One of the mainstays of the 1980s independent comics scene, Paul Chadwick’s Concrete tells the story of Ron Lithgow (Concrete), a soft-spoken speechwriter whose brain has been transplanted into a hulking stone body by mysterious aliens (they are never seen again in the series).
Now he can see more than perfectly well in darkness, hold his breath for an hour, and survive leaping hundreds of feet from a search and rescue plane into a lake. In a super-hero book, a life of perpetual adventure would beckon. But the Concrete of Paul Chadwick’s Complete Short Stories (1986-1989) inhabits a world that is – his own anomalous existence aside – no different to that of our Earth in the long-past Eighties. There are simply no super-villains to fight or super-heroes with whom to quarrel, pummel, and / or bond. There are no supernatural or science-fiction elements to any stories.
Concrete paved the way for impassioned, reflective comic literature focused on realism. In the absence of any of the Sturm und Drang of the super-hero book, life itself proves difficult and dispiriting enough for Concrete. Even the most apparently minor and taken-for-granted activity is now a challenging business. Real-world physics apply to Concrete. Examples include Concrete breaking objects by sitting on them (he has to sit and sleep on furniture made of bricks), or Concrete being shot forward from a braking car, due to the momentum of his large body. He is constantly breaking telephones and doorknobs. He tries to use his body for noble endeavors, such as helping out on a family farm. Later, Concrete climbs Mount Everest, becomes involved with a group of hardline environmental militants, and reluctantly agrees to become the spokesperson of a campaign to voluntarily reduce the Earth’s population.
Wherever he travels, he’s inescapably marked out as utterly different, and yet there’s little beyond his otherness to mark him out as worthy of attention. Landlocked in a sexless body, reliant on his few intimates for company and support, Concrete hasn’t been liberated, let alone empowered, by the ordeal of his whole-body transplant. Instead, he’s isolated, alienated, and almost perpetually baffled.
Unlike the traditional monster in genre fiction, who has the choice of becoming one of us or staying one of them, of becoming a redeemed member of the community or not, Concrete has no physical peers of any kind to stand with or against. In that, he inhabits an unaccommodating world in which he’s neither definitively human nor super-human, hero nor villain. Concrete’s struggles, as a consequence, are fundamentally existential. In the absence of a comforting and appropriate label that might legitimise him in the eyes of the wider society, Ron Lithgow is forced to create a life for himself in a body that can’t even deliver the most basic of human functions. Not only is sex beyond him, but so too might even be death. Over and over again, Chadwick’s gently amusing and yet telling stories investigate the same dilemma: Who are we and what can we aspire to when we’ve no social identity beyond that of an aberration? (via)
Published in 2008, the seventh issue of the prestigious alt-comics anthology Kramers Ergotmeasures a “modest” 16x21 inches and features an all-star lineup, with lavish full-color spreads by the likes of Matt Groening, Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, Kim Deitch, Chris Ware, Anders Nilsen, Seth, Kevin Huizenga, Adrian Tomine and dozens of others. The massive dimensions of the book, an homage to early 20th century broadsheet comics like Frank King’s Gasoline Alley or Windsor McCay’s Little Nemo, turn the reading experience into a visual feast. A decade from now or two decades from now when someone asks you what this decade was like in alternative comics, this is the book you’re going to hand them.
More than once. Many times. Before I began reading his comics, before I was even reading comics.
Jean Giraud is responsible, either directly through his involvement or indirectly through his influence, for the aesthetic behind Alien, Blade Runner, Akira, Neuromancer, The Fifth Element, Tron, The Abyss, Frank Miller’s Ronin, Frank Quitely’s X-Men, Geoff Darrow, Walt Simonson, Mike Mignola, Taiyo Matsumoto’s No.5, the Empire Strikes Back, and Nausicaa: The Valley of the Wind – all of which I’d obsessed over and metabolized long before I ever read a single page of Moebius’ comics. The most resonant image of the future, the one which has dominated both the fringe and popular cultures of the past 40 years.
No artist, let alone a comics artist, has been as singularly influential on the way we as a species see ourselves moving forward. For good or ill, Moebius and his contemporaries imagined what we now think of as the modern urbanized city (or the cyberpunk city), we couldn’t have conceived of it. While the idea has many, many precedents, none of them ring as true. None of them are still relevant. Not one of them captures what city blocks teeming with dozens of kinds of people all together in one space would look like. Walls of faces, some alien, all familiar. None have the locations and trappings of “the future” as used, lived-in. Science fiction of the past 30 years is indelibly linked to Moebius, he is everywhere you look.
Although Jean Giraud is better known internationally for his science-fiction and fantasy output under the “Moebius” pen name, his Franco-Belgian comics western series Blueberrycreated in collaboration with scripwriter Jean-Michel Charlier is widely considered in France to be his definitive work and is the one than enjoys the most popularity (Moebius’ publications, on the other hand, are often limited to a niche success).
Blueberry chronicles the adventures of Mike “Blueberry” Donovan, the son of a rich Southern plantation owner that finds himself framed for murder and forced to flee to the North where he joins the Union army’s ranks. Although his background story is explored in depth through several albums, the first published stories take place shortly after the Civil War with Blueberry serving as a United States Cavalry lieutenant in Navajo territory.
The series is famous for its unconventional and irreverent protagonist, an all around troublemaker more often than not fighting alongside his Indian enemies, and for its realistic tone and unprecedented violent and sexual content, an indirect consequence of the relaxing of the French law on youth publications in 1968. The character physical appearance was inspired by French actor Jean-Paul Belmondo.Giraud considers Blueberry to be his most exacting work and labors steadily for up to a year to produce each new episode. “This strip is the one that’s the most demanding, most detestable, takes the most work and physical sacrifice. And,” he concedes, “it’s all my own fault.” Indeed, Giraud’s devotion to Blueberry is a slavish obsession—the work is now so technically detailed that a selection of panels was recently published as a fine arts collection.
Since its inception, the comic has spawned a prequel series and several one-shots and spin-offs drawn by other comics artists. The main series is still drawn solely by Giraud who also took on the writing after Charlier’s death in 1989.
Ironically, the 1992 Epic comics translation of Blueberry was published under Giraud’s pseudonym as a way to bolster U.S. sales. “When I go to Skywalker Ranch or a comics convention, people want to shake hands with Moebius, no one knows Jean Giraud” admits Giraud talking about his dual identity. “It’s a gag and yet at the same time, this gag is my life, so it’s also somewhat tragic. And while it may not appear tragic to you,” he laughs, “it does pose certain essential questions as to why people tend to associate a commercial artist with only one style. What happens to the other parts of him?”