Writer/Artist: Paul Chadwick
Publisher: Dark Horse
Price: $3.50 each
Paul Chadwick has recently won the Eisner award for Best Writer/Artist for his newest Concrete mini-series The Human Dilemma. He’s earned the award. Human Dilemma is the one of the most intelligent, thought-provoking, well-researched, and tragic stories I’ve ever read.
To summarize what’s happened so far: Concrete, a man’s brain in an alien body, has been asked by pizza magnate Walter Sageman to promote Sageman’s new program to encourage childlessness. Sageman will pay for young couples’ housing and education if they are both sterilized. Concrete repeatedly refuses until Sageman offers a painting Concrete has sought for years. Concrete agrees, and goes on the lecture circuit. Sageman’s program is criticized and opposed at every turn. At one event, a professor calls for the creation of a sexually-transmitted virus that causes sterility. The growing debate over population control gives him attention alongside Concrete. Conservative critics accuse Sageman and Concrete of promoting a “culture of death.” The stress is getting to Concrete.
One day, Concrete and Maureen, (Concrete’s doctor and the woman he loves), see a drive-by shooting on the LA freeway. The victim bleeds to death in Maureen’s arms. The experience deeply shakes Maureen. After returning home, Maureen has too much wine and “puts on a show” for Concrete. (It’s emergency sex for a partner without gender.) This arouses feelings in Concrete that trigger a chemical reaction in his alien body. The full impact of those changes literally explodes in issue #5: Concrete gives birth!
At the same time, Larry, (Concrete’s friend and biographer), has proposed marriage to his girlfriend Astra. But Larry soon becomes tense and angry, especially when the subject of children comes up. Larry has a one-night-stand with a star-struck young woman. He’s able to keep it a secret until she calls Larry while he’s “with” Astra. The girl is pregnant. Astra breaks off the engagement. Larry talks to the girl about abortion.
Meanwhile, a crazed loner sees a depopulation conspiracy perpetrated by Sageman and Concrete. He ultimately shoots Sageman dead at a public appearance. He may still be free to target Concrete-and his friends.
Paul Chadwick takes on an issue that’s vital to human survival, yet is rarely considered in public discourse: overpopulation. Through the story, we see why population control is rarely discussed. It involves sex. The most effective means of population control are educating young women about sex and pregnancy, and distributing birth control measures. Many cultures oppose this since it involves giving women a choice to be more than breeders. Some also see giving away condoms and birth control pills as encouraging premarital sex. One of the arguments for slowing population growth is the rapid consumption of Earth’s resources. This connects population control to environmentalism, another unpopular ideology. And there are those who say there is no population problem. Natural resources, combined with developing technology, are sufficient to sustain everyone. This ignores the direct links between overpopulation and poverty, crime, disease, and war.
So when a “man” with no genitals tries talking about the dangers of having kids, people aren’t going to listen. Concrete’s child may discredit him and his message.
Larry’s problem is presented as the issue in microcosm. Not everyone wants children. Not everyone is fit to be a parent, (as Larry sees himself). Most importantly, accidents will happen. Lust overrides better judgment resulting in mistakes like Larry’s. Now he has to make up for the mistake he’s made. People are the problem, and sadly the only solution. Hence the title: The Human Dilemma.
Chadwick’s art matches his writing. His figures are all very human. Larry runs the full gamut of emotions as his life falls apart. Concrete’s growing distress and sickness is communicated through his body language. The way he sulks or waves his arms says more than his rigid face ever could. Chadwick even takes the time to draft every little detail in every environment. TV studios are filled with cameras and equipment. Concrete’s house is covered with paintings. Larry’s apartment is cluttered and lived-in. Chadwick doesn’t take any shortcuts with background or locations. This is a real world created and populated by real people.
My favorite thing about the art is how every issue begins with some art from the first page extending over to the inside back cover. It’s like the story can’t fit the confines of the pages, like the comic itself is “overcrowded.” It also helps draw your attention into the story, rather than just to the story.
At this point, you could wait for the trade collection. But this story is so good it’s worth tracking down the previous issues. Concrete: The Human Dilemma is one of those truly rare comics that makes you proud to be a comic book reader.
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