Concrete Park Vol. 2: R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Another Huge Endorsement

August 4, 2015 by Shawn Taylor in The Nerds of Color

I can only talk about the second volume of Concrete Park,RE-S-P-E-C-T,” in relation to music. I wanted to use other graphic novels or films as benchmarks, but I’d be talking more about the evolution to make the book, the shift in materials and not the meta-shift I want to capture here. While I enjoy what GeekCulture has to offer, it doesn’t transform me the way that music does. There has yet to be a geek-influenced film, comic, graphic novel, or anything else that has affected me the way Bad Brain’s 1983 life defining album Rock For Light did.

Well, that is until now.

Every music fan — I mean the fans who live and breathe for music — can rattle off the sounds that changed their lives. Most of us could provide you with a sonic biography, songs that were key to the formation of our very identities. Songs or albums that compelled us to play them over and over again, in hopes of divining some new bit of hidden meaning or falling deeper into the world that was created. Or, the tunes were just so amazing that we sat there, stunned, afraid that we might be spoiled for anything else.

Nas’ verse from “Live at the Barbecue.” Busta Rhymes’ “rawr rawr/like a dungeon dragon” from A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario.” Radiohead’s “Creep.” The Cure’s “Pictures of You.” Björk’s “Come to Me.” Tori Amos’ “Precious Things.” Too many to name.

I put Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T in the same category: Art that has completely transcended their form and into turned into something else.

It is easy to look at pictures/a film and listen to music — if you have the ability to do so. But when your experience of a piece of art you consumed with your senses, feels as if it was injected straight into your psyche, that is a marvelous feeling. With Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T, I know I read it and looked at the art, but it felt like so much more than that. It felt like I was there, chilln’ with Isaac and Luca in the filthy, deadly dusty, funky, miraculous place they call home, Scare City.

If you haven’t read Concrete Park Vol.1 You Send Me, please read this so you can read why I believe you should read it. It is there that I provide a pretty thorough accounting of the world of Concrete Park.

If volume one was the introduction, Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T is, “Hell. They know what we’re about. Let’s just go full-on batshit.” I do not want to spoil your initial reading of the book, so I’m not going to give you an in depth review. This isn’t a cop out. The plot is so tight and well-paced that if I give you any hint, any kind of fine detail, it will be a thread that I would have to pull in order to give you the full picture. Then, there would be nothing left for you to discover. I am fully aware that this is a very hyperbolic review. But there really is no other way for me to relay just how utterly amazing this book is.

Here is why:

  • Isaac has reinvigorated the tired trope of the comic book anti-hero.
  • Luca is one of the most badass characters in all of comics.
  • The world of Concrete Park is so fully realized that it feels more like history, geography, and sociology than a graphic novel read.
  • It isn’t SF, fantasy, horror, but it is. It should have its own designation.
  • Girl gangs kick ass.
  • Rebuilding damaged bodies to become something other than…
  • The violence has a point. While extreme, it isn’t gratuitous.
  • Magical systems portrayed in inventive ways.
  • Pan sexuality.
  • Gladiatorial combat.
  • Intrigue, reversals, and betrayal.
  • A gang boss on some Baron Harkonnen ish.
  • Crazy tech.
  • Romance.
  • Occult cities.
  • And just what/who the hell is Lena?

What: Concrete Park Vol.2 R-E-S-P-E-C-T

When: Out right now.

Why: Because this is the best sequel, to any piece of popular entertainment, since The Godfather II eclipsed the original. This, along with Concrete Park Vol.1 You Send Me is the best (only?) double album in graphic novel history.

