Science – A Discovery in Comics


By Margreet de Heer with Yiri T. Kohl (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-750-8

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Scientifically approved and comically perfect… 10/10

It has long been a truism of the creative arts that the most effective, efficient and economical method of instruction and informational training has been the comic strip.

Advertising mavens have always exploited the subversive impact of well-chosen words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply.

Additionally, since World War II, carefully crafted strips have been constantly used as training materials in every aspect of adult life from school careers advice to various branches of military service – utilising the talents of comics giants as varied as Milton Caniff, Will Eisner (who spent decades producing reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments), Kurt Schaffenberger and Neil Adams.

These days the educational value and merit of comics is a given.

Larry Gonick in particular has been using the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into the weary brains of jaded students with such tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment, Genetics, Sex and more).

Japan employs vast quantities of manga text books in its schools and universities and has even released government reports and business prospectuses as comic books to get around the ingrained apathy towards reading large dreary volumes of public information.

So do we, and so do the Americans.

Here Margreet de Heer and husband Yuri again employ the medium to sublimely and elegantly tackle another all-consuming preoccupation and noble creation of the mind of Man, following their previous endeavours elucidatory endeavours…

She was born in 1972 into a family of theologians and, despite some rebellious teen forays to the wild side of life, studied Theology for 9 years at the University of Amsterdam. After graduating in 1999 she decided to become a cartoonist – and did – but also worked at the wonderful comics and cool stuff emporium/cultural icon Lambiek in Amsterdam.

Whilst there she collaborated with industry expert Kees Kousemaker on a history of Dutch comics before becoming a full-time artist in 2005, with commissions in publications as varied as Yes, Zij aan Zij, Viva Mama, Flo’, Jippo, Farfelu and NRC.Next.

In 2007 she began a series of cartoon philosophical reports for the newspaper Trouw, which prompted a perspicacious publisher to commission a complete book on this most ancient of topics. Filosofie in Beeld was released in 2010 and translated into English by NBM as Philosophy – a Discovery in Comics.

An inveterate questioner, she then turned her thoughts and pens to Religie in Beeld – which I’m assuming is “Religion in Comic Pictures” as I don’t think it’s been translated into English yet – before logically moving on to the third leg of the fabled Pillars of Wisdom.

Science – A Discovery in Comics is one more superb full-colour strip foundation course packed with information and gentle humour. Dissecting and disseminating the essence and fundamentals of a big, big subject in a subversively calm and accessible way, de Heer crafts her hypotheses and findings with the instruments of a gifted writer and synthesist and a master’s grasp of the medium.

This supremely engaging discourse opens with a searching ‘Prologue’pointing out the core contradictions of supposedly unambiguous scientific thought before a few working definitions lead to a discussion of ‘What is Science?’ before the lectures begin with the core concept ‘The Beginning of Modern Western Science’.

This examination of the astounding achievements – and now obsolete observations – of Ancient Greece, paying particular attention to ‘Thales of Miletus’, ‘Anaximander’, ‘Pythagoras’, ‘Archimedes’ and ‘Euclid’ then elegantly diverts into a discourse on Mathematics, divided into ‘History of Math’ concentrating upon ‘Four Fascinating Mathematical Phenomena: Pi, Infinity, The Golden Ratio and Zero’.

Those sagacious Greeks are represented here by ‘Aristotle’ who laid the foundations of ‘The Scientific Method’

Science in the Middle Ages is covered ‘…At a Glance’ and through ‘The Medieval Worldview’, after which the subject switches to Chemistry, complete with a ‘History of Chemistry’, a quirky look at ‘the Periodic Table’ and some surprising things you didn’t know about famous scientists – and many who should be but aren’t.

A summary of where we’re at leads into the revelatory Mrs. Scientist which details just a few of the brilliant female thinkers and doers sidelined and short-changed by mainstream history before the journey resumes with a visit to The Renaissance paying particular attention to ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’.

Progressing to The Scientific Revolution where ‘New Ideas’ at last supplanted the accepted wisdom of the ‘Ideas of Aristotle’, the focus is on ‘Galileo Galilei’ and the destructive, increasingly toxic ‘Relationship Between Science and Religion’

The section on Astronomy opens with ‘History of Astronomy’ and a glimpse at ‘Space’ after which Newton gets his own chapter, culminating in a brilliant explanation of ‘Newton’s Laws’ before the spotlight falls on Physics

Following the preliminary and compulsory ‘History of Physics’, a short treatise on ‘Three Sub-areas of Physics: Electricity, Thermodynamics and Motion’ as visually verified in ‘Classical Mechanics’ takes us to The Nineteenth Century – Age of Discoveries with a potted history of ‘Charles Darwin’ evolving into the furore surrounding ‘Natural Theology’ and a section on the new discipline of Biology

‘History of Biology’, naturally results in a thorough examination of ‘Genetics’ and a personal moment for Margreet and Yuri as they take advantage of a very modern facility in ‘The Chromosome Chronicles’.

Geology surfaces next with ‘History of Geology’, revealing and revisiting the protracted debate over ‘The Age of the Earth’, ‘History of the Earth’ and ‘History of Man’.

Einstein of course, rates a section to himself, and ‘Albert Einstein’, ‘The Theory of Relativity’ and ‘Funny Facts’ happily lead to the contentious Quantum Theory,

This doctrine divided theoreticians for most of the 20th century – as seen in ‘History of Quantum Theory’ – examining the confounding paradox of ‘Wave and/or Particle’, ‘The Classical Worldview’ versus ‘The Quantum Worldview’ and asks ‘Next Stop: a Theory of Everything?’

And because proper science is about sharing knowledge, this scintillating speculation concludes with ‘Where are we Heading? – Science of the Future’, offering a quick survey of current affairs and prospective avenues of exploration…

This pictorial peroration also includes a handy page of recommendations of other books, films and graphic novels to check out, such as Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Everything and Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos and Anna di Donna.

This is a truly sharp and witty book, which marvellously reduces centuries of contentious pondering, violent discussion and high-altitude academic acrimony to an enthralling, utterly accessible experience any smart kid or keen elder would be happy to experience.

Clear, concise, appropriately challenging and informatively funny, Science – A Discovery in Comics is a wonder of unpretentious, exuberant graphic craft and a timeless book (even available scientifically in e-formats) we can all enjoy.

© 2012 Uitgeverij Meinema, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands. English translation © 2013 Margreet de Heer.

