Obscure Comics: LogicomixOctober 11, 2014
Back in 2009, I had the pleasure of reading, what I believe is, one of the more intelligent graphic novels out there, Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth. Penned by Apostolos Doxiadis (Previous works include Uncle Petros and Goldbach’s Conjecture) and theoretical computer scientist Christos Papadimitriou (University of California, Berkely), Logicomix tells the story of famed mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. That’s right, a comic book where the hero is a mathematician. Interested yet?
Artwork is deftly handled by Alecos Papadatos and coloured by his wife, Annie Di Donna. The drawings and colour elicit a very nuanced tone, one that makes the complexity of tale seem tangible (theoretical math isn’t easy, y’know). Papadatos’ style is spare, yet beautiful. Each of Logicomix’s 350 pages are artfully laid out and look as intelligent as the content is.
Bertrand Russell’s life-long quest to find the base nature of truth provides the story with impetus, and the outbreak of World War II and the debate on whether the United States should be involved or not allows the story to dish out its exposition. Still, a story as complex as Russell’s requires a little more than simple exposition, and Doxiadis and Papadimitriou do an amazing job discussing the merits and difficulties of telling the story in a brilliant use meta-fictional framing narrative.
Like any good superhero tale, Logocomix is full of heroes and villains, but unlike many superhero tales, the quest is, ultimately, one of tragedy. The hero is Russell, who has many demons, and the villain is his desire for absolute Truth, one you know he will never overcome.
Without getting too theoretical, Russell was bothered by complex notions that Math was built upon a series of self-evident truths (axioms). Simple equations like 2 + 2 = 4, were not scientifically provable without referencing themselves (when you define a word, you can’t use that word to define it) and this led Russell to pursue more true definitions of what we all consider easy equations. Essentially, Russell believed that if you define something by using the term being defined, you enter a shaky paradox and if the very foundation of math is built upon a shaky paradox than the whole system is suspect. Very heady stuff. Very cool, too.
If this sounds textbook-y, it’s not. Reading Logicomix is not the same as reading a textbook. It’s a comic whose analogy isn’t too heavy, but content is. And that is part of Logicomix magic, it takes something like the quest to find the foundation of theoretical math and somehow makes it a riveting tale, it paints the mathematicians of the early 20th century as the heroes they deserve to be.
If you want to read a comic where the superheros are theoretical mathematicians and philosophers, than I suggest you pick up Logicomix.
If you have read Logicomix or some other obscure comic that you want us to know about than please feel free to share it in the comments below.