Negative Space is a new sci-fi dark comedy written by Headspace creator Ryan K. Lindsay and illustrated by Owen Gieni. I loved the first issue so much that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk to Lindsay about the series, where it’s heading, and how it came to be.
AiPT!: Thanks for taking the time to talk about Negative Space today, Ryan. I loved the debut issue, but I’ve been excited about this series since it was announced.
I was immediately struck by the set-up of a man who would kill himself if not for the fact that he has writer’s block with his suicide note. Even before you get to the science fiction elements, that’s one of the best premises I have ever heard for a piece of fiction, in comics or otherwise. Can you give us some insight into how this idea came to be?
Ryan: I wish there was any better inspiration other than that it kinda just came to me. But at first it was just that moment, a sad gag envisioned that soon sparked a flurry of mental movement.
I guess beyond that, depression and suicide are things I give thought to. Not in any active way, I thank my stars that I’m afflicted with neither of those illnesses, but they are serious social matters and ones I know regularly swept under the rug or ignored or thought of as untoward. So the image came, I felt terrible, and because I’m a concerned creator, I wanted to know why this man couldn’t finish off his note. From there, I pulled the string and Negative Space came to morbid life.
AiPT!: There’s a morbid sense of humor permeating throughout the first issue, given the lengths that Kindred goes to in order to make the protagonist, Guy, miserable, while somehow benefiting from his suffering. Yet the issue never feels mean-spirited. How do you maintain the book’s bleak sense of humor without sacrificing the reader’s ability to like and empathize with Guy?
Ryan: That exact tightrope was something we all considered long and hard as we crafted the story and tweaked that first script to set the tone. Guy had to be clearly suicidal but not someone just tunnelling each page further and further down. Getting his internal monologue right was something we considered a high priority. We also wanted to ensure the book wasn’t laughing at Guy, we didn’t want to make a punchline out of the overweight sad guy. So in the end, we played Guy as someone who loves the world but believes it will be better without him. So if he sees a moment where he can right a wrong, of course he’ll do it, because it’s for something he loves. Whereas for the Kindred agents, the people nudging him towards taking his own life, we play them aloof, not personal, because to them it’s just a job. As such, I got to really make one of them a gigantic bastard who is fascinating to watch but someone you loathe instantly.
If you analyse both roles and the way we portray them, you’ll see it’s me baring my heart while also very dryly berating myself and the world. because using dry humour as a salve has been my salvation all my life.
AiPT!: That’s interesting, because you said earlier that you suffer from neither Depression nor suicidal ideation, yet it seems that you take inspiration from your own life to build this story. Would you mind expanding upon how your own experiences, or even the experiences of people you know, shaped Negative Space?
Ryan: I’ve been very firm in stating I’m neither depressed nor suicidal because many reviews and readers assumed I must be. Now, I go through periods of flat out loathing myself, but I’m a writer, that’s to be expected, but I’m nowhere near depressed and I draw that line because to lump me and my equivalent of sadness sniffles is to undercut others with an actual illness. So the book isn’t about “me” but it certainly draws elements from my world.
When I was 5 my father committed suicide. I’ve spent the rest of my life studying that event and what created it just to build an understanding that doesn’t shatter me as a person. A lot of that funnels right into Guy and how I believe he sees the world. There’s also no two ways around the fact I view writing as therapy and so this book, and some of Headspace, and pretty well all of Fatherhood are narratives helping me deal with different trains of thought. Considering at any given time my head is prone to look like a spaghetti junction of rail lines, I have a lot on my mind.
I’ve also been a teacher for a dozen years and the almost ghastly wide variety of people and family types and issues you meet there are story fuel but it’s also just filling your brain with fuel which could ignite at any moment.
Heh, just realising as I type this that the idea of Guy being this insane empath in the story is actually most likely me through and through. I hadn’t actually considered that.
AiPT!: Thank you for sharing that. It’s clear that Negative Space is a truly human story that comes from a deeply personal place. How did it turn into a science fiction story?
Ryan: Because I love Philip K Dick, and the way his books were nuts but they were always about the truth, and the world, and him, and how he saw all of those three things uniquely in his own manner. Because I enjoy the limitless boundaries of the fantastic where new rules can be made and broken to serve the almighty narrative. Because I think a theme is better presented as subtext. I don’t want my stories to be didactic, and I want them to be insane. Putting the aspect of control of emotions into the hands of an unknown species offered up all sorts of extremes. Much like Owen’s art exaggerates and thusly better presents certain emotions, moments, and stereotypes, I often find by delving into the impossible we find the truly and destructively probable of our world.
AiPT!: Let’s talk about Owen Gieni. His painterly style definitely helps evoke the emotion and strangeness that this story needs, and it looks spectacular. What has it been like to work with him?
Ryan: It’s insanely cool to work with someone on Owen’s level. Every time his pages come in I know I’m going to need a moment. The wife excuses me, I take my time, sit down, open the email and then just bask.
