Friday, November 29, 2013

Paul Chadwick, Think Like a Mountain

I wasted my youth, wasted it: seriously, why the hell didn't I read more comics?

Stupid studying.

Don't get me wrong, most days I'm glad that I wound up reading enough canonical literature, enough times, that I ended up teaching English. Every so often, though, I encounter something that speaks of other paths that would have made just as much sense, maybe more, and that's exactly the case with Paul Chadwick's Think Like a Mountain, the fifth volume of his Concrete series.

Basic setup for the series: aliens encased Ron Lithgow, speechwriter for a Democratic Senator, in 1200 pounds of living concrete. In Chadwick's words: "Now he copes with a world where chairs crumble like breadsticks and car bodies dent like foil. He lacks nose, skin and genitalia. He has mood problems" (as you would, obviously).

Mostly Concrete's a travel writer, but he detours regularly into environmentalism and political outrage, and Think Like a Mountain is the most overtly environmentalist of the collections.

Through a complicated series of events, Concrete finds himself on an EarthFirst! campaign, visiting the San Juan Islands and a clearcut on Vancouver Island before engaging in a full-on monkey-wrenching of equipment involved in the logging of old-growth timber at a place called Hidden Valley. The art's fantastic, and it's a complex story about rich characters (some of them cartoonish, as they are in the best novels exactly as in cartoons), doubting and speculating and groping towards thoughts of action in a world where extreme action still might not be enough.

Think Like a Mountain, named of course after the classic Aldo Leopold essay, came out in 1989, right when climate change was just beginning to enter mainstream discourse. Logging was the key issue at that time for the American and Canadian west, and while logging protest remains a keystone species (so to speak) here on Vancouver Island, it sometimes feels like it's beside the point. Leopold's essay, too, with its grand and ringing title, had an apparent subject something far narrower than mountains and cognition, because he was talking on the surface about why it's a terrible idea, pragmatically as well as symbolically, to hunt wolves into local extinction.

Chadwick's web page offering Concrete's bio says mildly, "He has mood problems," and he does. In this particular volume, Concrete finds himself consumed by depression at humanity's callous treatment of the natural world, and of each other. He acts more than he means to; he doubts more than he wants to; and the world carries on, within him and without him and in spite of him.

Seriously, why didn't I read more comics when I was younger?

1 comment:

theresa said...

This sounds wonderful, Richard. (Ah, the road not taken -- an obsession with comics.)
tk