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The Past | The Previous

Concrete

Originally, I was going to write about Team America: World Police, which I saw yesterday. It's a heap of fun, has quite beautiful set designs, neat songs (my favourite is Kim Jong Il's 'I'm so Lonely) and targets a whole heap of tall poppies in the entertainment industry, while presenting you the plot that the American Government probably does believe is what terrorists around the world are motivated by. It's a fine thing, and though not as good as South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut, it's worth the cash. It's probably one of the few films out at the moment that is actually worth the money you'll pay.

But instead, I'm going to write about Paul Chadwick's Concrete.

Concrete is a comic that follows Ron Lithgow after he has been abducted by aliens, and placed into a giant body that is, well, made from concrete. The series is not some dodge science fiction action comic, as perhaps that sentence might lead you to believe, and Ron (Concrete) is not some muscle bound retired military/cop/pilot/whateverthefuck but rather a political speech writer. After he returns to Earth, he is a regular man, fraught with self doubt, trying to be honest and good, and filled a with sexual frustration that his body will never be able to fulfill (one of the subtle joys of the series is seeing the inside of Concrete's house, covered in erotic paintings, the only exploration of sexuality he has now). The character of Ron sets the tone for the series, leaving it, as a whole, an intelligent, quiet thriller, in which Chadwick takes his huge protagonist, and has him work through the issues that interest him as an author. These interests include the entertainment industry and environmentalism, to pick just two obvious ones.

Concrete is divided into six collections, four of which centre around major story lines, and two which cover short stories, and Chadwick's early work on the series. You can read the four graphic novels without reading the two collections, and you should begin, I believe, with Concrete: Strange Armor, which details Ron's abduction and escape from the aliens and his rise into celebrity. In the series, Concrete is seen as a celebrity, and in Think Like A Mountain and Fragile Creature, that celebrity status is exploited and begins the plot lines. But in Strange Armor, it is being a celebrity that frees him from the exploitation of the military. In Strange Armor, Chadwick tells the reader that he/she should not expect the kind of science fiction that they might have been expecting, even as he presents the reader with many beautiful, strange moments. Indeed, Strange Armor is the only real science fiction story in Concrete's body of work, and contains, one feels, just about everything that Chadwick had to say about Concrete as an alien being in the traditional science fiction troupes. The end is signaled as Concrete climbs a mountain, able to see and do things he could never do in his human body,

"I could shut myself off," Concrete thinks, climbing the cold snowy trails of a mountain, "a cold lump of scar tissue, or I could just get on with it. Embrace life, despite it all. Because it's there, in some measure, even for those of us who are wounded or diminished. Which, I suppose, is everyone."

In the end, Concrete becomes a part of allegory, a vessel that Chadwick uses to carry his fictional conversational about the world.

After that, the remaining three graphic novels work through the various social agendas and conversations of Chadwick. It is, I must say, at times a touch preachy, but never overtly, and to be quite honest, I don't mind a touch of preaching from an author. Better to have work that they feel for than for some empty, shallow thing designed to grab some cash. both Concrete: Fragile Creature, which deals with the entertainment industry, and Concrete: Think Like A Mountain, which deals with environmentalism, are probably the most 'preachy', with Think Like A Mountain being the most message based of the two. Yet, because you can feel Chadwick's passion in the series, I rate Think Like A Mountain to be the best of the Concrete graphic novels--it's hard not to share Concrete's pleasure and joy in his discovery of nature through the eyes of the conservationists.

However, while the graphic novels talk bigger issues, they do focus on character examinations. Concrete: Killer Smile, in which Concrete's best friend, Larry, is kidnapped at a gas station by an armed man, is the best example of this. In this graphic novel, the hulking, impenetrable form of Concrete is placed into a supporting role, as Larry, all too fragile and too easily broken, is put through an event that feels all too real. It's a tense little piece, and if, at the end, the ending is weak, it is because the build up has been for one ending, and it is the kind that Chadwick does not wish to follow. This is probably why Killer Smile is my least favourite of the Concrete stories, through this does not by any means suggest that it is unreadable. It's very readable... but that end, that end is not what I wanted.

The reason I've written about Concrete is simply because, after six years, there is a new series called The Human Dilemma. You can follow this link to read an interview with Chadwick, and also to see some of the beautiful artwork. Chadwick is never as perfect than when he is illustrating Concrete.

Comments

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nick_kaufmann
Dec. 2nd, 2004 10:01 pm (UTC)
I loved Team America! I thought it was brilliant!
benpeek
Dec. 2nd, 2004 10:50 pm (UTC)
i haven't laughed as hard as i did when they go, 'how can we trust you?' and then the answer is given.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 3rd, 2005 07:32 am (UTC)
I must disagree
Really the most damning thing I can say about Team America is that it made me think that the South Park movie was actually pretty witty.

benpeek
Jan. 3rd, 2005 10:33 am (UTC)
Re: I must disagree
well, i think south park is witty...

but i guess you're not looking for me to agree here, are you?
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