Archive for the ‘Paul Chadwick’ Category

John Bolton realizes Paul Chadwick’s visions

July 17, 2008
Gifts of the Night
By Paul Chadwick and John Bolton
DC/Vertigo – 4 saddle-stitched @ $2.95

AFTER THE CONCRETE BINGE OF EARLIER THIS YEAR, I looked for more Paul Chadwick to read and came up with Gifts of the Night. There aren’t a lot of examples of Chadwick writing and not drawing, but his collaboration with John Bolton here—for which Bolton received an Eisner nomination—is a great mix of story and art.

The story centers on Reyes, a scholar in a fictional Medieval kingdom who tutors the king’s son, Magdin. He has no higher ambition than to return to his books when not teaching, until one of his lessons inspires a vision that Magdin reports to his father, leading to a successful military campaign. Reyes is instructed to nurture Magdin’s “gift” and tastes power for the first time, starting a relationship with Magdin’s nurse, Clara, and seeing an opportunity to influence the nation. The result is a corruption in his relationships with Magdin and Clara, and his eventual ruin when a member of the king’s inner circle, Leuchet, discovers the source of Magdin’s visions and turns this “new tool of statecraft” to his own ends.

This is all fairly straightforward, but one of Chadwick’s talents is his ability to game out the complex consequences of simple ideas or actions. Reyes’ shift from a disinterest in power to a desperate need to maintain and expand power is believable. Chadwick takes a thoughtful and interesting approach to the meetings of the king’s council, the way that Reyes’ stories become Magdin’s strange premonitions, and the evolution of Reyes and Leuchet’s use of Magdin as a weapon against one another. Both are at first subtle, but the maneuvering culminates in a scene in which both are talking to Magdin at once, gradually shedding the illusion of allegory, and confusing and frightening him, while he sees them as animals battling in front of him.

Visual metaphors like that are the other layer that is placed on top of the narrative. Bolton’s strongest contribution is his illustrations of the many metaphors that Chadwick writes into the story, such as the king’s “wings of hope” in chapter one or Magdin speaking the words of God in chapter two. The text that accompanies these images is sometimes a bit too on-the-nose and could be subtler, but the majority of the word/picture combinations work well.

Gifts of the Night #2, page 4.
Click for larger image.

Bolton’s style makes the blend of the real world and the metaphors that Reyes describes seamless. The overall look is vaguely Medieval in his use of flat planes and simplified perspective, with an earth-tone palette in the main story and different monochrome palettes representing different aspects of imagination and knowledge in the scenes of Magdin’s visions. He uses the palettes brilliantly, as when the monochrome green, which had usually accompanied quiet moments or Reyes’ stories, is tainted by blood in the story’s climax. Bolton’s figures are sometimes stiff, but his well-designed pages and beautiful integration of the story’s fantastic elements make up for it. Todd Klein’s lettering, period-stylized but not overdone, adds to the tone as well.

In addition to the thoughtful meditations on knowledge and power, Gifts of the Night is recognizable as a Chadwick story for its emphasis on love and lust. The beginning of Reyes and Clara’s romance has the genuine excitement of new love, especially as Reyes has never been with a woman before. At the same time, it is his lust for Clara which makes him careless and it invades the rest of the story as Magdin’s visions take an erotic turn (Chadwick also cleverly never quite lets on how Magdin intuits Reyes and Clara’s relationship, or how much of a small supernatural element there really is to his visions). Bolton complements Chadwick well, painting Clara as a realistic woman, pretty but not exactly beautiful (much like how Chadwick draws Dr. Maureen Vonnegut in Concrete), her nudity matter-of-fact rather than sensational.

There are some flaws in the story; a minor thread is dropped toward the end and Leuchet’s final move doesn’t seem to fit. The conclusion of Reyes and Leuchet’s battle of wills in general is less compelling than Reyes’ grappling with his own demons. Reyes’ last, desperate action is perfect, though, and beautifully sets up the story’s sad ending.

Gifts of the Night would make an excellent paperback. Bolton’s art deserves to appear uninterrupted by ads. The story reads well in a single chunk and the chapters flow together smoothly. It’s an unusual story even for Vertigo, more low-key than much of the imprint’s fantasy offerings, but it’s smartly written and beautifully painted, and rereads reveal more detail and greater depth. I know I’ll be reading it again, and would love to be able to do so in that format.

Food for Thought at Chadwick’s Anti-Domino’s

January 23, 2008
Concrete vol. 7: The Human Dilemma
By Paul Chadwick
Dark Horse – softcover, $12.95

I’M A POLITICAL JUNKIE and majored in political science in college. I fret about the state of the environment constantly. And, of course, I love comics. So I’m mildly embarrassed that it took me until last year to discover Concrete. Hopefully I’ve made up for this oversight by devouring nearly all of the new digest-sized collections (except vol. 3, which I somehow haven’t seen anywhere yet) over the last few months. In that time, Concrete has quickly become one of my favorite comics and its creator, Paul Chadwick, has become one of my favorite cartoonists.

Concrete is the story of Ron Lithgow, a speechwriter for a US Senator, who is kidnapped by aliens and changed into a creature of stone (he looks vaguely like The Thing). Once the government is satisfied that he won’t tell the world the truth behind his strange new body, he’s allowed to do what he wants with his new life. After some thought, he decides that his powerful body gives him the opportunity to do things that no else can, like swim the Atlantic and climb Everest solo, and write about the experiences. Still interested in politics, Concrete has also been associated with several causes, particularly environmental ones.

