Born September 3, 1957 (Medina, Washington)
American author, artist
"Concrete [is] such a vastly unusual and personal interpretation of the superhero that there is some debate as to whether or not Concrete is a superhero comic at all."
RENOWNED GRAPHIC ARTIST FRANK MILLER
Concrete is the most unlikely of heroes. On the outside, he is a rock—literally. He is a giant man made of stone, weighing fully 1,200 pounds, and capable of regenerating chips and fractures in his stony exterior. On the inside, he is a man, full of self-doubt and longing, vulnerable to emotional slights, yet aspiring to somehow live up to the expectations created by his weighty physical presence. In the series Concrete, published intermittently since 1986, author/artist Paul Chadwick has created one of the most compelling, complex, and likeable characters in modern comics. Along the way, he has also earned several prestigious Eisner Awards for his work on the series, as well as two dozen other industry awards and nominations. According to comics giant Frank Miller (1957–; see entry), who wrote the introduction to the graphic novel compilation Concrete: Killer Smile, "Concrete is one of several comic books that re-defines the superhero genre, taking it light-years from its origins, imbuing [filling] it with an articulate, adult sensibility and a modern understanding of politics, environment, and human psychology."
Concrete Graphic Novels
Concrete: Fragile Creature (1994).
Concrete: Killer Smile (1995).
Concrete: Think Like a Mountain (1997).
Strange Armor: The Origin of Concrete (1998).
Concrete: Human Dilemma (2006).
Concrete: Complete Short Stories 1986–1989 (1990).
The Complete Concrete (contains Concrete #1–10) (1994).
Concrete: Short Stories 1990–1995 (1996).
The World Below (1999).
The World Below II (2000).
(Writer) Star Wars: Empire. Vol. 2 (graphic novel) (2004).
(Penciller) Y: The Last Man—One Small Step (2004).
(Scriptwriter) The Matrix Online (online video game) (2005–).
Plans to become an illustrator
"I had the classic background for someone who spends their life up to their elbows in fantasy and the imagination," Paul Chadwick commented to Graphic Novelists (GN). Chadwick was born on September 3, 1957, in Medina, Washington, a wealthy suburb of Seattle that lies on the eastern bank of Lake Washington. In the 1990s, Medina became known as the suburb of choice for wealthy Microsoft executives when company founder and billionaire Bill Gates (1955–) built his massive, half-underground mansion there. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, however, it was a modest community for engineers working for Boeing, the local aerospace giant. Chadwick was the youngest of two children. His parents divorced when he was just five, and his mother's remarriage when he was eleven left him with a great deal of time to himself. As he told GN, "Comics, science fiction, and, importantly, fanzine fandom were my emotional sustenance." (Fanzines are amateur magazines created by comic book and science fiction fans to share their interests and thoughts with fellow fans.)
By the time he began to think about choosing a career, comics had lost some of its fascination. "The field seemed to be dying in the 1970s, for one thing," Chadwick told GN, "and I felt a pressure to spend my life doing something more 'adult.'" Still interested in art, however, he thought that he would pursue more legitimate, or mainstream, illustration: creating movie posters, magazine art, book covers, and other such work. He got a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Art Center College of Design—one of the nation's leading commercial art programs—in 1979, though he also spent one year at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he drew illustrations for the school paper, The Daily. During his teen years and through college, Chadwick stayed in touch with friends from his fanzine days, including the members of an amateur press alliance called Apa-5, many of whom would go on to form the comic book and graphic novel publishing house Dark Horse Comics.
Fresh out of college, Chadwick gained valuable experience in a variety of commercial arenas. He provided illustrations for video packages, magazine covers, and movie posters. For a time he worked as an art director and storyboard artist for movie producers. (A storyboard artist illustrates the scenes that will be filmed so that the director can plan filming angles and lighting.) He also worked briefly at Walt Disney Studios and did freelance work for other major Hollywood studios. Chadwick contributed to films such as Strange Brew (1983), Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985), The Big Easy (1986), Miracle Mile (1989), and After Midnight (1990).
