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CONCRETE, THE HERO OF A NEW ERA

Paul Chadwick (artist and writer)

Take a man, called Ron Lithgow, a professional writer. Imagine that he is the protagonist of an exceptional event such as his abduction by aliens from a far away planet. Imagine that after his abduction and subsequent experiments on his body, he has had his brain implanted into a huge body made of rock. His soul is the same as before, nothing has changed in that respect, apart from his external shape. Ron manages to escape but his attempts to get back to his "old" life are in vain because he is no longer the same man that he used to be.
This is the story of Concrete, the "hero of a new era", which has been created by Paul Chadwick. Chadwick has been inspired by the old stereotype of the super hero (Concrete may be easily compared to the Thing of the Fantastic Four) whilst making his character more "human". The space and time in which he lives are both very defined: he lives in our time, in LA, and has very "human" qualities and weaknesses. In his stories, we never have to deal with fatiguing fights amongst amazing beings wearing eccentric stockings or with extreme world rescues from the stereotypical bad guy: this is no longer the case. Concrete is different and has different aims. Although the character’s double identity of Ron / Concrete is typical of the traditional heroes, there is no shift from one identity to another, from common man to hero and vice-versa, such as with the Hulk, Superman, Spiderman and others. Ron has been permanently transformed into Concrete and has to accept his condition as his new reality. His new body has the resistance of the strongest cement and is able to regenerate by itself. He can resist very high temperatures and physical stress of any type. There’s no mission, which Concrete cannot accomplish: he has the strength to lift the most incredible weight, he can swim underwater for a long time, withstand the shots fired from any sort of weapon and so on. However, his extraordinary body becomes a heavy "burden" when a bunch of politicians show interest in him and ask a scientist, Maureen, to observe him closely. Subsequently, another character joins in as a personal assistant: it’s Larry, an ambitious writer whose task is to help Concrete carry out all the "simple" things that he can’t do by himself because of his big hands (such as writing and driving).
Concrete, Maureen and Larry soon become good friends, who trust and respect each other. Despite his unusual body - or maybe because of it - Concrete becomes everyone’s favourite friend and is invited to talk shows and parties. He is even turned into a real celebrity and with his own merchandising line such as T-shirts, badges, caps and sweets with his image on are launched on the market. At this stage, Concrete’s fame forces him to look for some peace and isolation from people, who see him as a curiosity and make the most incredible and persistent requests to him.
Ron / Concrete is no longer a writer, he’s divorced from his wife and has no children: therefore, he feels himself different from everybody else. His unbreakable body impresses the image of strength and power to people, but at the same time it prevents him from having a "normal" type of relationship with people. Concrete may be able to bend steel girders but he cannot have a woman; his body creates embarrassment, people on the streets point at him, children either fear him or adore him and their parents are likely to laugh at him. Concrete is "different", famous and rich – or at least he is richer than he was before – but he’s different. So it is easy to identify him with the typical melancholic and misunderstood heroes of Tim Burton’s movies, who are also imprisoned in a freakish body.
Ron / Concrete soon finds a solution to his problems and decides to use his body in a more productive way for the community. Only by helping people who need him, he feels more human. The "new hero" Concrete accomplishes less spectacular tasks than his predecessors, but he is more pragmatic: he helps a family run their farm, works as a body guard for a rock star and devotes his free time to current environmental issues. Concrete’s character as a monster is just his author’s way of making him unique and different from all the others. His character does not affect the objective of the stories. In the end, we all find out that we have something in common with him and that he cares about the environment, he likes art, walks his adopted dog Tripod (which has only three legs and likes licking Concrete’s sodium-enriched hard skin). He also suffers for love and – thank to his extraordinary irony - he has his own view of life, people, modern society and the human being.
With Concrete, Chadwick has created an extraordinary romantic and idealistic character which, like any other typical American character, lives his everyday life in a pragmatic way and doesn’t judge anything or anyone. He is also very sensitive to the typical contradictions of US’ "modern life".
Concrete’s saga has the classic length (24 pages) of a comic book, although there are shorter as well as longer episodes. The stories are all independent from each other, apart from some flashbacks to Concrete’s past. Chadwick’s style is simple, easy to read and not at all tedious. Concrete’s American soul emerges from every page: his interest in issues such as the environment and peace is genuine, real and deep, not a trend. These issues are regarded as the only possible solution for the survival of human beings and of the entire world, which makes Concrete the hero of a new era more than anything else.
Finally, we should devote a few words to Chadwick’s art. His black and white drawings are original, simple, defined and surely realistic. Although it is completely different from the art normally used for super heroes, Chadwick’s delicate mark turns Concrete’s "hard" body feature into a post-modern icon similar to an artist’s model: Concrete’s body becomes a painter’s "object of desire" (in an artistic way!) in one of his stories.
"Concrete" is a pleasant read and has nice drawings. In Italy it has been published erratically by Phoenix until 1999. Publication has been suspended since the launch of the first album of the colour mini-saga called "Fragile Creature". A search of the old issues in all specialised bookshops is well worth the time.

L.P.

Click below to buy Concrete's adventures from Amazon.co.uk