The Phoenix Presents… Lost Tales


By Adam Murphy (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910989-19-7

The educational power of comic strips has been long understood and acknowledged: if you can make material memorably enjoyable, there is nothing that can’t be taught better with pictures. The obverse is also true: comics can make any topic or subject come alive and reveal how even the most ancient or alien of cultures is just people like us wearing different hats…

The same amiable ethos and graphic versatility that made Adam Murphy’s wonderful Corpse Talk collections such a treasure to read and learn with also informs this superb collection of visualised folk tales, gathered from distant, less-frequented corners of the world; ones not generally seen in our schools or nurseries.

In 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched an anthological weekly comic for girls and boys channelling the grand old days of British picture-story entertainment. Every issue offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material: a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy.

Since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the totally engaged kids and parents who read it. Inevitably the publishers have branched out into a wonderful line of superbly engaging graphic novel compilations, the latest of which will magically broaden every reader’s fantasy landscape…

This superb compilation of tales – first seen in The Phoenix – goes beguilingly beyond mythical borders established by generations of westernised kids reared primarily on the works of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, and offers tantalising flavours far fresher to the jaded fantasy palate.

However, when you look closer, you’ll soon see that the themes, problems and solutions don’t vary that much and might well be universal…

Opening proceedings is ‘Strong Wind and Little Scabs’ which comes from the Mi’kmaq tradition of North America, detailing how a poor girl brutalised and maltreated by her older sisters becomes the wife of a god-like hero, after which ‘The Gifts of Wali Dad’ takes us to the ancient Punjab where a poor yet virtuous man finds his harmony and inner peace disrupted by too much wealth…

An old Romani legend becomes ‘Lucky Jim and the Golden Hair of the Sun’ as a vile king learns his daughter is fated to marry a simple gypsy peasant. His many scandalous attempts to thwart fate are futile and bring about his own doom, whilst a tale of avarice and guile defeated by honesty and ever sharper wits is revealed in ‘Two Merchants’, which comes from the lost Central African kingdom of Kanem-Bornu…

An honest, adoring but extremely simple peach-seller once married a beautiful and smart woman who gave him a drawing of her to keep him always happy. When he lost ‘The Picture Wife’ she was then compelled to orchestrate his rise to the heights of society in feudal Japan, before Brazil brings us a heartbreaking tragedy of sea-monsters, broken friendships and shallow, forgetful princesses which explains ‘Why the Sea Moans’

The high price of casual ingratitude informs the Russian fable of ‘The Snow Daughter’ who was magically bestowed upon a childless old couple and this fabulous lexicon of international wonders closes far closer to home with a Scottish tale of greedy, gullible and ultimately evil landowners who covet the precious few passions of a poor crofter. Thankfully, the old farmer has wits far surpassing the money and vicious intentions of his adversaries and ‘Riben, Robin and Donald McDonald’ has a happy ending with just deserts liberally served all around…

Witty, welcoming and utterly beguiling, The Phoenix Presents… Lost Tales seductively introduces readers to the myths of a wider world, and is also a fabulously fun read no parent or kid could possibly resist.
Text and illustrations © Adam Murphy 2015. All rights reserved.

The Phoenix Presents… Lost Tales will be released on August 4th 2016 and is available for pre-order now.
Why not check out the Phoenix experience at https://www.thephoenixcomic.co.uk/ and see what Adam’s up to at http://adammurphy.com/portfolio/comics/

Science – A Discovery in Comics


By Margreet de Heer with Yiri T. Kohl (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-750-8

There’s no use denying it: Annual Gift-Giving Season isn‘t far off and it’s never too early to think of the ideal item for that troublesome family/friend unit. So here’s something scientifically approved and tested to fit the bill for any disputative colleague fed up with socks, pants, pen-sets or One Direction action figures…

It has long been a truism of the creative arts that the most effective, efficient and economical method of instruction and informational training has been the comic strip.

Advertising mavens have always exploited the subversive impact of well-chosen words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply.

Additionally, since World War II, carefully crafted strips have been constantly used as training materials in every aspect of adult life from school careers advice to various branches of military service – utilising the talents of comics giants as varied as Milton Caniff, Will Eisner (who spent decades producing reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments), Kurt Schaffenberger and Neil Adams.

These days the educational value and merit of comics is a given.

Larry Gonick in particular has been using the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into the weary brains of jaded students with such tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment, Genetics, Sex and more).

Japan employs vast quantities of manga text books in its schools and universities and has even released government reports and business prospectuses as comic books to get around the ingrained apathy towards reading large dreary volumes of public information.

So do we, and so do the Americans.

Here Margreet de Heer and husband Yuri again employ the medium to sublimely and elegantly tackle another all-consuming preoccupation and noble creation of the mind of Man, following their previous endeavours elucidatory endeavours…

She was born in 1972 into a family of theologians and, despite some rebellious teen forays to the wild side of life, studied Theology for 9 years at the University of Amsterdam. After graduating in 1999 she decided to become a cartoonist – and did – but also worked at the wonderful comics and cool stuff emporium/cultural icon Lambiek in Amsterdam.

Whilst there she collaborated with industry expert Kees Kousemaker on a history of Dutch comics before becoming a full-time artist in 2005, with commissions in publications as varied as Yes, Zij aan Zij, Viva Mama, Flo’, Jippo, Farfelu and NRC.Next.

In 2007 she began a series of cartoon philosophical reports for the newspaper Trouw, which prompted a perspicacious publisher to commission a complete book on this most ancient of topics. Filosofie in Beeld was released in 2010 and translated into English by NBM as Philosophy – a Discovery in Comics.

An inveterate questioner, she then turned her thoughts and pens to Religie in Beeld – which I’m assuming is “Religion in Comic Pictures” as I don’t think it’s been translated into English yet – before logically moving on to the third leg of the fabled Pillars of Wisdom.

Science – A Discovery in Comics is one more superb full-colour strip foundation course packed with information and gentle humour. Dissecting and disseminating the essence and fundamentals of a big, big subject in a subversively calm and accessible way, de Heer crafts her hypotheses and findings with the instruments of a gifted writer and synthesist and a master’s grasp of the medium.

This supremely engaging discourse opens with a searching ‘Prologue’ pointing out the core contradictions of supposedly unambiguous scientific thought before a few working definitions lead to a discussion of ‘What is Science?’ before the lectures begin with the core concept ‘The Beginning of Modern Western Science’.

This examination of the astounding achievements – and now obsolete observations – of Ancient Greece, paying particular attention to ‘Thales of Miletus’, ‘Anaximander’, ‘Pythagoras’, ‘Archimedes’ and ‘Euclid’ then elegantly diverts into a discourse on Mathematics, divided into ‘History of Math’ concentrating upon ‘Four Fascinating Mathematical Phenomena: Pi, Infinity, The Golden Ratio and Zero’.

