I’d like to take this time to get away from the mainstream for a bit and spotlight a little indie book that recently ended its short run. That book is Action Philosophers! from Evil Twin comics. There are two creators involved in AP: writer Fred Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey. Van Lente is somewhat of a rising star writer for Marvel at the moment, as he has cornered the market on their all ages Marvel Adventures line. He also wrote the Super Villain Team-Up: M.O.D.O.K.’s 11 miniseries, and is currently co-writing The Incredible Hercules with Greg Pak. Dunlavey hasn’t worked on anything else yet, but his art style could definitely see some more exposure later down the line.
The general crux of AP involves short non-fiction tongue in cheek biographies of various philosophers from history. Nearly every issue has featured three philosophers in total, ranging from 8-20 pages per story. What drew me into the book in the first place was not just that I have a B.A. in philosophy (though that of course helped), but the style was heavily reminiscent of two trade paperbacks my dad owns, which were parts one and two of The Cartoon History of the Universe, written and drawn by Larry Gonick. Those books were probably some of my earliest exposure to comics beyond Calvin and Hobbes, and I have very fond memories of going back to those books over the years after I learned more about history at school in order to have a different perspective on what I’d read previously. Action Philosophers seems like a spiritual successor to those books, both in art style and tone. All it takes is looking at the front cover of issue 1 and seeing Plato with his Mexican luchador mask jumping from the top rope of an Ancient Greek wrestling ring to know that this isn’t exactly going to be a suffocatingly serious look at philosophy.
Imagine these books as a sort of Whitman’s Sampler of philosophy done in such a way as to reach out beyond the coffee houses and maybe, just maybe, spurn some interest in someone that never would have picked up a book about philosophy. For those of us that have read philosophy in the past, it’s just as enjoyable a read, if only to see just how Ryan and Fred decide to tackle the lives and works of writers like Nietzsche, St. Augustine, Schopenhauer and Jacques Derrida. From a design standpoint, you couldn’t really ask for more. There’s no overarching story or recurring characters. You don’t want to read something heavy or involved? Just pick up one of the eight page stories and then put it down right after. It’s light, it’s breezy, it’s fun, and it’s accurate. These guys have done their research. It’s not exactly going to get you through a test at that Philosophy 101 class you were forced to take, but you might get some conversation points out of it.
There were nine issues in total, which have been collected in three trades (Action Philosophers Giant-Sized Thing Vols. 1-3) for $7-9 apiece. If you’re interested, you can check out some preview stories about Descartes, The Pre-Socratics and Carl Jung on their site http://www.eviltwincomics.com. And while you’re there, check out the preview to their newest venture, Comic Book Comics, which uses the AP model to take a look at the history of the comic industry. Also expected to come out later this year is Action Presidents, which is pretty much self explanatory. You might be able to find the issues of AP or the trades in stores, but everything is available online. When I ordered the first trade and issue 9 off their site, I got a free poster as well. It’s good stuff, and it’s a good indie to support.