By the mid-1980s, the comic book industry—which Chadwick had once feared as a career dead-end—was undergoing a period of revitalization. Creators such as Frank Miller and Alan Moore (1953–; see entry) were introducing critically acclaimed works, and publishers began to realize that they could market comic books to more mature and discerning readers. Moreover, some comic book artists were leaving the big publishing companies like DC Comics and Marvel to take full creative control over their creations. Chadwick—friends with many of those involved in this revolution—saw what was happening and decided it was time to join in. "It was worth leaving the thrilling and lucrative movie business … to craft stories that were all mine, requiring minimal intervention by others on their trip from my mind to the reader's," he was quoted in Authors and Artists for Young Adults. With this decision, Chadwick was on the road back to the world of comics.
Turns to Concrete
Chadwick developed the idea for Concrete in 1983 but, despite sending it out to many publishers, he could find no one interested in the work of a rookie author/artist. Believing that he needed to establish a name in comics, Chadwick landed a job working with Archie Goodwin (1937–1998), a legendary comics writer and editor who was then the publisher at Marvel Comics. They teamed up on a comic called Dazzler. Though Chadwick loved learning from Goodwin, he hated the silly superhero heroics of the book, and he hated to see the way his careful penciling (the line drawings that form the basis for comic art) was muddied and obscured by careless inkers (who filled in the drawings with color or shading). Perhaps more than anything, this early work convinced him to devote more effort to Concrete, where he could control the entire creative process.
Chadwick's efforts to develop his Concrete stories continued, but not without a major misstep along the way, as he related in an interview on the Movie Poop Shoot Web site. "I developed my Concrete ideas in a sketchbook. I carried it everywhere. To my horror, I left it in the studio audience seating of the JEOPARDY! quiz show, when my girlfriend was a contestant. I never got it back. She lost. Man, we were depressed." By 1985, however, he had managed to interest a number of publishers in his series. After getting publishing offers from eight companies, Chadwick narrowed down his list to two: Marvel Comics, one of the giants in American comic book publishing; and Dark Horse, a new company founded by some young comics lovers who wanted to give artists more creative control of their work (see sidebar). Despite being a start-up publisher, Dark Horse matched the money offered by Marvel and, Chadwick told Movie Poop Shoot, they "just wanted it more. Being appreciated matters.… Dark Horse has been wonderful to me." With a firm publishing agreement for Concrete in hand, Chadwick returned to live in his native Washington, and he now lives on one of the San Juan Islands with his wife, Elizabeth, and his son.
The very first Concrete story, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," appeared in Dark Horse's early comic anthology, published in 1986. It introduced the series' three main characters: Concrete, who began life as Ron Lithgow, a speechwriter for a U.S. senator, now a man of rock after being transformed by aliens living in an underground cave (though his cover story is that he is a cyborg created by the U.S. government); Dr. Maureen Vonnegut, a biologist who sees Concrete as a living laboratory, and to whom Concrete is deeply if secretly attracted; and Larry Munro, a literature grad student who is hired to look after Concrete's affairs and becomes his best friend. It also introduced readers to the main concerns of the series: to the physical difficulties Concrete faces as he learns to live in a world in which his size and strength render him a monster, and to the psychological difficulties he faces as he comes to terms with the claims others make on him, but also as he reconciles his own aspirations toward heroism and greatness with his essentially shy, retiring nature. This story set the stage for one of the most interesting comics of the last decades.
A New Horse in the Race
Ever since the late 1930s, two comic book publishers—DC Comics and Marvel Comics—had thoroughly dominated the comic books market. But by the early 1980s, a number of comics fans had grown tired of the same old superhero stories cranked out by these comics factories. One comics fan who decided to do something about it was Mike Richardson. Richardson owned a string of comics shops in the Portland, Oregon, area, and he decided that someone needed to step up and encourage more innovation in the comics industry. In 1986, he founded Dark Horse Comics, and among the first people he signed up was Paul Chadwick, creator of Concrete.
Dark Horse began by publishing anthologies, or collections of innovative comic work by a variety of authors. Soon, it began to produce comics series of its own by such big names in the industry as Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Sergio Aragonés, Neil Gaiman (see entries), and many others. Dark Horse was a major contributor to the boom in comics that revived the industry in the late 1990s, and it also helped feed the graphic novel boom of the late 1990s and 2000s.
Over the years, Dark Horse has grown considerably. By the mid-2000s, the Oregon-based company had become the third-largest comics publisher in the United States. Dark Horse also produced books, publishing a number of titles under license—including Star Wars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer—and produced comics-related merchandise.
