Thursday, June 2, 2011

Concrete: Depths by Paul Chadwick

The story begins with a man whose brain has been transplanted into a seven-foot tall, half-ton body of stone. The surgery was performed by aliens who subsequently left the planet, their motives unknown. Beyond being MacGuffin-like instigators who set up the premise, the aliens aren't important to the story. What matters is that this man decides to accept his new life, filled with both horrible limitations and wonderful opportunities. He adopts the name Concrete and becomes a celebrity.

Paul Chadwick has been writing stories about Concrete for over twenty years, publishing them in a number of one-shots, limited series and shorts published in anthologies. Several years ago, Dark Horse Comics began publishing a series of paperbacks that collect all of these stories together into a coherent timeline. Depths is volume one in this series and a fine place to begin.

For those of you who still have pre-conceived notions about what sort of story a comic book can tell, there are no superheroes here. At one point, Concrete appears on the Tonight Show and simply asks the people of the world what they would do if they had his abilities (can hold his breath for an hour, can lift a truck, amazing vision, etc.). Many of the stories that follow begin with Concrete and his companions, writer Larry Munro and Doctor Maureen Vonnegut, reading letters from all over the world. Among his adventures in volume one, Concrete attempts to: rescue a group of miners from a cave-in, entertain at an eight year-old's birthday party, scare some children at a beach, swim across the Atlantic Ocean, wrestle a bear and act as bodyguard to an eccentric pop singer. Some attempts fail and some succeed.

One of the most striking elements to this series is the level of realism in all of the above situations. Once the fantastic elements of Concrete's origin are established, those elements are quickly removed so that we're simply left with a man trying to make the most out of his life. This is a man sometimes motivated by pettiness and greed, but more often by curiosity and a simple desire to be useful. He has adventures which we are reminded time and again do not necessarily require superhuman strength. Anyone can go exploring or volunteer to help those less fortunate; but so few of us do. Concrete is perhaps a man who was so wrapped up in self-pity that, when something truly terrible finally did happen to him, he found there was no pity left to feel.

You can order a copy of this book online, of course; but I'd encourage you to find a local comic shop or independent book store instead. Quirky stories like Concrete survive in part because of the efforts of these retailers. You can find a preview of it online here. The cover image is taken from the Grand Comics Database (GCD), an online index of comic books and a fantastic reference tool.

Stuff I've worked on this past week: second draft of Pink Bruises on Pink Skin, first draft of The Weeping Parrot

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