*Action Philosophers — Recommended

Action Philosophers makes the history of philosophy fun. Profiles cover nine figures — Plato, Bodhidharma (inventor of both Zen Buddhism and Kung Fu), Nietzsche, Jefferson, Saint Augustine, Ayn Rand, Freud, Jung, and Joseph Campbell — using the vocabulary, both visual and verbal, of action-adventure comics.

Exaggerations and modern language are used to make points in memorable fashion. Characters have plenty of attitude, making long-dead historical figures easier to relate to from the modern perspective. For instance, the Pythagoreans become more understandable when described as “math hippies”, and the image of Greek baths as populated by the Village People is hilarious. The section on Augustine is darn near indescribable visually, what with characters that variously resemble Japanese fighting robots, Jack Kirby’s New Gods, and the Smurfs.

Action Philosophers cover
Action Philosophers
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The creators aren’t above stepping in, when necessary, punctuating a section on Buddhist beliefs about how everything, even art, is subjective and untrustworthy with their apologies. Later, the artist is attacked by Isaac Newton during the Jefferson segment for resorting to visual cliché. There are also distinct perspectives expressed, as when Jefferson is taken to task for hypocrisy regarding equality or when those who respected Nietzsche’s ideas are insulted. I had no idea that Ayn Rand had movie business connections, and I finally understand what objectivism claims, which should come in handy the next time I try to read a Ditko comic.

There’s a lot of energy and a healthy skepticism towards belief systems. That attitude, not taking anything as writ in stone, is necessary to make it all so funny. Too much respect would be deadly dull. That humor carries ideas so effectively that the reader will likely be surprised by how much he retains about key movements in philosophy. This book blends fictional techniques and non-fictional content to create an enjoyable “only in comics” form of entertainment.

Additional issues, after the collection, cover Karl Marx, Machiavelli, and a Kabbalistic rabbi (The Action Philosophers World Domination Handbook) and Descartes, Sartre, and Derrida (Action Philosophers Hate the French). Popular culture allusions abound, with the Machiavelli story taking it to the extreme, homaging Calvin & Hobbes, Hero of the Beach, the Justice League, and Richie Rich, among others. Marx as Rambo is oddly involving. Derrida is mind-blowing, as the creators deconstruct their own story as they tell it. The short recommended reading section nicely sums up his philosophy as the unforgettable “annoying five-year-old of Western thought”.

The book’s website has a bibliography, previews, and more. The writer and artist also have websites.


15 Responses to “*Action Philosophers — Recommended”

  1. Ed Cunard Says:

    ACTION PHILOSPHERS is quite possibly my favorite serial comic of the past year.

  2. George Says:

    Sounds utterly fantastic–and will fit right in with all the re-reading I’ve been doing lately of Shanower’s AGE OF BRONZE, Gonnick’s various HISTORies, and Morrison’s DOOM PATROL! Are there any plans to collect the “World Domination” and “Hate the French” issues?

  3. Ali Kokmen Says:

    Are there any plans to collect the “World Domination” and “Hate the French” issues?

    I think Fred and Ryan do plan to collect later issues in due course, but those two issues–unlike the earlier ones collected in the tpb–are still in print and available (from the website even if not at the local comics shoppe).

    Even if you kinda prefer book formats (and, I’m a bibliophile, so I understand that sentiment) Action Philosophers is well worth buying in comic book form. IMO, of course…

  4. Johanna Says:

    I agree. The collection is bare-bones, a straight reprint of the issues, so I lean towards the issues, where possible. Each issue has so much to teach the reader and so much fun that reading too many at once can be overwhelming.

    I’m looking forward to the next issue, The People’s Choice, soon.

  5. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] There are very few series I want to follow in serialized stapled form any more, but Action Philosophers is one of them. The latest issue, It’s All Greek to You (Evil Twin Comics, AUG06 3286, $2.95), has the typical three stories, this time covering Aristotle, the Pre-Socratics, and Epictetus the Stoic. [...]

  6. Coming Up in July 2007 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Action Philosophers comes to a well-deserved conclusion with issue #9 (MAY07 3442, $2.95). I loved their announcement of the end and their new plans, because it was in keeping with the tone and appeal of the comic, with fake quotes from philosophers that added up to funny. Entertaining press releases are more memorable and thus better for getting your message out. Ones that are entertaining in the same way as your comic are even better. [...]

  7. This Week on TCM » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] never ever going to read anything by Ayn Rand (I learned everything I wanted to know about her when Action Philosophers wrote her up), so this seems like an easy way to figure out why people still love or hate her work. [...]

  8. The Incredible Hercules » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Written by Greg Pak (whose work I loved in the already-forgotten Warlock) and Fred Van Lente (Action Philosophers, Comic Book Comics) with art by Khoi Pham with Paul Neary and others, this first storyline cleans [...]

  9. Ed’s MoCCA Comics » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Book Comics #2,3 written by Fred Van Lente, art by Ryan Dunlavey, published by Evil Twin Comics Action Philosophers made me a devotee of Evil Twin Comics. This new series is just as good. This is the best [...]

  10. Four Fawning Blurbs… | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources Says:

    [...] Draper Carlson (talking about Vol. 1 of the trade paperback collection of the series) The creators aren’t above stepping in, when necessary, punctuating a section on Buddhist beliefs [...]

  11. Three More Koontz Graphic Novels Announced » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Our Side will be the next graphic novel. It will be written by Fred Van Lente (Comic Book Comics, Action Philosophers, Hercules) and will be illustrated by Queenie Chan (The Dreaming), who drew the first one. [...]

  12. Tranquility Then and Now » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] comic series with that name? It was written by Fred Van Lente (currently writing hot indy title Action Philosophers) and drawn by Steve Ellis, and I quite enjoyed it. Since it was published in 1998, perhaps they [...]

  13. Odd Is On Our Side » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] story, written by Fred Van Lente (Comic Book Comics, Action Philosophers), is based on an outline by Dean Koontz, who created the character in a series of novels. Odd [...]

  14. Renaissance, New Series by Van Lente and Oleksyk, Looks Amazing » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Van Lente (writer of Comic Book Comics, Action Philosophers, and the comic that a little movie called Cowboys & Aliens is based on) and Sarah Oleksyk [...]

  15. Action Presidents, Six Years in the Making, Launches Digitally Next Week » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, the mad geniuses behind Action Philosophers and The Comic Book History of Comics, return with another skewed comic-format take on history. This […]




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