Monday, 16 February 2015

Paul Chadwick: Lacking A 25-Year Grand Plan

(The Collected Concrete Vols 1 to 7 are available from Dark Horse Comics)

(from an article by Alex Boney in Back Issue #75, TwoMorrows Publications, September 2014)
...The Human Dilemma [2004-2005] is the last Concrete miniseries Chadwick has produced to date. Concrete’s story is not necessarily over, though. There are still a number of unanswered questions (Where did those aliens come from, anyway? What did they want? Where have they gone?) and a number of new storytelling avenues to pursue (Papa Concrete!), but for now there is no grand plan in place to guide the story’s continuation. As Chadwick points out, “It was a mistake not to map out a grand plan. In this regard, Dave Sim and Jeff Smith (and Brian Vaughan, in Y: The Last Man) really did it right. My problem was that when I started, I really thought I was going to do comics for just five years, and then move on to my real career in illustration. It was what I trained for. Most of my friends were illustrators. It seemed a more prestigious profession. I like to paint. But I wanted to first get this Concrete idea out of my system.

“It’s pretty ironic, because illustration has since almost vanished as a career, thanks to Photoshop. Payment rates have plummeted. What percentage of books or ads have painted illustrations these days? It’s tiny. Everything is manipulated photos now. People with imaginative drawing and painting skills today go into game design, and work mostly digitally, to boot. Or they go into comics.

“The comics field, which seemed to be dying when I was a teenager, has an almost absurdly high cultural profile at the moment - even if it’s troubled by the tumult afflicting all publishing industries, as we transitioned from paper objects to digital files. You can now major in college in sequential friggin’ art. It was unthinkable when I was young. And the biggest movies all have comics roots, though I wonder how much longer that will last. Long enough for the Concrete movie to finally get made, I hope.

“Anyway, if I were to do it over, I’d definitely have a 25-year plan as Dave Sim did. Storytelling is moving in that direction, now that digital media has made everything available at all times. We can follow The Sopranos for nearly a decade, invest in the fates of a vast cast of characters - or, if we get in late, catch up on what has gone before at any time. I think this cultural moment was anticipated by the Marvel crossover continuity, imperfect as it was. It’s certainly paying off in its second life onscreen.

“I really wish I’d decided early on to make Concrete my life’s work and drawn up a plan. Even if I’d made the barest outline, e.g., ‘Year 7 - Concrete goes to Asia,’ I could have created something much more significant. “The other problem I had is that I’m slow. I write and ink slowly, though I’m a pretty fast penciler. Still, I can’t manage six issues a year, working solo. I tried working with an assistant at one point and found it little help. I guess not everybody’s a Gerhard. My wife’s health problems started in the early 2000s, too, and our medical adventures have been sort of a part-time job ever since.”

Since the publication of The Human Dilemma, Chadwick has written three more Concrete stories for Dark Horse. When Dark Horse Presents relaunched in 2011, Chadwick provided short stories for the book’s first three issues. It’s a testament to the enduring creative quality of Chadwick’s work that, despite an irregular publication schedule stretched out over 25 years, Dark Horse turned to Concrete to anchor a relaunch of the company’s flagship title.

Concrete is not an ordinary story. It’s a drama balanced with elements of science fiction and frequent moments of humor. It’s a story that invites the use of adjectives not often associated with comic books featuring a superpowered protagonist: thoughtful, contemplative, delicate, philosophical, deliberate, restrained, meditative, nuanced, subtle... and the list goes on. All of these descriptions are appropriate, but it’s a book that’s not confined to a singular tone or point of view. And after 25 years of publication, no matter where the story goes, the difficulty to characterize Concrete remains one of the book’s great strengths...


Sandeep Atwal said...

It's been many years since I read Concrete, but from what I remember it was superb. Beautiful and moving with an engaging mix of comedy and drama. Hope Chadwick gets his movie.

Dave Kopperman said...

Concrete jockeys for position with Cerebus for my favorite comic. They have many, many similarities, beyond the gray non-human at the center. Both Sim and Chadwick use their comic as a platform to explore their philosophical concerns in depth, both are master draughtsmen, both have a real gift for black and white imagery, etc.

I think of Concrete as being the liberal, secular-humanist version of Cerebus.

Tony Dunlop said...

"I think of Concrete as being the liberal, secular-humanist version of Cerebus."

Oh. And here I almost thought I should check out a volume or two…but liberal secular-humanism, I've had enough of for several lifetimes.

Jim Moore said...

Concrete is one of the best comics out there, imo. You should at least give the first book a try

Paul Chadwick said...

Thanks for the kind words, all. I am still plugging away, just finishing a non-Concrete graphic novel for Dark Horse, and beginning the next Concrete series.

What I didn't quite emphasize enough is the way a Sim-like plan guards one against distractability. In the first flush of Concrete's success I was, as the saying goes, "invited to every party in town." And I did a bunch of covers and stories that didn't amount to much, when I could've been adding wings to my own little castle.

Also, my earlier contacts in the movies, where I'd been a storyboard artist, amounted to a siren song (somehow I turned down Tim Burton's offer to storyboard his first Batman [!], but not the chance to be production designer of After Midnight, which took me away from Concrete for a year at its height of success).

When you're young you think you have all the time you'll need. But the years fly by, and success must be built upon or it dims as people move on to the next thing.

Not that I'm done, by any means, but I regret failing to, paraphrasing Wilde, burning with a hard, gemlike flame.

JD said...

I look forward to hearing the announcement by UCP for the Concrete movie...I'm sure it will provide many entertaining moments even before it it released.