Action Philosophers: The Tenth Anniversary Uberedition

Action Philosophers! cover

I recommended Action Philosophers last decade, and that opinion hasn’t changed. What has changed is how you read it — once nine self-published issues, now the entire series is collected in one hardcover, cheaper than the out-of-print paperback, with a bonus eight-page story (more on that later).

Fred Van Lente (The Comic Book History of Comics) and Ryan Dunlavey (Dirt Candy: A Cookbook) make an amazing team, conveying a history of philosophy and notable thinkers in dynamic, entertaining fashion. The stories are grouped into four sections:

  1. “It’s All Greek to You!: Ancient Philosophy”, including Confucius, Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes, and Epicurus
  2. “That Old-Time Religion: Medieval Philosophy”, including Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Machiavelli
  3. “Blinded Me With Science: Modern Philosophy”, including Descartes, Hobbes, Rousseau, Jefferson, Kant, Kierkegaard, and Mary Wollstonecraft
  4. “Our Stupid Age of “-ISMs”: Contemporary Philosophy”, including Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, Sartre, and Ayn Rand

Action Philosophers! cover

I’m listing just the best-known philosophers covered, but there are many more you’ll learn about in these 350+ pages. The Plato story is available as a preview at the publisher’s website.

As you’d have to do to cover so much material, most of the panels are narrated, with text explaining the history, but Dunlavey’s art is not a secondary element. His images are amusing in their own right, driving home the concepts with a snarky modern tone. He also throws in plenty of pop culture references, as when we’re told that Confucius is more properly known as Master Kong. The following panels reference King Kong visually, with a giant bearded man opening huge gates and reaching for a young woman. Directly relevant? No, but certainly memorable, symbolically interesting, and funny.

There are so many ideas here that it’s a book to dip into or portion out, not read all at once, or your head will be left spinning. But it’s also a fun reference to remind yourself of the core ideas of the best-known mental world-shapers.

The new story is immensely up-to-date, taking on common fallacies found online and promoting wisdom and understanding over knowledge. I wish that was available more easily online, because it’d be valuable to have to direct others to. This volume also reprints all of the previous issue covers; some sketches with Dunlavey’s commentary; and recommended reading to learn more about each philosopher, accompanied by pictures from the staging of the play based on this comic. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)


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