These stories, mostly from Concrete's second year, show some maturing in technique. One thing I notice is the advent of characters with secrets. It's a time-honored component of stories, which works because it so well reflects real life.

In fact, I still marvel at this slow-dawning truth. As a youth I assumed the adult world was largely rational, orderly, pleasantly predictable. Over the years I've come to appreciate that trouble and shame come into every life. Medical problems, mental illness, adultery, bankruptcy, criminality - all around, in the lives of your friends and neighbors and family. I think I finally started to get it, probably later than most people, in my mid-thirties.

Fact is, life is hard. I understand now in a way I never could as a youngster why people dull their anxieties with alcohol, or embrace the steadying certainties of religious fundamentalism. Terrible things happen, all around. And we make terrible choices.

There's an interesting British mystery writer, Minette Walters, whose books (The Ice House, The Dark Room, The Devil's Feather) are built around this dark truth. Her writing procedure is unusual. It's always an investigation plot. She avers she doesn't know who murdered the victim when she starts; instead, she builds tangles of secret shames in the lives of every character in the story, making all of them plausible murderersand all, even if their hands are clean of the murder, understandably evasive. One of them eventually feels right to her, and she makes them the killer. In the meantime, we've had tours of some dark places indeed.

Sometimes I have the stomach for her books, sometimes not. Their great strength is that it is impossible to guess the killer, so suspense is maintained. An author, after all, cannot telegraph an ending if she doesn't know it herself. But they are also a hard slog through depravity. Too much of that, and voyeuristic interest gives way to bleak disgust with humanity.

I guess that's why I can never resist going for the gag in my own writing. Humor makes life bearable.

Another common element of most of these stories is that they felt constrained to me when I created them. The farm story, the Nepal story, and The Damp Descent especially made me yearn for more pages. After that last, I switched to miniseries. 100 or 120 pages is a more comfortable length for most of the stories I want to do.

A few specific comments: The Nepal stories grew out of a trek I took there in 1983. It was a sleepy little mountain kingdom then, with echoes of the hippie era rebounding along "freak street" in Katmandu. A far cry from Nepal of recent years, with a Maoist insurgency ascendant, and the ghastly incident of the mentally unbalanced prince machine-gunning his royal family. The worst thing that happened to us was getting up on a moraine with crumbling slopes and no clear, stable way to get down (we finally did, after much anxiety). And dysentery. When Craig Thompson gave me his beautiful travel sketchbook, Carnet de Voyage, I laid this aphorism on him: "one should travel enough in one's twenties to get dysentery." He seemed a little put off by it.

"No Sweat" was cheeky on my part. My experience on farms extended to bucking hay for a couple of days, at that time. Not that it's all that much more, now. Still, I did a fair amount of research, not that it shows. I'll always remember getting the pages back from my letterer Bill Spicer. Next to the panel of the just-revealed, wormy skull, he wrote, "shades of EC comics!"

"Always Fences" is a good introduction to Concrete. It contains as close to a biography of the character as any story I've done, even an origin recap. And it shows him squarely in the real world, one of the hallmarks of the series. In fact, when the young Canadian director Ezekiel Norton was considering which story to adapt for a Concrete television pilot, this was the one he chose. Not that he ever got to film more.

"The Damp Descent" was a chance to explore the big put-on (a recurring theme in Concrete). As a guileless person myself, I'm in awe of those who can lie and manipulate their way through life. It also dwells upon the irony of our fascination with aliens from space, when there are strange enough aliens all around: in the trees, under our feet, landing on our arms to suck our blood.

"What Needs to be Done" was my first crack at a straight-out suspense story. Come to think of it, the drifter in it looks a little like Rick, the arsonist in my suspense-focused graphic novel, Killer Smile. Though given the fate this wretch endures, KS is clearly not a sequel!

I hope you enjoy them.

--Paul Chadwick
Friday Harbor, WA

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