One of the most innovative and thought-provoking aspects of the IB Philosophy examination is the visual stimulus proposed to candidates in the Core theme paper. To invite young minds to look beyond three or four strips of Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts and get down to the essence of Charles Shulz or Bill Watterson’s idiosyncratic vision of existence may prove a most challenging, and hopefully, rewarding experience. Do candidates have to be aware of Shulz’s strong religious views to capture the minimalist ‘philosophy of Charlie Brown’? Certainly not! And what of Patterson’s philosophical views when the latter carefully avoided giving interviews and stopped producing Hobbes and Calvin stories back in 1990. Not necessarily! Yet, American IB students may enjoy a slight advantage over their British counterparts as comics are (and certainly were) part and parcel of American culture: Batman, Spiderman and Superman started their existence as pulp fiction characters before turning into global screen super heroes.
So why not open up the Core Theme to Tintin, Asterix or the best of Japanese manga authors like Osamu Tezuka? The world of comics and cartoons reflects a distorted but convincing caricature of the ‘real’ world. But why should we take any notice of the philosophical musings of a depressed beagle or a particularly smart soft toy tiger? Precisely because in the fantasy world of their creator, comics characters enjoy a kind of ‘philosophical impunity’ and can give free rein to the most oddball, or shall we say, eccentric scenarios. Paradoxically, the confined space of each square is, in no way, constricting but, on the contrary, liberating as the backdrop scenery is often nothing more than a familiar (and expected) reminder of the character’s daily surroundings, such as Snoopy’s kennel or Calvin’s (fairly) ubiquitous magic cardboard box. All the answers to the most profound philosophical questions may not be found in comic books but like any other literary genre, its best authors enable the reader to think out of their own comfortable little ‘box’ and examine their life from a totally original philosophical perspective.