Owen’s ability to nail emotional beats is so good because of his exaggerated style and amazing grasp of how people feel. But he’s also becoming the master of the grotesque, he sent through this thing just today that genuinely shocked me. It was this character thing where he went way further than what was ever scripted or thought up and he really knocked that s--t over the fence.
I know this story is going to hum because Owen is the guy in the copilot seat. He is the kind of character design, he’s drawing goddamn cobblestones because he’s a mad man, and I feel constantly blessed.
AiPT!: Negative Space was announced as an ongoing series. Is Owen planning on sticking with the series for its entirety?
Ryan: Oh, no, it’s completely a mini. Good luck me holding onto Owen before he’s snapped up somewhere else, the guy is too damn talented to be anchored to a hack like me. The story we tell here is 4 issues, and it’s a tight mini, the end is really the end. I mean, you can always ask the question of “Well, what happens after that?” but that’s no longer the story, that’s after the story, and I like telling a crucially tight ending where everything wraps up and it all had meaning.
AiPT!: I know you can only reveal so much, but what can readers look forward to for the rest of the series?
Ryan: They can look forward to Guy and his internal problems remaining centre stage for the duration of the book. This isn’t about setting up depression as shorthand and then we scoot off into the adventure. It’s also not about necessarily ‘curing’ Guy’s illness, because that would be a s----y thing to do to people out there who actually suffer from this mental disease because so rarely do we flick a switch or level up into a place where depression can’t touch us. No, Guy is a broken man and I use those shards to carve out a narrative that twists and turns in ways I don’t think many people will see coming.
The first page of the next issue details a lot of answers about the Evorah, plus we introduce a new character next issue that I think people will flip for. They’re pretty cool.
AiPT!: It’s great to hear that you aren’t planning on “curing” Guy, because that’s the direction that I think a lot of lesser storytellers would have gone in an attempt at a happy ending. How do you feel about the ways that Depression is portrayed and discussed in the larger context of culture and media?
Ryan: I feel like it’s used as shorthand far too often, and it so rarely goes all the way. That idea of having Guy save the girl, defeat the bad guy, and make a quip as something behind him explodes and then his suicidal thoughts dissipate like a fart in the wind pretty well disgusts me. Suicidal depression is never that clear cut so I want to make it feel real, I want the gravity to compress your body so hard it becomes difficult to draw breath. And yet I still want to do it in a way you won’t necessarily see coming, and with a path you would not have guessed.
I also wanted to make Guy someone you like, someone you feel for, and someone you would follow. He’s not to be laughed at, he’s not to be completely pitied. We have depressed people in our lives without ever knowing it all the time, and you most likely know someone right now considering suicide to some degree and not only do you not know it, you probably wouldn’t even pick it if tasked with guessing. I want Guy to feel that real, to be that human. because depression is a human thing, hell, at times it feels perfectly natural, and so this isn’t ‘just’ a study of depression as if it’s some ethereal anomaly, this is a wild narrative that happens to have a depressed lead.
AiPT!: Now that the first issue has been released, what has the response been like?
Ryan: Insanely positive! Reviews have been through the roof, my social media has blown up in all the good ways, and even my wife really dug it [NOTE: my wife not only doesn’t read comics, she often skips my stuff – but she sat down with this and was shocked *SHOCKED* at how much she enjoyed it, which was nice].
I think the best thing has been people with depression, and even suicide survivors, who have hit me up to thank me for the way I’ve handled Guy. Knowing that they believe and appreciate and even damn well enjoy has been the absolute most for me this week.
Also, to everyone posting pics of their LCS haul with our book sharing their wallet time and pull list with stuff like Saga, Archie, Injection, Black Science, and friends, all I can say is thank you for taking the time to try something new.
AiPT!: It’s great to hear that so many people like this comic, because it definitely deserves praise and support. Do you have any other upcoming projects on the horizon for all these new fans to look forward to?
Ryan: I’m actually hoping some new readers cast their eyes back 2 months to my book Headspace with Eric Zawadzki and Sebastian Piriz that we released through Monkeybrain Comics in 2014 and IDW did a gorgeous trade collection of in April. But looking into the crystal ball – I’m always reticent to give firm details because you aren’t breaking into comics until you’ve had a few eleventh hour drop outs and heartbreaks – but I have a mini currently being drawn at a great publisher which should be announced in a few months, and I have 6 DIY one-shots with a slew of phenomenal artists so if half of those come to fruition in the coming financial calendar I’ll be stoked.
AiPT!: Before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to say about Negative Space?
Ryan: Yeah, I hope people are ready for a crazy ride. Issue #2 takes us into some insane places and wildly broadens the scope of the tale. This is where the gonzo sci fi really comes into play. But everything is still centred around Guy, and everything is building to the final pages, and it’s all about him, no matter how weird we go, no matter how big and nuts we are, this is a story about the broken chemicals in Guy’s brain. I want people to continue to think about that through the lens of this very strange and drastically wonderful tale.