I hope you have your ceremonial Fred Van Lente wreathes lit up, for it is time to learn why I think that Action Philosophers (specifically, the first three issues), the comic that Fred Van Lente writes (and Ryan Dunleavy draws) from Evil Twin Comics, is a good comic.
Awhile back, I remarked (I do not recall where) that I sometimes give books more of a critical leeway if they are in a genre that does not get as much attention from comics. For instance, I was not a big fan of Love As A Foreign Language, but I admired what J. Torres was trying to do with the comic, so I probably gave it more leeway than I normally would for the same type of story in a different genre. Well, Action Philosophers works in the genre that I personally think comics is severely lacking in, and that is (non auto) biography.
Each issue of Action Philosophers gives the biography of three famous philosophers (the Action Philosophers, as it were). The biographies are done in differing page amounts, some as small as 6 pages, some as long as 14.
So, even if I was not a big fan of the comic, I would have to give them credit for doing something different, expanding comics into a new genre.
However, the comics, themselves, ARE good.
The format of the biographies is, while making the comics as accurate as possible, add comedic elements to the presentation. So presenting Plato as a “wrestling superstar.” Or depicting some of the philosophical conflicts of someone like Saint Augustine as, well, ACTUAL supernatural conflicts. Most of this comes down to Dunleavy, and he is well up to the job. His art has a nice Mike Avon Oeming feel to it. Really nice stuff.
When I was a kid, the school library had these series of biographies of famous people, and the way they attempted to make the agreeable to kids was to open up the books with stories (almost certainly apocryphal) of the famous person as a child, then fast forward to their famous deeds. At the time, I probably enjoyed it (I ended up reading the entire series, so I now know more about John Muir, Cyrus McCormick and Gus Grissom than is probably advisable), but looking back, I think it is a bit of a dirty trick. To tell someone’s history, but FAKE some of it?
That’s fine for entertainment, but it not a great approach for a biograhpy.
Luckily, Van Lente does not do that, but rather, he gives us the truth, just presented in a fun manner.
At times, the writing is noticeably cramped, but that is to be expected, given the format.
I, personally, describe Van Lente’s approach as sort of like those expandable washclothes. They come in these little vials, but then you add water, and WHAMMO, they are a big washcloth!!
Action Philosophers works like that. It is a short story, but by the end of it, without knowing it, WHAMMO, you’ve collected a giant washcloth’s worth of information about the subject. And since the subjects are pretty interesting people (#1 is Plato, Bohidharma and Nietzsche; #2 is Thomas Jefferson, Ayn Rand and Saint Augustine; #3 is Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell), it is nice to know a little bit more about each one of them.
Finally, another thing that I admire about the work is the pretty much neutral point of view. Van Lente is only presenting their ideas, he is not really critiquing them (although he slips a few times). He lets US make of them what we will, and to help this, he recommends a text for each one at the end of the comic, which is a lot of fun. Sorta like how Alan Grant used to recommend texts about anarky…only a lot less pretentious…hehe.
Okay, so now that we know why Action Philosophers is a good comic, we can all sing a traditional Van Lente Day carol,
Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green;
Here we come a-wand’ring
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too;
And God bless you and send you
a Happy Van Lente Day
And God send you a Happy Van Lente Day.