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.
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.