Expanding Concrete's world
Concrete began as a series of short stories, published in Dark Horse anthology magazines, though they soon began to be published individually, as Concrete comic books. With time, Chadwick realized that he wanted to develop longer, more complicated stories, and these stories lent themselves to being collected in graphic novel format. Concrete: Fragile Creature brought together the four stories in this series in 1994; Concrete: Killer Smile brought together four more connected stories in 1995. Concrete: Think Like a Mountain collected the seven stories in this series and appeared in 1997 to great acclaim; it was the longest, most ambitious work yet. Chadwick told Comics Journal in the late 1990s that it was his best work to date: "There's the most substance there, and I think my artistic skills had finally arrived, and I just put my heart and soul for many years into that one." After Think Like a Mountain, Chadwick's production on the series slowed as he ventured into other, higher-paying work. Finally, late in 2004, Chadwick began publishing the individual stories of Human Dilemma, which had reached six issues by late 2005 and was set to release as a graphic novel in April 2006. Whether they are in graphic novels or in the several collected volumes of stories, all of Chadwick's Concrete work remains in print.
Fans and critics of comic books, especially superhero comic books, often speak of character development, but in most superhero comics, character development is incidental to the main story—it is something that happens in the brief gaps between fight scenes and the main business of saving (or destroying) the world. In Concrete, the ratio of action to character development is almost completely reversed: Concrete acts—he climbs Mt. Everest in "Everest, Solo"; he walks across the bottom of the sea in "The Transatlantic Swim"; he apprehends a madman who threatens his friend Larry in the graphic novel Concrete: Killer Smile—but the action is not the center of the story. Instead, we learn what it feels like for Concrete to act: we see and hear him ponder the challenge of a mountain, for example, and we sense his reluctance to resort to violence in order to save Larry.
In Concrete: Think Like a Mountain, Chadwick devotes much of the story to unfolding Concrete's reluctant embrace of environmental activism. Concrete is not the only character to develop, either: over the course of the series, readers learn a great deal about Larry—who begins bumbling and self-absorbed, and who is improved by his interactions with Concrete—and Maureen—whose clinical detachment in dealing with Concrete slowly breaks down as she comes to recognize the humanity that lies inside his rocky exterior. Chadwick's focus on characterization, both within individual stories and graphic novels, and over the course of the series as a whole, has led reviewers to point to Concrete as one of the best examples of the ability of comics to transcend the limitations of a genre that many consider only good for simplistic, juvenile stories. As Andrew Arnold wrote in a review of Concrete: Human Dilemma on the Time Web site: "Paul Chadwick's … Concrete tales prove the superhero genre has no inherent literary limitations except the ones brought by a character's real-life role in the culture."
Another hallmark of Chadwick's work on Concrete has been the willingness to have his characters explore difficult psychological and political issues. In the early days of the series, Chadwick was keenly interested in how people reacted to Concrete, and how his sheer physical density impacted the world. Others are constantly using Concrete—as an attraction at a party, as a bodyguard, as a spokes-person for their cause—and he battles with his conflicted desires to do the right thing, to advance causes he cares about, while still protecting his self-respect and dignity. One of the most powerful emotions Concrete experiences is longing, especially his longing to be treated as a normal person once more. The greatest object of Concrete's longing is, of course, Maureen. One of the running side stories is Maureen's failure to see Concrete as more than an object of study, and Concrete's intense awareness of her as a woman. The tensions of this relationship—sustained for nearly two decades—were resolved in Concrete: Human Dilemma (2004), when Maureen finally acknowledged Concrete's sexuality. Concrete's other great desire is for communion with the earth. When he is most estranged from society, Concrete lies flat on the earth, feeling its stillness, allowing animals to run across his rocky skin. In Concrete: Think Like a Mountain, he covers himself with earth, thinking "Wish I could bury myself. Be part of this hill, aloof. See the pain of the world as transitory, trivial. Like passing weather." In numerous still, quiet scenes scattered through the series, Concrete longs to merge with the earth around him, for it is only the earth and its creatures that don't judge him to be some kind of freak.
