“Black people don’t like science fiction – they don’t see themselves in the future.”
There are millions of movie pitches rejected for a million different reasons every year in Hollywood. It just so happened that the science fiction movie pitch featuring an ethnically diverse cast of characters trapped on a prison planet elicited a racist, ignorant, and absurd response from one studio executive. Screenwriter Tony Puryear and wife, actress Erika Alexander, were shocked at the exec’s ridiculous assumption but not defeated. They took their creative vision to another medium in need of some diversity itself - comic books. The result is a five-issue limited series from Dark Horse Comics entitled Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T debuting this Wednesday (9/3/2014).
“We set out to make a sci-fi epic in a future that’s as diverse as the world we know. What that means is different colors, different ethnicities, different languages, different cultures, different sexual orientations. We thought we could bring that to the future and show a really funky version of the future. But mainly, we want it to be entertaining and work on a big canvas.” -Tony Puryear*
After a critically acclaimed run in the publisher’s anthology series, Dark Horse Presents, Concrete Park had earned a shot at an ongoing series but that now rides on the success of the mini-series. Artist Puryear co-writes with Alexander (co-created with brother Robert Alexander) and have been the epitome of independent spirit. Undaunted by Hollywood’s racist stereotyping, even when offered to make their project using white actors instead, they marched forward despite a litany of challenges.
Puryear, a screenwriter by trade, had not written a comic book script before nor had he drawn one. Alexander was a comic book neophyte. More importantly, African-American creators are still a rarity in the industry along with minority characters that lead their own titles. The fact that they’ve come this far is a testament to their dedication, ingenuity and creative versatility. It didn’t hurt that they had a compelling story to tell.
On a future Earth, exiles and criminals are transported to a dry, desolate prison planet ironically named ‘Oasis’ to work as slave labor mining natural resources under scorching dual suns. We meet Isaac an exile from the gang environs of Los Angeles when the transport ship unexpectedly crashes on the planet killing everyone aboard but him. He meets the leader of one of the gangs, Luca, and must learn to navigate his new home fraught with rival factions and individuals with dubious interests. A classic stranger in a strange land story as immersive and expansive as any literary epic all told without the obligatory shining white knight as the protagonist.
“In our world, you see the world as it truly is, populated by mostly brown, black, yellow and red, and there are white people there, and they’re going to have a place, but most of them, in the end, will not ever be defined by their race, at least not their color. They’re the human race against the people who own that planet, but they’ll all have to learn to work together in order to live.”- Erika Alexander**
The subtext speaks to similar issues found in present day Earth as science fiction often does with allegories of the human condition. Exploitation, tribalism, the politics of power and gender, and in the end the hope of survival amid it all. Puryear and Alexander have a larger story to tell and five issues may not be enough. They find inspiration in Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones where alliances and differing loyalties across an expansive world of characters fuels the action and drama. Issue one gives the reader a glimpse in what’s to come.
Isaac is quickly saved from an approaching crowd of rivals and a gun fight ensues. Luca takes him to safety and we see how violent and precarious the state of affairs in Scare City are and the appearance of the Potato King sets the tone of one boss laying claim to his territory. Along the way characters are named in the panels foreshadowing their stories to come in the penal colony of Oasis.
Concrete Park: R-E-S-P-E-C-T is an exciting debut and as good a first issue as any dystopian story on the comic book store shelves right now. It’s a worthy addition to any pull list because as any good book should, it will leave you wanting more. It’s an original point of view sci-fi tale that transcends race and culture to create a dangerous and unpredictable world with characters you haven’t seen before. It’s taken Puryear and Alexander ten years to bring their vision to life and this is just the beginning. Get on board now.
And if at all possible get the print edition because as a bonus you get a separate story about a fictional character within Concrete Park, Talladega.
The five-part bonus story, Talladega in ‘A World of Hurt,’ is unusual in that it follows a fictitious character within the Concrete Park story world. Talladega is the star of a series of movies and videos, watched by everyone in Scare City. She’s a thief, a will-o’-the-wisp in magnetic boots who rides the skies of the planet Oasis standing, Silver Surfer-style, atop her flying car. Everyone in this rough part of the universe knows Talladega and her bigger-than-life adventures are fake. Everyone is wrong, and as the five-issue R-E-S-P-E-C-T miniseries progresses, Talladega may fly off the screen and into the streets of Scare City.
The bonus story is co-written and drawn by Tony Puryear and co-written by Erika Alexander. Presented in a restrained three-color palette, drawn in a comic-strip style, the bonus story has a different look and feel from Concrete Park’s Technicolor desert hues.
Tony Puryear explains the five-part bonus story addition.
“First, we love print, and we fell in love with comics you could hold in your hands, swap with your friends and collect. Second, we love comics shops, and we want retailers to have something special from Concrete Park that you cant’t get anywhere else; you have to come into the store. Third, it’s a chance to play with a different look and feel for our world and to tell story in a different way. Lastly, Talladega is cool, and to build this crazy story in a story is so much fun.”
Lastly, the 7-part story from Dark Horse Presents will be collected in hardcover and available in October.
Source: Dark Horse Comics
** Bleeding Cool