Thos sagacious Greeks are represented here by ‘Aristotle’ who laid the foundations of ‘The Scientific Method’

Science in the Middle Ages is covered ‘…At a Glance’ and through ‘The Medieval Worldview’, after which the subject switches to Chemistry, complete with a ‘History of Chemistry’, a quirky look at ‘the Periodic Table’ and some surprising things you didn’t know about famous scientists – and many who should be but aren’t.

A summary of where we’re at leads into the revelatory Mrs. Scientist which details just a few of the brilliant female thinkers and doers sidelined and short-changed by mainstream history before the journey resumes with a visit to The Renaissance paying particular attention to ‘Leonardo Da Vinci’.

Progressing to The Scientific Revolution where ‘New Ideas’ at last supplanted the accepted wisdom of the ‘Ideas of Aristotle’, the focus is on ‘Galileo Galilei’ and the destructive, increasingly toxic ‘Relationship Between Science and Religion’

The section on Astronomy opens with ‘History of Astronomy’ and a glimpse at ‘Space’ after which Newton gets his own chapter, culminating in a brilliant explanation of ‘Newton’s Laws’ before the spotlight falls on Physics

Following the preliminary and compulsory ‘History of Physics’, a short treatise on ‘Three Sub-areas of Physics: Electricity, Thermodynamics and Motion’ as visually verified in ‘Classical Mechanics’ takes us to The Nineteenth Century – Age of Discoveries with a potted history of ‘Charles Darwin’ evolving into the furore surrounding ‘Natural Theology’ and a section on the new discipline of Biology

‘History of Biology’, naturally results in a thorough examination of ‘Genetics’ and a personal moment for Margreet and Yuri as they take advantage of a very modern facility in ‘The Chromosome Chronicles’.

Geology surfaces next with ‘History of Geology’, revealing and revisiting the protracted debate over ‘The Age of the Earth’, ‘History of the Earth’ and ‘History of Man’.

Einstein of course, rates a section to himself, and ‘Albert Einstein’, ‘The Theory of Relativity’ and ‘Funny Facts’ happily lead to the contentious Quantum Theory,

This doctrine divided theoreticians for most of the 20th century – as seen in ‘History of Quantum Theory’ – examining the confounding paradox of ‘Wave and/or Particle’, ‘The Classical Worldview’ versus ‘The Quantum Worldview’ and asks ‘Next Stop: a Theory of Everything?’

And because proper science is about sharing knowledge, this scintillating speculation concludes with ‘Where are we Heading? – Science of the Future’, offering a quick survey of current affairs and prospective avenues of exploration…

This pictorial peroration also includes a handy page of recommendations of other books, films and graphic novels to check out, such as Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Everything and Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou, Alecos Papadatos and Anna di Donna.

This is a truly sharp and witty book, which marvellously reduces centuries of contentious pondering, violent discussion and high-altitude academic acrimony to an enthralling, utterly accessible experience any smart kid or keen elder would be happy to experience.

Clear, concise, appropriately challenging and informatively funny, Science – A Discovery in Comics is a wonder of unpretentious, exuberant graphic craft and a timeless book we can all enjoy.

© @2012 Uitgeverij Meinema, Zoetermeer, TheNetherlands. English translation © 2013 Margreet de Heer.
Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for anybody with a brain and a question… 9/10

Atalanta: The Race Against Destiny


By Justine & Ron Fuentes and Thomas Yeates (Graphic Universe)
ISBN: 978-1-58013-317-3

The heroic tales and beliefs of ancient cultures have for centuries formed an integral part of children’s educational development – and a good thing too. These days though, those magnificently inspiring and unforgettably visual yarns are as likely to be disseminated via graphic novel as through the sparsely illustrated prose books which had such a formative influence on my early days.

Atalanta: The Race Against Destiny was released in 2007, one self-contained chronicle in a large series which similarly retold through sequential narrative many other myths and legends such as Jason’s Quest with the Argonauts, the Labours of Hercules or the Saga of King Arthur.

Illustrated by the brilliant Thomas Yeates (Saga of the Swamp Thing, Time Spirits, Zorro and more) and adapted from traditional sources by Justine and Ron Fontes, the tragic tale of the World’s first feminist and a ferociously independent woman opens in heaven as the gods of Olympus observe a king railing at his wife, furious that she has given him a useless daughter instead of the son and heir he needed.

Ordering the infant to be ‘Abandoned’ on an exposed hillside, he thinks of her no more, blithely unaware that the baby has been found and adopted by a she-bear…

Nurtured and reared by her ursine protector the child grew strong and tough and exceedingly swift. Nothing could match her speed.

One day, years later, she was ‘Found’ and adopted by hunters who civilised her and gloried in her might and skill with a bow. These simple folk had no time for traditional women’s work and Atalanta grew with no knowledge of a woman’s traditional role in Greek society. She could not spin wool, weave or sew and knew nothing of cleaning or keeping a man’s house in proper order. Moreover she had no time or need to idly make herself pretty for a man…

As she grew to womanhood she often pondered her role and fate. Eventually she was advised by her adopted family to consult an oracle and journeyed to Delphi to seek ‘Answers and Adventures’ from the oracle of Apollo, where her shocking manner, dress and attitudes scandalised the refined citizens.

Sadly the responses of the closeted, drugged seer were far from helpful. The Oracle merely mumbled “avoid husband… can’t avoid… keep life… lose self” and the interpretations and rationalisations of the male priests were little better.

Atalanta returned to a life of hunting and lived day to day until an invitation came to enter a great competition to destroy a fearsome boar ravaging distant Calydon, kingdom of Oeneus and his son Prince Meleager.

Invitations had gone out to the greatest heroes of Greece and en route Atalanta met fabled Jason, and many Argonauts including Castor and Pollux, Theseus, Nestor, last survivor of the Trojan War, and Telemon who was once companion to Hercules himself. All hungered for glory and readily accepted her amongst their company as they discussed the fearsome beast they were to fight against.

Legend had it that the boar was a divine punishment sent by Artemis to punish a slight accidentally perpetrated by Oeneus, but as the champions talked the huntress realised many of the heroes also thought of her as a beguiling quarry…

The hunt for the boar was a disaster. Although she easily outdistanced her companions and drew first blood, many heroes died that day and when Meleager finally slew the beast he wanted Atalanta to share in the triumph. Her skill had indeed led to his killing stroke, but his jealous uncles refused to let a woman share in his glory and a fight broke out.

