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I probably would've made it out of college without Richard Osborne's illustrated guide to philosophy, but I imagine I would have had a lot less free time. A hideously drawn book with a hilariously palpable distaste for Christianity, the book was a godsend every time I had to stay up late writing the endless reams of paper that philosophy classes require. It may have been possible to get things done in that class earlier, or to have made better use of the actual textbook, but thanks to Obsorne, I learned to put everything off until the last minute, which is a skill that has motivated much of my adult life.
I hadn't thought of that book in years, despite seeing the publisher's wares consistently hawked at the annual New York Comic Con. But after sitting down with Best of Enemies
, a new work of nonfiction comics by Jean-Pierre Filiu and David B., I couldn't help but recall those Osborne nights. Philosophy for Beginners
wasn't a comic, and I'm not sure that Best of Enemies
Described by its American distributor as "a wonderfully illustrated book meant to educate and entertain", Best of Enemies
is certainly set up like a comic, and inarguably reads like one for pages at a time. Panels, dialog balloons, cartoon figures moving around in space--all of the nuts and bolts are here. And while it isn't the most immersive text in existence, there's plenty of comics that aren't either. Not being able to "lose oneself" in a comic isn't always a demerit.
When I sat down with Best of Enemies
and decided that this was what I wanted to say about it, I started thumbing around the book again, looking for a panel or page that might better represent the "not really comics" criticism--after all, that's a pretty harsh thing to say, and pretty harsh things should be accompanied by evidence, and in comics, all the evidence you'll ever need is just a scanned image away. What I found instead was that there isn't one specific page that I dislike, that there's honestly no drawings or text here that I have a problem with. All the parts here work--the text is readable, the research (which is arguably the most important part of the work, considering the nature of its subject matter) seems solid and uncontroversial, and yes, the book is absolutely brilliant to look at. A lot of my favorite cartoonists--Chris Ware, Kevin Huizenga, Jack Kirby, Jaime Hernandez--inspire a little bit of wistfulness at what it would be like to lay down the kind of art they deliver, and David B. gives me that same weird jealousy. And yet when I sit down with the book in its entirety, I can't pretend that it's something I want to read again, the same way I don't have much interest in reading an old textbook from college, or a research paper my wife wrote in grad school.
That being said, I'd recommend this book unreservedly to someone who wants to drink in some exciting art, I'd donate a thousand copies to school libraries throughout the world. There's a lot to be found here that I knew nothing about, the most revelatory one being the "Piracy" chapter, which details years of bloody maritime conflict between the US and multiple countries in the Middle East. The reveal that America was openly spending thousands of dollars to buy peace--and that in many places, it worked--is exactly the sort of stuff that blunts any negative aesthetic feelings I have towards Best of Enemies
. Seeking out the information it provides--information that David B.'s art has seared into memory--would have probably remained the province of a someday/maybe list, to be put off until long after I'd organized some hardcovers, dusted the bookshelves, and yet now that it's here, I'm tremendously grateful.
Tucker Stone's writing can be found in print from time to time. He currently blogs about comics at The Factual Opinion and Savage Critics.
This Ship Is Totally Sinking is © Tucker Stone, 2010