The first in a series of engaging volumes subtitled “A Discovery in Comics,” Margreet de Heer’s Philosophy (NBM) sketches its way through the origins of Western philosophy to selected modern thinkers. De Heer opens her personalized educ-comic by depicting her inquisitive five-year-old self confronting the idea of thought for the first time, charting her changing perspective until she reaches married adulthood, then moving into a consideration of the differences between human and animal consciousness. Joined by her husband, cartoonist and colorist Yiri T. Kohl, she moves into an examination of the foundations of Western philosophy.
This she accomplishes with wit and clarity – not an easy thing to do as anyone who has taken an Intro to Philosophy course can attest. The Dutch cartoonist’s examination of the cornerstone philosophers follows a simple format: one-page summary of the figure’s life followed by several pages delineating each thinker’s grounding concepts. Occasionally, our heroine will devote pages to a cartoon demonstration of the principles in action as when she engages in a Socratic discussion with her hubby that opens with the question, “Why is everyone and everything always against me?”
Starting with the ancient Greeks’ Big Three (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle), de Heer moves into medieval philosophers Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, focusing on their attempts at merging Greek thought with Christian doctrine. From there, she travels to her native Netherlands to look at three figures (Erasmus, Descartes and Spinoza) who made their mark and concludes by asking three other people in her life who they consider an “empowering” modern philosopher. (Husband Yiri picks George Carlin, a choice that I personally wouldn’t dispute.) In between, she also takes time to debate free will and perception with her spouse.
Heady stuff indeed, but done with a simple, witty cartoon style comparable to Stan Mack in his entertaining dissection of the history of the American Revolution. The cartoonist has at least two more volumes in her “Discovery in Comics” series, one of which, Science, has recently been released by the American comics publisher NBM. This first is definitely recommended for those with an interest in graphic storytelling that goes beyond the usual genre work – or anyone who wants to bone up on the basics of Western thinking.