing some comics and political cartoons by way of demonstration.

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Why is it important?

Comics, the "Ninth Art," deserves a much more prominent place in humanities scholarship than it currently has. Comics and cartoons are very fruitful and rewarding media for the development of visual studies and multimodality. From a theoretical point of view, they have one great advantage over (most) other varieties of static art, as traditionally studies by art historians: their interpretation is strongly guided by narrative (comics) or argumentative (political cartoons) patterns. Clearly, part of comics/cartoon scholarship must take the form of oeuvre studies and historiography. Like novels and films, these medium moreover also richly reward approaches that aim at laying bare ethical and ideological assumptions underlying the stories and arguments. But the venerable disciplines of cognitive linguistics and pragmatics have developed tools that show how our understanding of them is rooted in the way we think.


Humanities research tends to be extremely fragmented. One way to to help make clear how its myriad manifestations cohere is to focus on the link between communication and cognition. The humanities typically study discourses in a variety of genres, modes, and media. The central question in all analyses is: what does this mean, and what elements in the discourse are responsible for deciding on this meaning? Since interpretations of a given discourse may differ in minor or major respects, it is crucial that researchers address what (may) give(s) rise to these diverging interpretations. In my view, relevance theory can do the job of providing an inclusive framework for discussing communication, mainly because it proposes in a convincing manner how communication is rooted in cognition. In Visual and Multimodal Communication: Applying the Relevance Principle (Forceville 2020) I develop this idea at greater length.

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

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This page is a summary of: Conceptual Metaphor Theory, Blending Theory and Other Cognitivist Perspectives on Comics, January 2016, Bloomsbury Academic, DOI: 10.5040/9781474283670.ch-004.
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