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Webcomic / Existential Comics

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Existential Comics is a series of web comics which humorously discusses many philosophical topics and portrays numerous famous philosophers in a comedic manner. It was created by Corey Mohler, a software engineer in Portland, Oregon.

This webcomic provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: David Hume is portrayed as a rather cruel father to his son (Hume didn't actually have any known children, along with never marrying) as part of demonstrating his philosophy.
  • Anachronism Stew: Philosophers from different ages all the way back from antiquity to modern times can appear together in the same comic.
  • Anarchy Is Chaos: Defied. Whenever an anarchist (usually Kropotkin, Bakunin or Goldman) shows up, they're usually presented as rejecting the ideas of causing chaos and violence, and being much more interested in personal liberties, mutual aid and picking fights with other anarchists over sectarian differences.
  • Anti-Humor: One of the first comics involves Franz Kafka going to the DMV and having a very smooth and positive experience.
  • Appeal to Force: Used by Simone Weil when discussing history with Friedrich Hegel and Karl Marx. For bonus points, Weil's thesis was that force was the driving force of history, making her appeal to force a (somewhat) logically coherent argument.
  • Art Evolution: Corey hired a Noah Latz to help him out and the art style took a noticeable turn to the better.
  • …But He Sounds Handsome: Socramander has never heard of this "Socrates" person, but he thinks he sounds very wise!
  • Can't Argue with Elves: You most certainly can when you are Foucault, Chomsky and Fanon. Chomsky, in a parody of his usual style of criticizing America's foreign policy, cites a poll (conducted by Sindar no less) showing that, in the eyes of Hobbits, Dwarves, Humans, Trolls and Orcs, the greatest threat to the peace of Middle-Earth was the elves.
  • Chick Magnet: Albert Camus is portrayed as not having to lift a finger for attracting women. They simply come to him regardless, which annoys the heck out of Jean-Paul Sartre.
  • Cool People Rebel Against Authority: How Karl Marx is usually portrayed. Either bare-chested in a circle of German philosophers, the main goal scorer for the group (since he felt it was important for philosophers and thinkers to make history), and as "Mad Marx: The Class Warrior" fighting Hayek in single combat and killing Ayn Rand. In the comic with Chomsky, Fanon and Foucault, he appears as Gimli the Dwarf to join Fanon's proposed socialist Fellowship of Revolutionaries appointed to overthrow all the old oligarchs of Middle-Earth.
  • Damned by Faint Praise:
    • Discussed in one comic, where John Goldwaith's attempt to make Immanuel Kant seem more interesting is mentioned.
    Now, and maybe this is just me, but if I arrive at the end of my life and a biographer is charged with defending me against accusations of being boring, I should hope that they can come up with something better than "once traveled a small distance to teach philosophy, and had one friend."
    • One comic calls Atlas Shrugged "the longest, and arguably the best, train fanfic ever written."
  • Do Androids Dream?: Inverted in Freedom and Machines, where the robots wonder if the humans have free will. They come to the conclusion they don't.
  • The Eeyore: Kirkegaard and Schopenhauer both consider life to be inherently awful.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: It's a comic about Existentialism. Well, it's about philosophy in general, but mostly about Existentialism.
  • Freud Was Right: Freud certainly thinks so, interpreting everything that happens around him with regard to phalluses and unresolved neuroses.
  • Funny Background Event: While Kant is trying to chat up Elizabeth of Bohemia, we see in order 1) Camus and Hume giving him the thumbs-up behind her back when he's pretending to be really interested in what she's saying, 2) Mary Wollstonecraft throwing a drink in Hume's face, and finally, 3) Wollstonecraft and Simone de Beauvoir giving Elizabeth the thumbs-up behind Kant's back when she's pretending to be really interested in what he's saying.
  • Gambit Pileup: "Existential Hour" has Albert Camus only speaking in vague quotes in his interview with Jean-Paul Sartre because he knows that Sartre is just going to do something ridiculous in the name of radical freedom. Sartre then reveals that he isn't going to do radical freedom, but that he already turned off the cameras before the interview. Camus replies that he noticed the cameras were off and he turned them back on.
