Here's the ground floor. These are the early stories showing Concrete's very secret origin, and very public impact upon emerging into the world. They represent the best I could do in playing out, rationally (if not entirely soberly), what might really happen to someone whose life was so changed.

At the time, this approach was quirky -- even radical -- in comics. I was asked whom he would fight, what super-foes? How else could there be conflict? And the aliens -- they just leave? No revenge, no final obliteration of the enemy?

Nope. Just one hapless rock-coated fellow, enduring the consequences of my asking the question: what would I do in his shoes?

That many of these stories involve going underground and undersea often enough to justify the title for this collection speaks to a continuing bane to Concrete's existence: gravity.

Anthony Greenbank's brilliant how-to, The Book of Survival, is organized around extremes. Chapter titles were "Too Lonely, Too Crowded, Too Hot," etc. Concrete would do well to reread the chapter "Too Low."

Life's that way when you weigh 1200 lbs. You sink. You fall. Things break and bury you.

I'm drawn to survival stories, which I guess is why I write and draw so many of them. The question, "what would I do?" intrigues me. That I am a personality more given to ambivalence than action is probably part of it. Touching this danger safely, mentally, is a way to quicken the blood without actually experiencing the horror and despair of mortal fear.

Safety, and the desire for it, is at the root of making a rock-coated man the vehicle for my fantasies. How lovely to be so hard to hurt. But someone who never experiences danger and trouble can't generate much of a story. So I find ways, and Concrete suffers.

Not all his challenges are mortal. Concrete craves acceptance, barred as he is from normal human warmth by his freakish body. So the criticism he receives in "A Stone Among Stones," and the awkward social interactions in "The TransAtlantic Swim," "Water God," and "Sympathy from a Devil" are especially stinging.

So is his ineptitude at caving, showcased in "Orange Glow." In fact, I see Concrete's existence as one of sustained low-level embarrassment, punctuated by episodes of acute humiliation. How this relates to my life I prefer to leave unexplored. The very first Concrete story, "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," takes place at a party. Everyone knows parties are agony, socially. How better to introduce a character for whom abashedness is life's main dish?

Concrete's origin is a story I keep returning to. The silent, full-page panels in this printing are from a fix-up for a one-shot republication, A New Life. I tried again in two (unproduced) screenplays, and in a longer comics treatment, "Strange Armor." I'm working through a novelized version now. I hope someday to get it right.

This version, whatever its deficiencies, has the virtue of springing fresh from my brow, like the sweat of a fever dream. What I find interesting now is how many "throwaways" these stories have -- visual ideas, gags, "bits," -- that are inessential to the plot. They're simply things I wanted to do. I tend to be more disciplined, now, in this regard. But I wonder if that's entirely a virtue. Those throwaways are really pretty fun, rather like searching for the hidden animals in a children's magazine puzzle picture. Every page promises a new "bird" or "squirrel"...or a moon that echoes Concrete's bullet-cratered head, or a sculpture of a backstabber in the mansion of a betraying rock star.

In the early days I made lists, independent of plots, of shots I wanted to do, potential gags, and "moments." I fit them in when I could.

I have always been enamored of film directors with a gift for shot design for its own sake: Nicholas Roeg, Terrence Malick, Carroll Ballard (as well as Stephen Spielberg, though his skill at shot design is always welded to a sprightly sense of storytelling). Some of their shots are echoed here. Comics master Jim Steranko gave me a taste for lots of little panels. Such were the seeds of my aesthetic.

Although chronologically clustered, as far as Concrete's life goes, these stories range from 1986 to 2000. My artwork has evolved, though perhaps less than I'd like. "Vagabond" is an autobiographical vignette from the anthology Streetwise. This "road" strip is perhaps not in keeping with the title theme, but accommodating it with the title "Depths and Widths" would be inflicting a tongue-twister on the bookselling world (try it).

--Paul Chadwick
Friday Harbor, WA

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