Action Philosophers by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey 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.
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.