Concrete's complex personality and his longing to do good have several times led him into complex political situations. In Think Like a Mountain, Concrete is approached by members of the radical environmental group Earth First! who want him to write a story that will help them stop the cutting down of a tract of virgin forest in Washington state. Concrete fears the extremism of the group and tries to keep his distance from them, but he is slowly drawn in by their love of the earth. In the end, the forest is saved, but not before Earth First!'s tactics and Concrete's motivations are put to the test. In Human Dilemma, Concrete takes on the role of spokes-person for an organization dedicated to population control. He is soon plunged into the high-pressure world of media exposure, which sorely tests his commitment, as do the side stories of Concrete's realization of a physical relationship with Maureen and Larry's own problem with getting a girlfriend pregnant. Reviewing the work on the ComicReaders Web site, Chad Boudreau noted that "Paul Chadwick and his character Concrete don't try to be a political voice or social conscience on [population control.] Together they offer up the idea for discussion, and even though Concrete himself will most likely come to a decision, Chadwick presents enough information on both sides of the cause that you are able to sit down and ask questions of yourself.…" Chadwick's capacity to address serious political issues in all their complexity, all the while telling compelling, character-driven stories, makes him a real rarity among graphic novelists.
Critics and Chadwick himself recognize that Concrete is by far his most important work. But this does not mean that Chadwick has not tried his hand at a variety of other work. Between 1999 and 2000, Chadwick worked with his wife, herself an artist, and Ron Randall on a series called The World Below; darker and more sinister than his other work, the series lasted eight issues before it folded. At about the same time, Chadwick began to seek out more collaborative work. In an interview on the Silver Bullet Comics Web site, he told Mike Jozic: "This is a lonely business. You sit in a room, alone, for long hours. We're wired by evolution, endless generations going out on group hunts, to thrive in activities involving a shared goal. It's really the only way people feel entirely fulfilled."
Fans of Chadwick's solo work are likely to find some of his collaborative works less than satisfying. Chadwick joined the vast Star Wars franchise in the early 2000s when he wrote six issues telling the story of Biggs Darklighter for the Star Wars Empire monthly graphic novel series. Chadwick told Jozic that working for a story where so much that happens was determined by others was "somewhat agonizing." Chadwick as much as admitted that he was not the best fit for the series, for while the morality of the Star Wars universe is simple and clear-cut, "I see the world as paradoxical and ironic. Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness. Anger is right sometimes, wrong other times," he told Jozic. Chadwick also filled in for original artist Pia Guerra on several issues of the series Y: The Last Man, which Guerra created with Brian K. Vaughan.
Other collaborations of Chadwick's have been far more successful. For example, Chadwick has worked since 1999 with the Matrix movie creators Andy and Larry Wachowski to create several comic books based on the movies, and also to write an ongoing series of scenarios for the hugely successful Matrix video games. Chadwick has also hinted that he has been working with science fiction writer Harlan Ellison on a comic series called Seven Against Chaos, a story inspired by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's 1954 film Seven Samurai. Over the years, Chadwick has also lent his talents as both a writer and an artist to a variety of other comics. In the end, however, both critics and Chadwick recognize—as Chadwick once told Comics Journal—that Concrete "is my one shot to be remembered at this point, and to effect the wider culture, and just get my view of the world into the most minds."
For More Information
Chadwick, Paul; introduction by Frank Miller. Concrete: Killer Smile. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 1995.
Buckendorff, Jennifer. "Choosing the Red Pill." Seattle Times (March 14, 2005): E1.
Earth First! (June 20, 1996): 33.
"Interview with Paul Chadwick." Computer Gaming World (January 1, 2005).
Review of The Complete Concrete. Booklist (May 1, 1998): 1511.
Arnold, Andrew. "Heavy." Time. http://www.time.com/time/columnist/arnold/article/0,9565,1070506,00.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Boudreau, Chad. "Comics with a Social Conscience." Comic Readers. http://www.comicreaders.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&-sid=1269 (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Dark Horse Comics. http://www.darkhorse.com (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Hick, Darren. "Trimmings: Paul Chadwick." Comics Journal. http://www.tcj.com/3_online/t_chadwick.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Jozic, Mike. "A Conversation with Paul Chadwick." Silver Bullet Comics. http://www.silverbulletcomicbooks.com/features/105223922414535.htm (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Mason, Marc. "Comics Interview Special: Paul Chadwick." Movie Poop Shoot. http://www.moviepoopshoot.com/movie/98.html (accessed on May 3, 2006).
Additional information for this profile was obtained from direct e-mail correspondence with Paul Chadwick in September and October of 2005.