Concrete Park Vol.1: You Send Me — A Huge Endorsement

July 1, 2015 by Shawn Taylor in The Nerds of Color

I had the pleasure of meeting two-thirds of the Concrete Park creative team at the Black Comix Arts Festival (BCAF) in January 2015. Not only were Tony Puryear (ill on the keyboard and with the pen) and Erika Alexander (Hollywood demigoddess) beautiful and amazing beyond all possible measure, their property was absolutely insane. There are very few things I want to teach in my classes, but Concrete Park Vol.1 You Send Me is a book I am rearranging my fall syllabus to include. It was my favorite thing (and I bought a whole lot of stuff) I picked up at BCAF. Did I mention that their property is off-the-rails crazy?

If I had to sum Concrete Park up in a word, that word would be funky. The book is funky in every sense of the word. There is an energy and swagger to it that very few books, past or present, can compete with. Characters own their panels and their story arcs with a confidence that borders on defiance. The inhabitants of this world are three-dimensional, assured, and they just might whoop your behind.

Scare City (aka New Earth Correctional Facility Number Two) — the world of Concrete Park — is a distant and hostile planet. Think Tatooine crossed with Mad Max’s wasteland, the summer depicted in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, and John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, with a dash of São Paulo — and you almost get the picture.

Scare City exists on a planet that a dying earth sends its criminal offenders to to mine for resources. This world is rendered so believably that you can just about feel the heat rise up and out of the panels, taste the dirt, oil, and sweat. It is the funk, captured in two dimensions. The world is more than just a backdrop for some of the most fascinating characters in recent graphic novel history (you can buy individual issues), it is a character in and of itself. But, damn, the populace of Scare City makes the planet look like a cuddly and domesticated pet.

Those who are sent to Scare City have either formed or joined gangs that are fiercely loyal to each other, but will obliterate their rivals. Gangs with names like “Gigante,” “Las Cruces,” “M-80s,” and the cult-like “Bama” control the rundown megalopolis, dividing it into spheres of dangerous influence. When I finished reading the first volume of Concrete Park, my first thought was, “Please do not turn this into a movie.” While “cinematic” is an overly used term in graphic novel circles, this book is cinematic to the nth degree. If it does get turned into anything, it better be a long-form Game of Thrones pay-cable episodic adventure. This world deserves to be unpacked, unwrapped, and explored over a long period of time. This first book is, at least, two seasons of material.

Concrete Park Vol.1 You Send Me begins as an almost run-of-the-mill urban gangsta narrative. Isaac (one of the characters we follow) is walking with his sister and something happens — I won’t reveal the inciting event. I really want all of you to read this book.

The panels emit summer in L.A. heat and tension. By the fifth page, I exclaimed, “WTF!” The transition was so masterfully done that I felt Isaac’s feral dismay. And just as I was empathizing with Isaac, we are made privy to Luca and Lena’s post-coital bliss. Once again, the funk rose off the page. Their initial scene is written and drawn with respect and it is matter-of-fact and not exploitative. And as delicate and touching as the scene is, we soon find out what kind of a hardcore badass Luca is.

Did I mention that there are more people of color in this book — portrayed with respect and interiority — than DC and Marvel’s histories combined?

Aarrrgghh! There is so much that I want to share, but I am trying my hardest not to spoil the read. This book deserves the chance to surprise you and surpass your expectations.

I whole-heartedly endorse this book. From a mountaintop, with a megaphone, a few carrier pigeons, and the Psychic Friends Network I will sing the praises of Concrete Park Vol.1 You Send Me.

You owe it to yourself, and your love for the comic medium, to pick this book up as soon as possible.

What: Concrete Park Vol.1 You Send Me (purchase it here or here)

When: Out right now.

Why: Because it is one of the best books in recent years, and one of the most fully fleshed-out worlds in the graphic novel form. It has action, adventure, romance, science fiction, superhero action, powers, great characters, amazing writing, and devilishly competent art.

Bonus Features: I will be interviewing the team behind Concrete Park Vol.1 You Send Me very soon.

 

Also, get the “Director’s Cut.” There are maps, a glossary of Scare City slang, and gang profiles.

If you wanted to make a night of it, Marc Bernardin’s Genius would be the perfect companion piece.