Comic book character Ron Lithgow was hiking in the mountains one day when he was abducted by extraterrestrials who, before he escaped their clutches, forcibly removed his brain and deposited it in the incredibly strong and nigh invulnerable stone body of a 1,200 pound manlike monolith. Now transformed into the gentle giant called Concrete, he has essentially been exiled from the animal kingdom. In his ongoing series of periodic projects from Dark Horse Comics, such as Concrete Celebrates Earth Day 1990, creator Paul Chadwick has often used this unique being to promote a “green” lifestyle.
A soft-spoken travelogue writer rather than a superhero, in Concrete: Think Like a Mountain (originally released in 1996 as a six-issue mini-series), Concrete goes where no mineral man has gone before. He accompanies a group of Earth First! activists to Washington state so he can record their attempt to save an old growth forest from the mechanized blades of a huge lumber company. Beautifully, even lovingly rendered in words and pictures by Paul, this story follows Concrete’s evolution from a reluctant supporter of environmental extremism to an uncompromising eco-warrior. The story’s engaging, character driven plot delivers fascinating facts about nature, valuable instruction on the ethics and tactics of civil disobedience, and frightening encounters with such “villains” as industrial waste and global human overpopulation (and yes, the original series was printed on recycled paper).
This story’s synthesis of drawings, colors and words demonstrates that the unique medium of graphic literature can convey important messages with an eloquence that pictures or prose alone could not achieve. Some of the scenes that left the most profound impressions on me were the verbal and visual view of Washington’s ravaged landscape seen from 20,000 feet above; Concrete’s envisioning of a gargantuan composite human monstrosity devouring and defiling the planet; and the “last stand” of a felled old growth giant rising to the defense of an Earth First!er as he runs from authorities across a clear cut wasteland. The climax, which relied on the immediacy of images for its impact-both on the reader and the world in which Concrete lives-brought about a resolution that was as optimistic as it could be without totally losing its grounding in reality (forgetting, for the moment, that story revolves around a living rock man). Finally, it was extremely gratifying to see that this bittersweet outcome only strengthened Concrete’s resolve to defend Mother Earth. Overall, I cannot think of any other work that better exemplifies the legitimacy and power of graphic literature as an art form.