Besotted with her – and she with him – the Prince slew his uncles in a rage and called upon himself the final, fatal vengeance of the gods as well as his own mother.

Heartbroken and uncomprehending of the sheer spitefulness of celestials, Atalanta returned to the wilds, convinced that her love would ever doom any man she favoured…

Her legend grew however and in a far away kingdom her father pieced together the details and realised the celebrated huntress must be the daughter he had tried to kill. Seeing an opportunity he invited her into his household and the dutiful, curious young woman complied.

It was a disaster. She hated the rules and confinements of a palace princess and her sire only saw her as a means of gaining power, wealth and prestige. When he proffered the famed huntress in wedlock, many suitors came forward. Although the horrified, prophecy-haunted Atalanta knew that any man she married would die, she soon realised her greedy father did not care…

Thus she desperately devised a cunning competition to warn the fools away, demanding that only a man who could catch her would have her hand. To deter them further she insisted that any who failed must die but she had greatly underestimated the arrogance, greed and lust of princes…

A beautiful suitor named Hippomenes did get the message however and acted only as judge for ‘The Race of her Life’, watching the beautiful girl easily outdistance and thereby doom a host of potential husbands. Seeing her run though, he too was smitten and began his own campaign to win the lonely, tragic princess.

A great grandson of sea-god Poseidon, he made Atalanta feel she could beat her oracular curse and then petitioned love goddess Aphrodite to aid him in beating the unbeatable girl in a second race…

Equipped with the gleaming Golden Apples of the Hesperides, the wily youth distracted the fleet huntress enough to cross the finishing line first and won ‘A Bride After All’ but in his elation Hippomenes forgot to properly thank Aphrodite and the outraged deity promptly planned an awful vengeance for the slight.

At the moment of her greatest joy Atalanta learned the true power of prophecy when Aphrodite tricked the happy newlyweds into desecrating a shrine to Zeus’ mother Rhea for which sacrilege she furiously transformed them into a lion and lioness.

For the rest of eternity the lovers would remain together, keeping their lives but losing their selves, becoming the divine beasts pulling Rhea’s chariot across the world…

All religious stories are devised to explain away contemporary unsolved questions, unknowable mysteries or established social structures.

The liturgical history lesson retold here was one proudly patriarchal people’s attempt to rationalise their lives whilst explaining how and why such laws and customs exist and, although grossly simplified here, works in an engaging manner that should certainly tempt readers to go and find out more.

Engrossing, dynamic, pretty and blessed with a light touch, this splendid introduction to mythology is designed for kids with a reading age of nine or above – that’s Year 4, I suspect – and also contains a full ‘Glossary’ of characters and concepts, suggested ‘Further Reading, Websites and Films’, background on ‘Creating Atalanta: The Race Against Destiny, creator biographies in ‘About the Author and the Artist’ and an ‘Index’.

Packaged as full-colour, 48 page, card-cover booklets, they were designed to introduce youngsters to the magical riches of human history and imagination.

Although this particular saga retells a rather tragic and indubitably unfair tale of sexism, oppressive destiny and the costs of attempting to defy fate, it does read very well as sequential narrative in its own right and serves not just as an educational aid or social warning but as a smart way to get your youngsters into comics.
© 2007 Lerner Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Isis & Osiris: To the Ends of the Earth – An Egyptian Myth

Isis
By Jeff Limke & David Witt (Graphic Universe)
ISBN: 978-1-58013-320-3, 978-0-82256-570-3

The heroic tales and beliefs of ancient cultures have for centuries formed an integral part of children’s educational development – and a good thing too. These days though, those magnificently inspiring and unforgettably visual yarns are as likely to be disseminated via graphic novel as through the sparsely illustrated prose books which had such a formative influence on my early days.

Isis & Osiris: To the Ends of the Earth was released in 2007, one self-contained chronicle in a larger series which similarly retold through sequential narrative many other myths and legends such as Jason’s Quest with the Argonauts, the Labours of Hercules or the Saga of King Arthur.

Packaged as full-colour, 48 page, card-cover booklets, they were designed to introduce kids to the magical riches of human history and imagination. This particular epic retells one of the oldest stories of our species, revealing a story of love, hate and the devotion of marriage, as well as describing the invention of Egypt’s infamous burial ceremony and system of justice.

The story begins in the most ancient of days as the divine Isis begins a holy ritual with the royal infant Dactyl, simultaneously regaling him with a tale of ‘A Party to End all Parties’. At that long-ago festival her beloved and revered husband Osiris was betrayed by his jealous, ambitious and infinitely wicked brother Set.

The dark plotter had brought a lavish and ornate stone sarcophagus carved from solid rock to the celebration and proposed a party game: whomever the beautiful bier best fitted would win it forever. Everybody tried and failed to settle into it until noble, jolly Osiris at last lay within, at which time it magically sealed itself, trapping the king of the gods within ‘A Stone-Cold Prize’

His fate sealed, Osiris and the sarcophagus were hurled into the mighty Nile River by Set’s servants, to vanish from sight as the triumphant usurper assumed control of the world. Heartbroken but determined, Isis became a ‘Goddess Interrupted’ as she roamed the Earth for years, searching for her lost husband.

The Nile was the source of all life and Osiris’ magical passage had wrought wondrous changes and transformations Isis could track as she wearily walked the world. Eventually Isis arrived in the land ruled by Queen Astarte where she was made most welcome even as she saw the stump of a huge Tamarisk tree and felt the presence of he long-lost love.

The mighty growth was so impressive that the King had ordered it to be carved into a glorious imperial column for his palace, and when she travelled there Isis knew her quest was ended.

Arriving at our story’s starting point, the divine goddess, in her gratitude, was attempting to bless Astarte’s infant son Dactyl with her heavenly gifts when the suspicious queen inadvertently burst into her chamber and interrupted the benison. This contravention of the law of courtesy cost the mother and her son greatly…

Angered and impatient, Isis shattered the ceremonial column and released the hated sarcophagus from within it, before commandeering a boat and crew to take her beloved back up the Nile to his stolen kingdom.

‘A God Comes Home, a God Goes Missing’ found the reunited couple preparing to celebrate Osiris’ resurrection, with amazing new gifts for the people – such as farming tools and wheat – aided by their hawk-headed son Horus and Set’s jackal-headed boy Anubis. As they busied themselves, nobody saw a giant boar steal in and remove the still-slumbering Osiris…

When she discovered him missing the goddess exploded in fury, unleashing her wrath against the people until fair-minded Horus calmed her down and restored her reason.

