Elf Quest. Nexus. Grim Jack. Fritz the Cat. Groo. Cerebus. Next Man. Bone. Concrete. “Yeah, I haven’t read it, but I know what it is. Kind of.” These are just a few of the notable independent series that are known mostly by name alone to younger comic book fans. To help encourage new readers to seek out these notorious titles, I’m going to do some classic recommendations. I’m rediscovering these series the same way most folks do: by trusting a long history of fans that have kept them relevant to current comic book readers. Also, many libraries the world over recognize the importance of comics and have complete collections of both new and well-established series. Libraries are hip like that these days! Here's the first of many classic recommendations to come.
Publisher: Dark Horse
Author: Paul Chadwick
Artist: Paul Chadwick
If you like... Adventure tales, Sci fi, comics that explore social issues and relationships, Stephen King tales (of the un-supernatural variety)
I went into reading this series blind, having no previous knowledge of its background or content, and without having some one to hold my hand along the way to tell me how amazing it is. Let me be that person for you! This book has more heart in each issue than most series can hope to have in an entire run. That’s saying a lot considering the main character, Ron Lithgow, is a man whose mind has been transplanted into a stone body of alien creation. The audience gets to see Ron (known more affectionately as Concrete, post body swap) both benefit from and struggle with his new-found super abilities. The alien body is strong, needs little maintenance, and also gives him telescopic like vision, but it essentially makes a normal life impossible. The alienation and fame that comes with his transformation affect him in a uniquely realistic way. It is Concrete’s efforts to lead a normal life while fulfilling his altruistic desires that make this book stand out amongst the “average Joe gains super strength” premise. Each arc follows Concrete as he searches for ways to put his body to use, whether it’s helping the disadvantaged, testing the limits of his body to accomplish remarkable feats, or taking odd jobs to pay the bills. Accompanying him on his adventures and daily trials are his assistant Larry, a young man who helps Concrete with once simple tasks, and Dr. Maureen Vonnegut, a scientist who shares Concrete's passion for discovery. Both characters' roles grow in importance throughout the series, and serve as a way for Chadwick to explore issues about relationships and the very idea of what it is to be human. (See above image to view Concrete & Co.)
The mini series "Fragile Creatueres" is particularly entertaining, showing Concrete work as a stunt man on a film (as stated in the trade paperback of the same name, the story was partly inspired by Paul Chadwick’s own experience working in the film industry). Concrete devles into the world of radical environmentalism in "Think Like A Mountain", resulting in some stunning visuals. You can really see Chadwick's passion for nature illustration in this arc. "The Human Dilemma" shows Concrete confront his inability to procreate, as he decides to become a mascot against overpopulation. You’ll be hard pressed to find these subjects approached in other comics about characters with superhuman abilities. Following Concrete as he tries to find his place in the world, you soon forget you’re reading a book about a man who is essentially abducted by aliens in his origin story. In other words, expect the unexpected.
Concrete is currently available in 6 volumes, and the order of the trades is mostly chronological, with some issues and short stories arranged by theme. Because there were often years-long breaks between Concrete minis, you get a chance to see how Chadwick’s writing and artwork evolve. Most comics attempt to keep characters static, providing fans with comfort in knowing what they're gonna get. Peter Parker and Marvel editors will forever be fighting the manchild persona. Concrete truly has a character arc, a rarity in comics, and one that gives the character a unique depth. Chadwick's line work is fantastic throughout the whole series, but it’s quite noteworthy in the last arc, "The Human Dilemma". The series also boasts one of the most haunting stand-alone stories I’ve ever read, which is “Orange Glow” originally published in the Dark Horse Presents Annual 1999 (click image below to see it larger). Reading Concrete offered a few occasions where I got a bit teary eyed, and that is rare! Lots of public outbursts of laughter, many “whoas” and “no ways” from my comic book reading, but I can name the books that have brought me to tears, and they are far and few between.
Reading this series, and then having found several issues in the 50-cent bin was lucky for me, yet heartbreaking to see how devalued this book has become. We may be lucky enough to see another Concrete story in the future, as the last one was from about 5 years ago, but don’t wait until then to discover this series. I’ve read a lot of blogs lately about readers getting “burnt out” on the current comic book scene. Well just cause you aren’t happy with what the Big Two are putting out lately is no cause to lose faith in the medium. We all need the occasional reminder of what comics are capable of accomplishing. Pick up Concrete Volume 1 and it just may restore your faith in comics.
Images provided with permission from Paul Chadwick’s Blog. You can go there and read about his exciting new projects on the horizon!