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The Human Dilemma depicts several turning points in the lives of Concrete’s cast. The one that gets the story moving is Concrete’s decision to be the face of a campaign for voluntary sterilization by young couples to combat overpopulation, which represents a shift from his previous habit of supporting causes covertly (one of the series’ many reminders that, despite his appearance and abilities, Concrete is no superhero). The campaign is financed by Walter Sageman, CEO of Punchinello Pizza––imagine a chain with Pizza Hut’s market share and Domino’s social activism, only fighting overpopulation rather than abortion. At the same time, Concrete’s assistant, Larry, is turning over a new leaf, abandoning his womanizing days to get married––or maybe not. Lastly, the attraction that has been growing between Concrete and the scientist observing him, Dr. Maureen Vonnegut, blooms, with unexpected consequences.

Concrete is, in several ways, a very thoughtful comic. On one level, it tackles big political and social themes like humanity’s place in the world (and universe) and treatment of the earth, what it means to live life to the fullest, the difference between conviction and action, the opportunities and burdens of celebrity, and love and sex. Chadwick clearly does his research and Concrete is a series that takes pleasure in ideas and imagination.

On another level, Concrete is also a series with a lot of thought balloons, something that’s become increasingly uncommon in contemporary comics. In writing my review of Soon I Will Be Invincible I noted that, though comics is the only medium with a standard method of depicting thought simultaneously with action and speech, few cartoonists take the opportunity to imbue their characters with rich inner lives. Concrete is the main exception that springs to mind, not only using thought balloons for the occasional exposition or reaction to the immediate situation, but also indulging its title character and supporting cast in the occasional moment of reverie.

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Early in The Human Dilemma, Concrete walks the LA streets and thinks about traffic and the constant building humans undertake. These thoughts transition into reflections on his potential to reshape the world. Earlier he had been thinking about his propensity for collecting (something this comics addict understands all too well). All of this flows very naturally, reading like an authentic, organic train of thought. Similar ideas could probably be gotten across using captions instead of thought balloons, but the way captions are usually employed has an implicit tone of mediation about it. These aren’t a character’s direct thoughts so much as they are the more ordered essence of their thoughts, and maybe even represent the way they would tell the story if they were looking back on it rather than experiencing it at that moment. Concrete’s long string of thought balloons, by contrast, is direct. These are his exact thoughts, at the moment he is having them and that simple fact deepens the reader’s identification with him.

As if to underline the difference, the same scene includes the experiences of Concrete’s dog, Tripod, presented through captions, implying some kind of authorial mediation in statements like “Tripod finds a trash can. It’s thrilling!” Since dogs don’t have identifiable thoughts a degree of distance is inevitable, so this is appropriate, but it has the effect of highlighting just how knowable Concrete is by contrast and how intimate––through Chadwick’s writing––is our relationship with him. It’s no coincidence that Concrete seems so much more fully realized than characters in many series which have a greater bulk of available material.

Chadwick’s art is just as exciting. Concrete is grounded in the real world and plenty of attention is paid to details that heighten its realism. At the same time, Chadwick shows great imagination in things like Concrete’s physiology, shown in X-ray fashion several times throughout The Human Dilemma. Concrete’s exterior design is pleasingly simple while remaining interesting to look at thanks to his texture and pattern of cracks. The human characters are realistic and their facial expressions and body language are excellently rendered. Since love and sex are frequent themes throughout the series, it’s also important that the women, while beautiful, are beautiful in realistic ways, with proper proportions, and weight and gravity falling in the right places.

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Page 43 of The Human Dilemma.
Click for full size image.

Chadwick’s page layouts are a thing of beauty, very clear while leading the eye across the page dynamically. The layouts often further enhance the ideas conveyed by the words and pictures, as in a scene in which Concrete and Maureen try to help a victim of road rage as he lies in the street bleeding from an artery. The text contrasts the blocked lanes and the flowing blood, but the three inset neck X-rays overlapping the stopped cars drive home the point eloquently.

The Human Dilemma takes a “variation on a theme” approach to its story, coupling the politics of population with subplots ruminating on sex, pregnancy, abortion, and the individual temptation toward material accumulation. If it sometimes seems contrived that the events of the book would all happen at roughly the same time, that’s just the cost of approaching a topic so holistically. Only toward the end does the sequence of events begin to feel like a bit too much. The ending of one subplot in particular, though appropriately serious, struck me as too tidy. However, most of the plot and the use of multiple subplots to triangulate the themes work very well.

concrete_tas.jpgThe Human Dilemma‘s political discourse is generally quite astute, making logical assumptions like the inevitable entrance of abortion into the discussion of overpopulation and the fallout from that entrance. It’s also grounded by references to real-life politico touchstones like the Drudge Report and commentators like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. There is one character with an extreme position on population control that it’s hard to imagine receiving so much attention, but the avenues opened up by his presence probably make up for that. Chadwick even includes in-story articles like magazine profiles of Concrete and others, and an essay by Concrete about his favorite painting throughout. He does a better job than most of writing the articles in different voices and capturing the flavor of magazine writing. Like the rest of the book, these feel carefully considered and executed.

I recommend any and all Concrete. Volumes one or six (a retelling of some of the first few Concrete stories, rewritten as a single, coherent graphic novel) are probably the best places to start, since they’re all readily available, but there’s no reason one couldn’t pick up and enjoy The Human Dilemma cold. Just be ready to think.


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