LOGICOMIX is one of those rare graphic novels that remind
fans of sequential art why they love comic books to begin with. Aptly subtitled AN EPIC SEARCH FOR TRUTH,
LOGICOMIX is the life-story, mathematical theories, philosophical logic and
spiritual quest of Bertrand Russell told in graphic novel form. Masterfully told by writers Apostolos Doxiadis
(who studied mathematics at Columbia and is a pioneer at the interaction of
mathematics and narrative) and Christopher H. Papadimitriou (a computer science
professor at the University of California in Berkeley), LOGICOMIX unravels the
metatextual story of Russell’s agonizing quest for the foundations of absolute
truth as he interacts with legendary thinkers like Godel and Frege. Russell’s journey for rational thought is the
Western Mind’s journey, which is constantly teetering on the edge of madness, a
dark hole which many great thinkers have sunk into, and as Russell had always
feared he would succumb to.
The clever framing of the narrative opens with the author himself, Apostolos, addressing the reader in the same way Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer did in the opening of ANNIE HALL. It’s a technique that automatically lets you know this is will be no ordinary graphic novel reading experience. Drawing parallels to the beginnings of Betrand Russell’s arduous search for truth, Apostolos disarms the reader by admitting his difficulties in tackling the writing of the story in our hands. He goes on to introduce his co-author, Christos, as a much needed guide into the dense world of mathematics and who will help him (and us) make sense of it all. Like Charlie Kaufman with his screenplay ADAPTATION, Apostolos is able to find a poetic counter-point with his journey in the creation of LOGICOMIX to that of Russell’s path in deconstructing and rebuilding universal mathematics. What makes the reader comfortable in taking on this adventure along with Apostolos is the fact that he doesn’t come off as a know-it-all or a snobby expert. In fact, his humble approach introduces the artists, Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna, as characters who help him bring his vision to life.
LOGICOMIX’s story has a second inner-level framing where Betrand Russell is giving a lecture to an audience on the eve of Britain’s entrance to World War 2. This lecture poses this theory: pure logic will lead a rational person to a right conclusion to a difficult moral problem, in this case, whether Britain should enter into WWII against Hitler. The narrative then ambitiously retraces it steps with Betrand Russell‘s childhood in 1870’s England, where he seeks to escape from his authoritarian religious upbringing. It recants the first time young Russell slept at his grandmother’s home, where he kept hearing a frightening moan echoing through the house at night. The next day, he asked everybody what was the cause of the moaning. Everyone irrationally gave him a different response. This sparked Russell’s first inclination to search for absolute logic and strengthened his resolve to investigate its true meaning. He soon found mathematics as the best vehicle for leading oneself to pure truth. But the more he studied mathematics, the more he realized many of its foundations were false and shaky at best. Russell’s aspirations to reshape and redefine mathematics goes on to cause a major crisis in philosophy and logic throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century. We go on to follow Russell’s adult life as he engages in compelling discourses with heavy-weights like Wittgenstein, Von Neumman, and Turin, all of which is made complicated by Russell falling in love for the first time with a woman who could be even more maddeningly logical than he is.
The artwork by Papadatos and Di Donna is striking in its vivid flow of images that allow the reader to accessibly contextualize a visual articulation to many of Russell’s obtuse theories. The look of the book is pleasantly precise and a spirited exercise in humanizing what could have easily been tedious and bewildering sequences. The art doesn’t take itself too seriously and is ingeniously charming. LOGICOMIX is a rare rich and rewarding reading. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced it.
Mike Le is a writer/producer living in Los Angeles. He is also the creator of the Hollywood webcomic DON'T FORGET TO VALIDATE YOUR PARKING.
You can follow Mike Le on Twitter: @DFTVYP
You can follow Mike Le on Twitter: @DFTVYP