  • The Hedonist: Subverted. Two college students enroll in Epicurus' class, expecting it to be a non-stop party, only to find that Epicurean hedonism is actually about finding joy in simple pleasures and abstaining from bodily desires. They end up enjoying themselves anyway.
  • Hell of a Heaven: Schopenhauer considers the afterlife to be this, despite it being a very pleasant Fluffy Cloud Heaven offering the finest of food and music. He was looking forward to a Cessation of Existence.
  • High Fantasy: This trope and the associated Black-and-White Morality and Always Chaotic Evil are Parodied/Deconstructed. Apparently radical leftist intellectuals aren't the best people to invite to the Council of Elrond.
    Noam Chomsky: The idea of a Great Enemy to unite the Men and the Elves, is of course as old as Middle Earth itself. And there will always have to be some enemy, so the people don't look at their own domestic problems and wonder why they need a King to govern at all.
  • La Résistance: The 10th July 2017 comic discusses and spoofs the Existentialists involved in the French Resistance (Sartre, Beauvoir, Camus), noting that it amounted to three people more or less doing the same thing they did during the wartime but somehow convincing themselves that it's actually resisting Nazism. Of course this might be considered unfair if only when placed in context of the historical Resistance, most of which was far tinier than advertised and militarily not as impactful until D-Day, while Sartre was imprisoned for several months in a POW camp after the Fall of France.
  • The Loonie: Donna Harroway goes halfway between The Loonie and The Roleplayer in a Dungeons and Dragons game, when she conceptualizes her player as a cyborg with a +4 atomic laser cannon and argues that freeflow roleplaying unbound by the limitations of the setting makes for more interesting storytelling. The Dungeon Master (Simone de Beauvoir) allows it, on the grounds of atomic lasers and space feminism being cool, outraging Thomas Hobbes and Edmund Burke.
  • Misaimed Fandom: In-Universe: Friedrich Nietzsche, in his more sympathetic appearances, seems pretty dismayed at his legacy being misunderstood.
  • Only Sane Man:
    • In this comic, Immanuel Kant plays the role to the other philosophers, who can't help but try to exert their own views of philosophy onto the game, while Kant clearly just wants to kill some Orcs.
    • Daniel Dennett is the only New Atheist from Sam Harris: Powerful Philosopher who occasionally turns up in some other comics and is presented as an actual philosopher (which he is), whose philosophical opinions are given any amount of respect-as opposed to Dawkins, Hitchens, and especially Harris, who are all mocked as incompetents. Indeed, the text accompanying the Back to the Future parody aligns pretty closely with Dennett's view of compatibilism.
  • The Philosopher King: One comic parodies this, depicting Plato as the ruler of a small city state. He rules the city as if he were participating in one of his famous dialogues, responding to an invasion by trying to get the messenger to define "justice" and "army." Naturally, it ends with him getting stabbed through the gut.
  • Platonic Cave: "Escape from Plato's Cave" has the original allegory reimagined as if it were an action movie, with a lot more guns and karate.
  • Really Gets Around: Albert Camus picks up multiple women at a time without trying.
  • The Roleplayer:
  • Running Gag:
  • Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate: The issue of how much (if any) free will people have, plus what it even means, is discussed in detail with "A Dialogue On Compatibilism". Cory later argues that in fact the compatibilist view makes more sense and is less counter-intuitive, contrary to many claims, using Back to the Future (and time travel in general) as an example.
  • Shown Their Work: Many comics go into great detail on philosophical topics, albeit to humorous effect. There are also notes under most that have further information on the topics discussed to help readers that may be lost. Some famous philosophers who appear include Plato, Socrates, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoevsky, to list a few of those who have pages here.
  • The Slacker: Zeno of Elea mainly uses his famous paradoxes and the belief that motion is an illusion as an excuse to laze around and not do any chores.
