Review by Frank Plowright
At the same time as Pat Mills was curating the early days of 2000AD, he was also writing Concrete Surfer for Jinty, a weekly anthology aimed at young girls. In interviews Mills has noted how such titles were mired in the past, barely acknowledging children from working class families, and the skateboarding Jean Everidge was among his efforts to redress the balance. The sport was a relatively new phenomenon in early 1980s Britain, and certainly had a greater take-up among boys, so Jean provides a positive role model in that respect.
Over a curt opening page Mills emphasises social realism as we’re told about Jean’s family emigrating to Australia hoping for a better life, but it hadn’t worked out. She’s been sent home ahead of her parents, who have to sell their belongings to afford their trip, and is lodging with her cousin Carol’s family, who’re well off. As seen on the sample art, Mills oversells the resentment as he contrasts the skateboarding with Carol’s gymnastic talents, gymnasts being a girls’ comics staple of the time.
It’s difficult to like Jean, joyful on her skateboard, but otherwise only concerned with showing up the over-achieving Carol, who has a deceitful side, but initially she’s only a little patronising. It leaves all the charm supplied by Christine Ellingham’s illustrations, which are clear and detailed, paying attention to contemporary fashion and the skateboarding accessories.
Perhaps Mills always intended it, or perhaps he considered the earlier strips too far over the top, but from halfway there’s a shift of emphasis in Jean and Carol’s relationship, and Mills becomes more creative about the challenges Jean faces. Introducing Jean’s parents has a purpose, and as with his other series, Mills puts the research into making the skateboarding culture convincing. By the time he’s achieved the correct balance between conniving and thrills it seems to have been too late, as Jean’s adventures are brought to a rapid conclusion.
Anything that strives to be contemporary and realistic may be a short term success, which was the intention, but rapidly dates, and that’s the case for Concrete Surfer. Ellingham’s art still looks good, but most of the strip is too strident.