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Action Philosophers: Comics for the College Classroom

Article by Scott Tingley, November 22, 2006

I don't know a thing about philosophy. Nothing. Well, I picked up a few tidbits here and there. I had a “Worldview” class in college and I keep my ears open when I listen to CBC (sort of a Canadian NPR), but I have very little knowledge base for philosophy. Then I started to read Action Philosophers , and that all changes.

ACTION PHILOSOPHERS is the award-winning, critically praised comic book series detailing the lives and thoughts of history's A-list brain trust in a hip and humorous way that proves that philosophy is not just the province of boring tweed-enveloped college professors.

As I read my copies of the series, I was treated to some sort of Bizarro-World-Jack-Chic-Tract (No, No! Keep reading!); where complicated ideas were made more accessible and I was given enough information to finally be able to participate in all of those philosophical discussions that I never seem to find myself in.

Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey obviously have knowledge and passion for this subject matter. This kind of teaching/storytelling may not be for everyone. While they cram as much knowledge into the 12 or so pages allotted for each philosopher, they don't waste much energy worrying about offending anyone, so if you are easily offended by unflattering portrayals of your favorite philosophers - you have been warned. Saint Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinus are shown with warts and all, Plato is portrayed as a pro wrestler (Plato smash!) and Karl Marx becomes a gun-toting psychopathic vigilante, and Kabbalah actually gets off pretty easy (“Remember Bubelah, just because famous people like it don't mean it ain't true”). Issue #3 is actually entitled "Self-Help for Stupid Ugly Losers" and features Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell. All this lunacy distracts you as you actually learn something. Very sneaky. Pretty underhanded if you ask me. To put it another way, Van Lente and Dunlavey show respect for the philosophy, but not always the philosopher.

I have not read all of the books in the series (seven issues so far with collections/Graphic Novels of issues 1-3 for $6.95!!, and of 4-6 for $9), but I have read enough to know that this series would have been a great help in some of my university courses. I'll use the word “accessible” again. It always seemed that those that knew bits and pieces of philosophy were able to use that knowledge to force their point. This series levels the playing field a bit. It would have given me insights more traditional sources may not have. There is even a page of “Recommended Reading For The Genius-On-The-Go” at the end of each issue (which is not included in the collected edition for some reason, but the website does have a whole page dedicated to it.

Now, is this for Elementary or Middle School? Not a chance! High School, eh, maybe selected stories or panels. But College/University? Definitely!

AP will be available in University bookstores soon and is available for purchase HERE.

There are plenty of online previews HERE,

A complete list of the philosophers covered so far can be found HERE.

Any questions or comments, contact me at comicsintheclassroom @ gmail.com


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