  • Staging an Intervention: In The Young Hegelians, the other Hegelians confront Max Stirner about his addiction to...shaving.
  • The Stoic: While the actual Stoic philosophy was more complicated than just the stereotype, some of their views indeed embodied this, as illustrated here.
  • Straight Man and Wise Guy:
    • Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, where the former is shown as being a cool, laid-back womanizer who effortlessly picks up women, while Sartre is a stuffy intellectual, mostly the foil to Camus's barbs. This may somewhat reflect their real-life relationship.
    • Also Zeno of Citium and Zeno of Elea, depicted as roommates in the mode of The Odd Couple, the latter mostly getting on the former's nerves when he used his paradoxes as excuses.
    • Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. Engels is the one trying to focus Marx on writing his philosophy, while Marx smokes cigarettes, drinks brandy and blames the international bourgeoisie whenever he stubs his toe.
  • Straw Character: While many comics make fun of all philosophers pretty much equally, when Corey feels strongly about a topic he makes it clear that only an idiot or a reprobate could possibly disagree with him. Capitalism versus communism is a frequent example (he seems to support anarcho-communist ideas that have rarely been tested), as well as the value of philosophy (anyone who is unimpressed with it as a field is an entitled moron who just want rich white guys to be in charge of everything forever - and never mind that Corey has some pretty snarky things to say about various philosophers and about philosophy in general himself, that being a large part of what the comic is usually about). Characters (usually real philosophers) who hold such views exist only to appear and be shot down, mostly while being made to look like idiots/horrible.
  • Take a Third Option: Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau argue over whether life was better in a "state of nature", until they go to a guy actually visiting there. He tells them it's more harmonious, though conflict still exists too, disappointing both as it's in between their theories.
  • Take That!: Corey can get pretty brutal, even with philosophers that he likes.
    • The author can fairly be judged as not Socrates's greatest fan, given that every appearance of his is as an annoying gadfly. While even his fans and Socrates himself would probably agree with that to some degree, this isn't shown as really being used in a meaningful or substantive way.
    • Karl Marx is either portrayed as a conquering hero or a whiny, lazy alcoholic who blames all of his problems, including stubbed toes, on "the Bourgoise."
    • Sartre is also shown frequently using his "radical freedom" concept as an excuse to do inane things, and ignoring reservations others have at his advice.
      • This becomes a Brick Joke in this comic, where the event described in the last panel's news ticker is "Jean-Paul Sartre sues popular webcomic for libel: "That's not even what radical freedom is".
    • In one comic, he calls Sartre's account of "bad faith" in Being and Nothingness "the worst example in the history of philosophy", citing how poorly it illustrates his actual point, and how it seems like he's criticizing a waiter for properly doing his job while he writes books and drinks wine.
    • Whenever Ayn Rand is featured in a comic, the afterword explanation can always be summed up as a subtle way of saying "her philosophy is obtuse and her books aren't very good." In a similar vein, he loves to make fun of how incoherent Hegel's philosophy is, with every single appearance and reference to him having something to do with that.
    • This comic about Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir using their views to attract customers at a bar compares this with the show It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia thus: "instead of a gang of nihilistic, uneducated narcissists it is a gang of nihilistic, educated narcissists."
    • Corey's personal Berserk Button appears to be people who don't think philosophy is a worthwhile field. There are a number of examples throughout the comics' run, but in particular, see this comic. Even more, also see The Rant beneath it. It appears Corey is not a fan of New Atheism. Some of his unofficial Comics had mocked Sam Harris in particular as well.
    • It turns out that Existential Comics actually started out as Corey drawing comics for friends of his on a particular subreddit, /r/badphilosophy. These comics actually predate him doing the webcomic seriously and were the impetus that moved him towards webcomics in the first place.
    • A less serious example is his view on the Cleveland Browns, which to be fair he probably shares with half the team's fanbase.
    • A number of his comics parody utilitarianism (Jeremy Bentham, who founded the philosophy, specifically) by taking it to an extreme (Bentham's view has been frequently criticized for its unpleasant implications of this kind). For instance, Bentham as a knight is a very... different hero.