By the banks of the river, the boar resumed his true shape and spiteful, jealous Set, determined never to lose or share the worship of mankind, cut his brother into many pieces and scattered them ‘To the Ends of the World’

Shattered and disconsolate, Isis is comforted and encouraged by Set’s wife Nephthys, who urges her to find the strength to search for her husband again. With the aid of her sister-in-law, Anubis, and Horus, Isis once more roams the earth until all the scattered segments of Osiris are found and reconstituted. All but one…

With a vital fragment missing, Isis has a potter construct a clay replacement from the earth her husband had previously blessed, and undertakes a new ceremony to recombine, reunite and reanimate the pieces. By ‘Making a Mummy’ she and her priests totally heal the withered husk and bring Osiris back to vibrant life.

His journey to the Land of the Dead had greatly changed the mighty ruler and, restored to health and power, he has accepted a great burden. Henceforth he will judge all those going to the afterlife with a set of scales balancing the evil in men’s hearts against the weight of a heavenly feather…

All religious stories are devised to explain away contemporary unsolved questions and unknowable mysteries. The liturgical history lesson retold here was one people’s attempt to rationalise the course of their lives as farmers whilst explaining how and why their laws and customs began and, although grossly simplified here, works in an engaging manner that should certainly tempt readers to go and find out more.

Engrossing, dynamic, pretty and blessed with a light touch, this splendid introduction to mythology is designed for kids with a reading age of nine or above – that’s Year 4, I suspect – and also contains a full ‘Glossary’ of characters and concepts, suggested ‘Further Reading, Websites and Films’, creator biographies in ‘About the Author and the Artist’ and an ‘Index’.

They also read very well as sequential narrative in their own right and would serve not just as educational aid but as a smart way to get your youngsters into comics.
© 2007 Lerner Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

There’s a HAIR in My Dirt! – A Worm’s Story


By Gary Larson, coloured by Nick Bell of Wildstorm Productions (Little, Brown and Co/HarperCollins)
ISBNs: 978-0-31664-519-5 (HC)       978-0060932749 (PB)

We may not be rocket scientists but all cartoonists tend to lurk at the sharp end of the IQ bell curve – and then there’s Gary Larson. He could be a rocket scientist if he wanted to. Happily though, his inclinations tend towards natural history and the Life Sciences.

And making people laugh in a truthful, thinking kind of way…

Larson was born in 1950 and raised in WashingtonState. After school and college (also WashingtonStatewhere he got a degree in communications) he bummed around and got a job in a music store – which he hated. During a self-imposed sabbatical he evolved into a cartoonist by submitting to Pacific Search (now Pacific Northwest Magazine) in Seattle who promptly astonished him by accepting and paying for his six drawings. Bemused and emboldened Larson kept on doodling and in 1979 The Seattle Times began publishing his strip Nature’s Way. When The San Francisco Chronicle picked up the gag feature they renamed it The Far Side

From 1980 on the Chronicle Syndicate peddled the strip with huge success. The Far Side became a global phenomenon and Larson’s bizarre, skewed and bitingly surreal strip starring nature Smug in Tooth and Claw almost took over the world. With 23 collections (over 45 million copies sold), two animated movies, calendars, greetings cards and assorted merchandise seemingly everywhere, the smartypants scribbler was at the top of his game when he retired the feature on January 1st 1995.

After fifteen years at the top, Larson wanted to quit while he was ahead. He still did the occasional promo piece or illustration but increasingly devoted his time to ecological causes and charities such as Conservation International. He still does.

Of course he couldn’t stop drawing or thinking or, indeed, teaching and in 1998 created the stunningly smart and cool children’s book for concerned and nervous adults under the microscope here.

There’s a HAIR in My Dirt! brilliantly, mordantly tells a parable within a fable and serves up a marvellously meaningful message for us to absorb and ingest whilst simultaneously making us laugh like loons and worry like warts.

One day underground a little worm having dinner with his folks finds something unnatural and icky in his meal and starts bemoaning the lowly status and general crappiness of his annelidic existence (look it up, I’m showing off and making a comedic point too…). To counter this outburst of whingeing Father Worm offers a salutary tale to put things into their proper perspective…

Thus begins the tragic tale of Harriet, a beautiful human maiden living – she believed – at one with world in the woods, enraptured with the bountiful Magic of Nature and of one particular frolicsome day encountering cute squirrels, lovely flowers, icky bugs, happy birds, playful deer, tortoises and every kind of creature… and completely missing the point about all of them…

Masquerading as an acerbic faux fairytale teller, Larson delivers an astoundingly astute and unforgettable ecology lesson equally effective in educating young and old alike about Nature’s true nature – and yet still miraculous wonders – all whilst maintaining a monolithic amount of outrageous comic hilarity.

This sublime illustrated yarn became a New York Times Best Seller on its release and still serves as a fabulous reminder of what really clever people can achieve even if they don’t do rocket science…

Seriously though: There’s a HAIR in My Dirt! is one of the smartest, funniest and most enticingly educational kid’s book ever created and should be on every school curriculum. Since it isn’t, perhaps it’s best if you picked one up for the house…?
© 1998 FarWorks, Inc. All rights reserved.

A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola


By Ricardo Cortés (Akashic Books)
ISBN: 978-1-61775-134-9

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: potent, punchy and thought-provoking fodder to enjoy after overindulging… 9/10

The astounding power of graphic narrative to efficiently, potently and evocatively disseminate vast amounts of information in layered levels has always been best utilised in works with a political or social component. That’s seldom been better demonstrated than in this stunning and scholarly new picture book from Ricardo Cortés.

Born in 1973, illustrator and artistic intellectual activist Cortés has had a sublimely seditious career thus far. He has made waves in Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly, The New York Post, The Village Voice, San Francisco Chronicle, and been challenged on CNN and FOX News after his controversial  children’s book Marijuana: It’s Just a Plant – written by Marsha Rosenbaum – was mentioned in Congress. He followed up by illustrating Adam Mansbach’s Times Best-Selling Go the F**k to Sleep and its sequel Seriously, Just Go to Sleep, and created the colouring book I Don’t Want to Blow You Up! about famous Muslims who aren’t terrorists.

In 2011 the artist received a grant from the Department of Cultural Affairs’ Greater New York Arts Development to create Jury Independence Illustrated – a public booklet dealing with Jury Nullification produced with the intention of educating potential jurors about their powers to acquit if they disagree with specific laws or judicial rulings. Clearly a born troublemaker…

His latest project is a brilliantly engrossing exploration of acceptable addictions blending scrupulously scholarly reportage with a seductively beautiful selection of captivating images and historical reproductions.

