By Patrick Wolf
I want to begin by making it clear that Heretics isn’t a traditional graphic novel: it has neither action, nor adventure, nor superheroes. Heretics is a brief history of modern philosophy in story form. I’m only emphasizing this because I need the reader to understand that since Heretics isn’t a traditional comic, I won’t be judging it as one. Instead I’ll evaluate it as an historical exposition in narrative form.
With that out of the way, you’re probably wondering, “Is Heretics worth my time?” To that, my answer mirrors my disclaimer: “It depends.” If you’re a college undergrad majoring in humanities, I’d say “Absolutely, read this book!” Not only is Heretics an excellent introduction to renaissance philosophy, but also it’s a lot of fun. The Nadlers do an amazing job of laying forth extremely complex ideas in a very accessible form, and the scope of the theories addressed is staggering. Not only is the reader acquainted with the core tenets of modern metaphysics and epistemology, but also you’ll get a front row seat to some of the leading political theories of the time.
That said, if you’re not into philosophy, I’d approach Heretics with caution. As I mentioned earlier, Heretics isn’t a traditional narrative: it has neither action nor suspense. It has some jokes and can be charming at times, but mostly it’s an historical exposition designed to provide the reader with a light introduction to modern philosophy. So, if you’re looking for the next Sin City, I’d look elsewhere.
Also, keep in mind that Heretics isn’t an in-depth analysis of modern philosophy. If you’re looking for a breakdown of Descartes’ methodological skepticism or Leibniz’s distinction between analytic and synthetic statements, you might want to check out the Reader’s guide or Routledge series instead. However, if you’re looking for an easy way to crack into the perplexing world of philosophy, I’d say this book is right up there with contemporary favorites such as Sophie’s World and History of Western Philosophy.
Another potential drawback to Heretics is its cartoony artwork. I wont’ lie, it’s not pretty, and I think that why it’s taken me so long to review this book. The art has this kiddy, medieval feel to it that kind of reminds me of my creepy uncle’s stash of cartoon porn (he has a unique taste in literature). Again, the art’s not bad, it’s just a little off-putting. That said, I understand Ben Nadler’s artistic choice. Given the historical period and the nature of the project, it makes sense to use a cartoony/medieval style. In fact, after reading Heretics, not only did I tolerate the style, but also I endorsed it. The illustrations really compliment the subject and theme. I just fear that potential readers won’t see this and—like me—may be turned off from the book prematurely.
With that in mind, Heretics is an excellent read that will not only teach you a bit about modern philosophy, but will also put a smile on your face. While it won’t provide any new insights to the veteran scholar, it certainly will nudge the prospective philosopher in the right direction. I recommend this graphic novel to anyone interested in learning a bit more about the history of modern philosophy that doesn’t involve delving into tomes like Meditations, Ethics, or Leviathan.
Writer: Steven Nadler
Artist: Ben Nadler
Colorist: Ben Nadler
Letterer: Ben Nadler
Publisher: Princeton University Press