  • Talk to the Fist: Captain Metaphysics "refutes" Pyrrho's skepticism by punching him, while the hover over text lists a number of ideas this works on. He uses this for every problem which is brought up, and also threatens anyone who disagrees with his "solution" this way.
  • Tautological Templar: Philippa Foot tries to teach a US Army general about handling ethical questions in combat. The guy is utterly convinced that any target must be a terrorist though, so this falls completely flat on him. He says smart bombs only target terrorists from a database, but when she asks whether this means they won't fire assuming they aren't there the general says no, it adds them. The hoverover text drives this home: "We are actually the most ethical army in the world, we only kill bad guys. Who are the bad guys? Our enemies. Why are they bad guys? Because they kill us, the good guys."
  • Testosterone Poisoning: How Aristotle is portrayed. The author admits that it has very little to do with his philosophy, he just thinks it's funny.
  • The Theme Park Version: Half the premise of the comic is to present real philosophers and their thought, but to exaggerate and oversimplify them for comedy. An explanation is usually provided at the comic's end (unless the gag has been done multiple times before).
  • Totalitarian Utilitarian: Played for Laughs in the "Utilitarian Dictator" which depicts Jeremy Bentham (founder of Utilitarianism) as in charge of society discussing how to create the greatest happiness with John Stuart Mill. They decide to simply ban things that make people unhappy, leading to a comically Long List with very little left. At the end though it's subverted as they decide banning this all would be too difficult, so they go with Mill's idea of maximizing personal liberty instead. Except for the Cleveland Browns, which they still ban.
  • Troll:
    • Socrates is depicted as this, even barging in on other people and showering them with questions when they aren't in a conversation with him to start. The author notes this may have helped to get him killed, as his veiled insults toward the judges at his trial were not the best strategy for saving himself (presuming he didn't want to be martyred).
    • Plato, as his student, also gets this depiction to a lesser degree.
    • Zeno of Elea mostly cites his famous paradoxes as excuses for his misbehavior.
  • Utopia: Thomas More's Utopia (along with utopias generally) is deconstructed through pointing out both some appealing and unappealing aspects in his, then noting they always seem to be bland places which appeal most to the author themselves rather than anyone else.
  • Violence Really Is the Answer:
    • Captain Metaphysics' whole shtick is that he can solve complicated metaphysical problems by punching them really hard. It's surprisingly effective.
    • Simone Weil's best way to win an argument: pull a gun on the other side. Then steal their wallets and make them say it's philosophy.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: This comic plays it for laughs by having famous socialist revolutionaries squabbling during a Dungeons & Dragons session, as an allegory for the real-life schisms of the radical left.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?:
    • Here it's discussed by an elf with a mayfly who laments having a very short life, while elves live forever. The elf replies that the mayfly shouldn't be sad in the end, because immortality runs thin. Over time, you do everything and see no point in doing things. His people are burdened with massive boredom, always fearing they will run out of something to do. The mayfly therefore dies comforted by the idea that a short life is better. However, then it's subverted as we learn this was just a lie—in fact, the elf is still working on new projects, with no sign he actually ran out of things to do with his immortal life (although you might interpret this as the Elflord going back to work after the Mayfly shows him not to take life for granted).
    • Another comic, deriving its plot and title from a novel by Simone Beauvoir, explores the same idea with an immortal king trying to change humanity for the better but failing miserably, which causes him severe depression. It's stated he may someday be left alone on Earth, with everyone else dead.
  • Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: Karl Marx, who has amongst others been used as a Jeopardy contestant, a Walmart greeter, a corporate motivational speaker, a post-apocalyptic road warrior, and a financial advisor. To a certain extent this is Truth in Television, as Karl Marx did drift around from job to job quite a bit, but it's mostly governed by whatever makes the joke of the comic work.
  • Women Are Wiser: Simone de Beauvoir is probably the most level-headed recurring character.