The story starts with the origins and history of ‘Coffee’ from its mythic discovery as a berry fruit for goats in Ethiopia, through being taken up by Yemeni traders who disseminated “qahwah” throughout the Islamic world. A proven intoxicant, concerns over its salubrity, morality and legality grew and it was soon being trafficked by desperate men. In the 16th century the beverage was banned in Mecca, Cairo and elsewhere, but its taste and effects were impossible to resist.

By the time “kahveh” reached Turkeytrading in the beans carried the death penalty. As “Coffee” it reached Europein the 17th century, touted as a miracle cure-all for everything from headache to miscarriage and grew explosively into an intellectual’s seditious vice. In 1675 Charles II ordered it suppressed and closedEngland’s Coffee Houses by Royal Edict.

Things got even stranger in 1820 after the alkaloid “Caffe-ine” was finally distilled from the coffee cherry…

The rest of caffeine’s turbulent and torturous legal and commercial progress to today’s status as the world’s most popular stimulant is followed by the story of ‘Cola and Coca’ in which caffeine’s other singularly popular method of natural dissemination is examined.

The Kola Nut of West Africa is amazingly high in the stimulant alkaloid and has been used for centuries – if not millennia – as a energy-intensifying fortifier by the various tribes and nations either by chewing the raw nut or brewing a drink called “cola”.

Cola is one of the most popular ancient beverages on Earth and when in 1886 Dr. John Pemberton devised his own formulation – dubbed Coca-Cola – by adding a dash of coca leaves, his medicinal tonic, after an initial shaky start, grew to become the most monolithic drinks brand on Earth.

…But not, apparently, without a little government help…

Coca originally came from the Andes of South America where for centuries indigenous peoples used the herbal bounty as a pick-me-up. The Indios chewed coca leaves the way we do gum in the west and in 1499 explorer Amerigo Vespucci brought back tales of the wonder herb’s propensity to promote feats of concentration and endurance.

In 1859 Dr. Karl Scherzer returned to Austria after a two-year scientific voyage aboard the Frigate Novara with sixty pounds of coca, as previously requested by German pharmacologists. Soon after doctoral student Albert Niemann isolated from the samples a new alkaloid which he dubbed “Coca-ine”.

This fresh medical marvel, its transparent crystals easily derived from coca leaves, was from 1884 enthusiastically prescribed by the likes of Sigmund Freud for melancholia and oculist Carl Koller discovered it to be an incredible regional (or as we now know them “local”) anaesthetic, allowing unprecedented new surgical procedures to be performed. It was also used as a commonplace treatment for toothache, labour pains, nervousness, fatigue, impotence, asthma and as a cure for morphine addiction – hence Pemberton’s inclusion of the stuff in his health tonic.

By 1889 cases of compulsive use and abuse began to be reported, leading to heated medical debate, and when the era’s obsessive racial concerns were added to the mix (“cocaine made negroes insane” and it was peddled by “greedy Jewish doctors”) the writing was on the puritanical wall for the foreign import.

On a rising tide of public disapproval the 1914 Harrison Narcotics Act prohibited Cocaine use and coca importation in theUSA. However due to some truly unbelievable backroom dickering, the already powerful Coca-Cola Company secured a constant supply of the banned substance – re-designated “Merchandise No. 5” – for their Schaefer Alkaloid Works in New Jersey – still thriving today as the Stepan Chemical Company.

This mercantile miracle was all due to diligent work of Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Ralph Hayes, a former aide to theUS Secretary of War and from 1932, a vice President of the Coca-Cola Company.

Anslinger was a rabid anti-drug zealot, so just why did he spend 40 years – under seven different US Presidents – enforcing draconian and often expensive, nigh-impossible bans on a vast number of natural pharmaceutical products whilst actively securing and defending Coca-Cola’s uninterrupted supply of cocaine?

He even facilitated clandestine schemes to grow coca on American soil and his campaign was so successful that American policy became UN and global norms, forcibly negating all the proven scientific benefits of resources which grew naturally in countries which could never afford Western drugs and chemical advances.

Trust me; you only think you know the answer…

Astonishingly addictive and intoxicatingly revelatory, Coffee, Coca & Cola offers an impressively open-minded history lesson and an incredible look at the dark underbelly of American Capitalism. Exposed here through telling research and beguiling illustrations is a catalogue of hypocrisy wherein successive political administrations and big business always found ways to place commercial interests ahead of any specious moral imperative ingenuously forwarded by the “World’s Cop”.

Learn here how corporations and statesmen conspired to ruthlessly crush the traditions, customs and rituals of other nations and cultures (as recently as 2010, America acted to suppress many sovereign South American countries’ social, spiritual, medicinal and nutritional use of coca) and continue to prevent poor countries utilisation of such ancient natural resources as caffeine and cocaine whilst peddling products inescapably wedded to both American Expansionism and Ideology…

A stunning, hard cover coffee-table book for concerned adults, this captivating chronicle is a true treasure – or perhaps in the parlance of the idiom I might just say – lip-smacking, trust-quenching, cool looking, stimulating, motivating, hard talking, fool busting, fast thinking, hard quizzing… and unmissable.
© 2012 Ricardo Cortés. All rights reserved.

The Brain Eaters Bible – Sound Advice for the Newly Reanimated Zombie


By J. D. McGhoul with Pat Kilbane, Brian Ulrich, Dean Jones, Neil D’Monte & others (St. Martin’sGriffin)
ISBN: 978-1-250-02401-5

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: an ideal antidote for adult over-indulgence… 8/10

With the world in the dry, dusty grip of a Zombie Apocalypse and at least oneAmericanUniversityoffering Zombie Studies as part of its curriculum, it was only a matter of time before the perhaps misunderstood flesh-addicted revenants gained their own advocate for their particular post-lifestyle.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of zombie stories but occasionally something really tasty comes along and I’m forced to re-evaluate my position. Such an item is this wryly outrageous almanac from comedian, author and actor Pat Kilbane (Mad TV, Seinfeld, Semi-Pro, My Name Is Earl), a vast production team of artists, designers, photographers, make-up and FX folk, actors, models, martial artists, stuntmen and armourers, and ex-lab technician J.D. McGhoul who, since his passing, has worked tirelessly as an activist and educator for the burgeoning population of meat-seeking martyrs whose only hope is for a little piece – preferably of frontal, temporal or parietal lobe…

Together this dedicated group have merrily compiled a deliciously morbid foundation class in everything the newly-infected but so much more than brain-dead “walker” needs to keep unfit, unwell and full…

Although nobody living really knows the origins of the PACE (Postmortem Ambulation with Cannibalistic Encephalophilia) virus – the unsavoury savant here attributes it to stem-cell research gone wonky – the effects are obvious, apparent and permanent.

