The "Action Philosophers" As An Educational Text Model
As educational tools, the textbook has stood as one of the standards of modern education. Tomes dedicated to singular subjects, they are developed to assist both as raw material resources but also as guide-alongs to in-school/in-classroom activities related to those particular subjects in helping increase the knowledge base of students. However, outside of the learning-oriented classroom environment, textbooks on their own are insufficient at being effective teaching tools. Furthermore, textbooks within classrooms often cannot function effectively due to the way the information within is framed.
As a literary medium, graphic sequential storytelling (comics) are a far more effective format for breaking down large chunks of information into easily-digestible groupings that can be used as a learning too. In the comic book series “Action Philosophers!” by writer Fred Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey, the non-fictionalized story is in fact comic book breakdowns of the various backgrounds and defining theories of history’s greatest philosophers. The comic, collected into 2009’s “The More Than Complete Action Philosophers!” (Evil Twin Comics), is an example of the effectiveness of the comic-as-textbook.
Whereas in a traditional comic page the panel breakdown is used to denote a passage of time between actions, in “Action Philosophers” it is also used to help differentiate between the different steps in a philosophical conclusion, as well as the breaks between different ideas.
In the collection’s chapter on Jacques Derrida for example, we’re presented with a 4-panel page that completely ignores the predetermined role of the comic as a time-forward storytelling tool. Rather, it continues the breakdown from the previous page, on Derrida’s break from Ferdinand de Sausseure’s theories on speech versus writing (301).
(p 301) Evil Twin Comics 2009
Panel 1 illustrates infinite referral, Panels 2 and 3 illustrate the visual impact of written language versus speech, and Panel 4 leads into the next page by instigating Derrida’s takes on Edmund Husserl.
While action is portrayed in each panel, the action doesn’t flow from one to the other, inferring a passage of time and a connection of intent and story between the panels. Rather, each panel encapsulates a concise aspect of an overall theory. Granted, the aspects all combine to form the overall philosophy of Derrida, but the panels/aspects are not a linear story.
This breakdown, compared to the mostly-text approach of a textbook, helps in the visualization of concepts when it comes to abstract theory. The illustration of Derrida’s ideas as humorous cartoons, combined with the factual text and quotations from the work, can arguably be more effective at transmitting information on Derrida and his ideas than a just-text regular textbook. With the visualizations of the abstract concepts, the concepts can be processed more easily.
While there are definite exceptions to every rule and no hard and fast exacting standards to textbook design (textbooks with more equal combinations of illustration and text possibly existing), the approach of using the comic book format not just to assist, but outright replace the conventional textbook is a fairly radical idea. The example of Van Lente and Dunlavey’s comic is hopefully proof of the effectiveness of that radicalism.