Mayan Visual Language?

I haven’t done a review for a while, so here’s an absolutely fascinating one (again, listed in my bibliography):

Nielsen, Jesper, and Wichmann, Søren. 2000. America’s First Comics? Techniques, Contents, and Functions of Sequential Text-Image Pairings in the Classic Maya Period. In Comics and Culture: Analytical and Theoretical Approaches to Comics. Magnussen, Anne, and Hans-Christian Christiansen (Eds.).

This absolutely fascinating article provides a structural analysis of what could be interpreted as Mayan Visual Language. Some examples very clearly use the VL grammatical categories I’ve been researching, such as this one here (read here, R-to-L, click for high res.):

Most of these artifacts were taken from “vessels” (vases), so the sequentiality of the reading (layout) would be gained by turning the object itself. This is reminiscent of the 5000 year old goblet found in Tehran with sequential art on it. The authors also speculate on the usage of speed-lines and speech balloons, which have semantic variation in representation (speech balloons turn into flames used to show anger – a notable conceptual metaphor in its own right).

They also note writing and images exist sometimes exist independently of each other, but by and large are overshadowed by text-image pairings with sequential art. It’s interesting the reverence placed on image-text pairings in contrast to Western counterparts:

“In Western society, the combination of text and image was, for centuries, considered a debased form of communication. Only artists who directed their work towards a mass audience, predominently the lower classes, dared venture into text-image pairings. The Mayas, however, considered the combination of text and image the most exquisite and exclusive form of artistic communication, and reserved it for elite consumption only.” (p.73)

Would that we achieve what they had. All in all an absolutely amazing piece. I wish more analyses on cultural systems were done like this.


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