2014 is the 10th Anniversary of the award-winning comic book series Action Philosophers, later collected into larger volumes, and now, into one big volume. This is a good book that I should have read when it first came out. I don’t know why I didn’t, I have no explanation except that I’d already read the graphic novel Philosophy For Beginners by Richard Osborne (part of the great For Beginners series from Writers and Readers) If you’re like me and didn’t read Action Philosophers the first time around, now’s your chance to join all the cool kids.
The book is divided into four main time chunks of philosophy, the former individual volumes, which is pretty standard in any intro to the history of philosophy: the Ancient Greeks (Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle); the Medieval period (Christians, though also Machiavelli and the beginning of Zen Buddhism); the Moderns like Descartes and Kant; and the contemporary guys like Freud, Sartre, etc.
And it is, by the way, all guys, except for Ayn Rand (so, erg…) and Mary Wollstonecroft (so, yay). But one of the things I really like about this book (and there are many things) is that the authors include Asian philosophers, like Confucius, Lao Tzu, and Bodhidharma, mixed in with their western contemporaries.
Unlike, say, Philosophy For Beginners, a similar (and good) graphic novel, Action Philosophers doesn’t even pretend to portray the various philosophers in any kind of ‘real’ sense, nor even hardly as caricatures. Instead, Van Lente and Dunlavey incorporate various movie and comic book genres, making some philosophers look like superheroes, some as monster-god-things, and, most awesomely, Confucius as King Kong, mashing scenes from the original movie alongside a summary and explanation of his basic ideas.
The result is both humorous, informative, and fun to read, meaning readers can have it all: have fun reading while actually learning something, and more importantly, thinking, which is what philosophy is. Yes, you can be a comic book geek and a philosopher at the same time!
Sure, one could quibble about what, and who, was left out. Like, you know, not Buddha himself? But this book, and the original series, is, and can only be, an outline of the huge history of philosophy. Which is still plenty to work the ole brain around. There are many ideas to mull, argue against, and re-interpret, which is the pleasure and genius of a book like this—it’s a kickstarter. Though warning: read enough philosophy and you might start to, like, think for yourself.
But will readers of Action Philosophers go on to read the original texts? Sure, some will. But even if many don’t, that’s ok too. One doesn’t have to read Kant to ‘get’ his Categorical Imperative, which is kind of a re-wording of the Golden Rule. Though you could, you could go read the original texts, because there’s a lot more to the works of all the philosophers included in Action Philosophers.
Though, you know, a little humor helps when reading about Kant. Thus, this book.
Really, Action Philosophers makes me want to read more like it. One could go on creating informative graphic novels like this ad infinitum, and at least with this creative team they would all be a pleasure to read, though Van Lente and Dunlavey have gone on to other projects. Maybe others could take the idea and run with it?
In any case, this is a graphic novel one will return to over the years. Always good to brush of on some basic philosophy. It makes one a better person after all.