Thus there are plenty of sagacious asides about the worthlessness of moisturisers but extreme necessity of Febreze™, the commonsense of keeping your head covered, the pros and cons of working in groups and the necessity of never, ever underestimating the cunning and nastiness of the “Freshies” who constitute your preferred fodder…

Following the introspective Introduction and ‘Mouthful of Mud’ – the first of seven insightful Journal Entries about the unlife of the undead from Mr. McGhoul – the first comprehensive chapter Eat Brains describes in piercing detail ‘A Way of Life’, the ‘Reasons for Eating Brains’, ‘Only Live Brains; Only Human’, mind you, and then advises ‘Listen to your Cravings’, ‘Types of Brains’, ‘A Tough Nut’, ‘Brain Bits for the Connoisseur’ and ‘Health Concerns’ before discoursing ‘On Cannibalism’ and recommending ‘Just Love It’

Know Your Body deals with ‘A New You’, ‘The PACE Infection’, how ‘A Plague is Born’, ‘Infection’, ‘Zombie Organs’, ‘Bodily Capacities’ and ‘Other Anatomical Facts’ whilst Hunt deals with ‘Brain Acquisition’, ‘Our Right to Make People Extinct’, ‘Pack Hunting’, ‘Ambush Hunting’, ‘New Principles of Combat’, ‘Close Combat Attack Techniques’, ‘Using Firearms’, ‘Using Other Weapons’ and offers some ‘Final Thoughts on Hunting & Combat’.

Interspersed with and following more plangent Journal Entries‘Hell’s Ragged Edge’, ‘Bitter and Raw’ and ‘Headhunter Laureate’, chapter 4 details how to Know Your Enemy: categorising the types and tactics of ‘Your Opposition in War’, ‘Sizing Them Up’ and pictorially detailing ‘Human Weaponry’‘Handguns’, ‘Submachine Guns’, ‘Rifles and Carbines’, ‘Shotguns’, ‘Bows and Arrows’, ‘Thrown Weapons’, ‘Swung Weapons’ and ‘Thrusting Weapons’, before demonstrating ‘Human Combat Training’, ‘The Human Fear Response’, ‘Human Vulnerabilities’ and how in the end they are ‘Their Own Worst Enemy’.

‘Whom Shall I Fear’ is another inspiring extract from the author’s Journal Entries after which Move Your Head offers ‘A Defensive Mantra’, ‘Protective Stances’, ‘Self-Defense Techniques’, what is best when ‘Fighting Multiple Foes’, the merits of ‘Zombie Headgear’, ‘Serpentining’, ‘The Invisible Hunter’, how to be ‘The Elusive Traveller’ and why one must learn to ‘Stop, Look, Listen, Smell’, ‘Destroy Captured Assets’ and ‘Leave No Witnesses’

From the Journal Entries comes the philosophy of ‘Self-Knowledge’ whilst the spiritual aspect and overarching mission of the Zombie Way is detailed in Infect Others as ‘The Four I’s’‘Ingest’, ‘Infect’, ‘Inject’ and ‘Instruct’ before the final Journal Entry‘My Brother’s Maker’ reveals the aspirational hope that one day the world can be theirs…

Ostensibly written by erudite undead philosopher J.D. McGhoul, and with a savagely detached tongue firmly embedded in a torn and ragged cheek, this tome delivers a devilishly sly and hilarious fresh take on the undead, told with devastating, deadpan delivery and Goriously illustrated with photos, diagrams and drawings: a uproarious, marvellously authentic treat for every mordantly shambling horror fanatic and bleakly black humourist…

And if you can’t sleep at night just wear a steel crash helmet and keep telling yourself “Zombies don’t exist”.  You’ll be fine.

Probably.
© 2010 Mythodrome Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Demeter & Persephone: Spring Held Hostage – A Greek Myth


By Justine & Ron Fontes, Steve Kurth & Barbara Schulz (Graphic Universe)
ISBN: 978-1-58013-318-0,     978-0-82256-570-3

The heroic tales and legends of older cultures have, for centuries formed an integral part of children’s educational development – and a good thing too. These days though, those magnificently inspiring and memorably visual yarns are as likely to be disseminated in graphic novel form as through the illustrated prose books which had such a formative influence on my early days.

Demeter & Persephone: Spring Held Hostage was released in 2007, one self-contained tome in a larger series which also retold in comics other Hellenic myths such as the Labours of Hercules, Jason’s journey with the Argonauts as well as other cultures’ founding fables like Isis & Osiris or King Arthur.

Packaged as full-colour, 48 page, card-cover booklets they – hopefully – introduced a wealth of kids to the magical riches of human imagination.

They also read very well as comics in their own right.

All religious stories are devised to explain away contemporary unsolved questions and unknowable mysteries. The liturgical lesson retold here was one people’s attempt to rationalise the progress of the seasons and the man-made miracle of agriculture, opening in the paradisiacal golden age of ‘A Winterless World’ where, thanks to the joyful bounty of the goddess Demeter, plants bloomed all year long and the Earth was bathed in perpetual warmth. The harvest goddess’ greatest joy was her glorious daughter Persephone, offspring of one of Zeus’ constant infidelities with any deity, supernatural creature or mortal he took a fancy to…

The supreme god ruled over the skies and Earth whilst his brothers Poseidon and Hades controlled the seas and underworld respectively. However, when the dolorous, lonely Lord of the Dead saw Persephone he wanted her for his wife – and callous, unthinking Zeus told him to just steal her and take her down to ‘The Dark Domain’ he ruled…

Despite her plight, Demeter’s daughter found a great deal that was admirable about Hades and his vast kingdom of judgement, punishment and reward. However, knowing how perilous her fate was, Persephone refused to eat anything that her embarrassed abductor offered, knowing that to do so would bind her to him forever…

In the bright lands above, Demeter frantically searched for her child. Discovering how Persephone had been taken, the Harvest Goddess pleaded with Zeus who refused to intervene, prompting her to abandon the pantheon’s home on MountOlympus. She wandered the Earth as ‘A Worried Mother’ and in the guise of a broken old woman became the nurse to Prince Demophoon of Eleusis, infant son of King Celeus.

Months passed whilst Demeter neglected the world’s lush abundance, defiantly ignoring the desperate pleas of man and god alike. Plants withered and starvation gripped the Earth, and on Olympus the crisis at last forced Zeus to act. He despatched messenger god Hermes to the underworld to negotiate with Hades and a compromise was reached.

‘The Seeds of Change’ saw a now reluctant Persephone leave the abductor she had come to care for. In all that time she had eaten nothing but as they parted she swallowed a few pomegranate seeds from a fruit Hades offered as final gesture…

Even whilst back in the clean air above, this caused great consternation as their consumption gave Hades a legitimate claim to Persephone. Moreover, she had come to love him but as her mother refused to be separated from her, her marriage to Hades would have doomed mankind to starvation.

‘The Pomegranate Problem’ was only solved by Rhea, mother of all gods, who suggested that the lovers should marry but that Persephone must spend two thirds of each year with her mother who would then cause the world’s plants to germinate, blossom, grow and ripen. After that the daughter would spend four months with her husband in the underworld, with Earth consequently becoming temporarily cold, dark and bleakly barren…

Satisfied with the solution but plagued by guilt, Demeter eventually returned to Eleusis where the baby Demophoon had grown to manhood. Here she taught her human charge the secrets of cultivation and plant improvement and the prince travelled the Earth, sharing his divinely-bestowed knowledge of agriculture to a grateful and eager humanity…

Engrossing, dynamic, pretty and blessed with a light touch, this splendid introduction to mythology is designed for kids with a reading age of nine or above – that’s Year 4, I suspect – and also contains a full glossary, a Further Reading and relevant websites list, and an index as well as fact-features on Creating Demeter & Persephone and biographies of the creators.
© 2007 Lerner Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Philosophy – A Discovery in Comics


By Margreet de Heer with Yiri T. Kohl (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-698-3

There’s no use denying it: Annual Gift-Giving Season isn‘t far off and it’s never too early to think of the ideal item for that troublesome family/friend unit. So here’s something that might fit the bill for any argumentative soul fed up with socks, pants and pen-sets…  

It has long been a truism of the creative arts that the most effective, efficient and economical method of instruction and informational training has been the comic strip.

Advertising mavens have for over a century exploited the easy impact of words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply. Additionally, since World War II, carefully crafted strips have been constantly used as training materials in every aspect of adult life from school careers advice to various branches of military service – utilising the talents of comics giants as varied as Milton Caniff, Will Eisner (who spent decades producing reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments), Kurt Schaffenberger and Neil Adams.

These days the educational value and merit of comics is a given. Larry Gonick in particular has been using the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into the weary brains of jaded students with such tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Genetics, Sex, Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment and more).

Japan uses a huge number of manga text books in its schools and universities and has even released government reports and business prospectuses as comic books to get around the public’s apathy towards reading large dreary volumes of public information.

So do we, and so do the Americans.

I’ve even produced one or two myself.

Now the medium has been used to sublimely and elegantly tackle the greatest and most all-consuming preoccupation and creation of the mind of Man…

Margreet de Heer was born in 1972 into a family of theologians and despite some rebellious teen forays to the wild side of life – fascinatingly covered in the ‘Know My Self’ section of this fabulous graphic primer – studied Theology for 9 years at the University of Amsterdam. After graduating in 1999 she decided to become a cartoonist – and did – but also worked at the wonderful comics and cool stuff emporium/cultural icon Lambiek in Amsterdam.

Whilst there she collaborated with industry expert Kees Kousemaker on a history of Dutch comics before becoming a full-time professional in 2005, with commissions in publications as varied as Yes, Zij aan Zij, Viva Mama, Flo’, Jippo, Farfelu and NRC.Next.

In 2007 she began a series of cartoon philosophical reports for the newspaper Trouw, which prompted a perspicacious publisher to commission a complete book on this most ancient of topics. Filosofie in Beeld was released in 2010 and translated into English by NBM this year as Philosophy – a Discovery in Comics.

This gloriously accessible tome, crafted by a gifted writer with a master’s grasp of her subject, opens with the core concept ‘What is Thinking?’ examining the processes of mind through a number of elegantly crafted examples before moving onto ‘Who Do We Think We Are?’

Those paradigms of ‘Self-Awareness’, ‘Logical Thinking’, ‘Language’, ‘Symbols’, ‘Abstract Thinking’ and ‘Humor’ are captivatingly covered before the history and cognitive high points of civilisation are disclosed with ‘The Foundation of Western Philosophy’.

This potted history of ‘Dualism’ relates the life stories, conceptual legacies and achievements of ‘Socrates’ and the ‘Socratic Discourse’, his star pupil ‘Plato’ and the universal man ‘Aristotle’, all winningly balanced with a balancing sidebar autobiography in ‘Know My Self’ plus some cogent observations and a few comparisons with the Eastern philosophy of ‘Unity’

‘Medieval Philosophy’ deals with the influence of the Christian Church on ‘Augustine’ and ‘Thomas Aquinas’, the “Great Thinkers” of early Europe, examining the warring concepts of ‘Free Will’ and ‘Predestination’ and exploring the lives of ‘Erasmus’ and ‘Humanism’, ‘Descartes’ and his maxim ‘Cogito Ergo Sum’ and ‘Spinoza’ whose consummate faith-based dictum was ‘Know Thyself’

The charming, beguiling foundation course continues with ‘What is Reality?’ bringing us up to the modern age with ‘And Now’ with another brilliantly clever diversion as de Heer includes the ‘Personal Philosophies’ of families and friends.

Her husband – and this book’s colourist – Yiri bases his outlook on the incredible life of outrageous comedian ‘George Carlin’, her aged friend Gerrit looks to ‘Nietzsche’, mother-in-law Yolanda modelled herself on Cambridge lecturer and intellectual ‘George Steiner’ whilst De Heer’s little brother Maarten prefers to shop around picking up what he needs from thinkers as varied as ‘Aldous Huxley’ to cartoonist ‘Marten Toonder’ as well as bravely putting her money where her mouth is and revealing her own thoughts on Life, the Universe and Everything and asking again ‘What Do You Think?’

This is a truly sharp and witty book – and the first of a trilogy that will also deal with Religion and Science – which splendidly reduces centuries of contentious pondering, violent discussion and high-altitude academic acrimony to an enthralling, utterly accessible experience any smart kid or keen elder would be happy to experience. Clear, concise, appropriately challenging and informatively funny Philosophy – A Discovery in Comics is a wonder of unpretentious, exuberant graphic craft and a timeless book we can all enjoy.

© @2010 Uitgeverij Meinema, Zoetermeer, TheNetherlands. English translation © 2012 Margreet de Heer & Yiri T. Kohl.

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Perfect for anybody with a brain or heart… 9/10