“When one man’s writer’s block gets in the way of his suicide note, he goes for a walk to clear his head and soon uncovers a century-old conspiracy dedicated to creating and mining the worst lows of human desperation.”
Writer Ryan K. Lindsay’s and artist Owen Gieni’s new Dark Horse series Negative Space mixes Lovecraft with George Orwell to create a story that seeks to change the way we look at men’s mental health. In a powerful and revealing interview, Lindsay and I discuss the influences behind and the goals of Negative Space.
In addition, please enjoy an exclusive sneak peak at Gieni’s gorgeous interior art.
Ryan K Lindsay: Our story is about Guy Harris, a depressed First Nations man who is depressed. He’s been trying to write his suicide note but he’s got writer’s block so he goes for a walk to clear his head. From here, we rapidly expand the scope of his world to show him a terrible giant corporation that’s actively trying to get him to kill himself. Because they want his suicide note, to give to scary ass creatures that feed on human emotion.
It’s a science fiction tale deeply rooted within the emotional vulnerability in humans, and that will contain some horrific elements.
Lu: What inspired you to write Negative Space? What drew you to comics as a medium of creative expression?
Lindsay: The inspiration for this whole tale came from the seed of the first page, someone getting writer’s block on their suicide note. A throwaway thought, almost a gag. But it stuck with me. So I started pulling the thread. How do you get past a break like that, do you even truly want to? So as I delved into Guy’s character, and how low he truly is, then I started to throw obstacles in his way. I can’t remember how it came about but the thought that someone was going to be annoyed at his delay began the idea of someone taking his note and using the emotion trapped within it. From there, the world building of the Kindred Corporation and these creatures came about. It was crazy fun to come up with this nuts idea in which to nest such a human conundrum.
Once the story started to lay out in front of me, amidst many many note rewrites and questions I ask myself in the storybreaking phase, I started to see how this story might be entertaining pulp but also something with a serious core. When the chance arises to balance the two, you just gotta jump.
And as for the comics medium, well, it’s been my jam for decades. There’s something so special, so delicate, about the way comics can show time and play emotion. Gutters and isolated backgrounds and page turns, these are all tools I love to play with that I couldn’t necessarily use elsewhere. Plus there’s the added fun of getting to work with artists who just make everything better, lords bless them.
Lu: Owen Gieni has done some breathtaking work with the monster designs in this story. How did you two end up working together, and what did you originally envision the monsters looking like?
Lindsay: Owen and I have been talking about working together on something for years. We’ve been bouncing things back and forth for a long while now. As with all things of this nature, it was always a matter of timing. As this project was coming to fruition, I suggested Owen to Daniel Chabon [our editor supreme] and I think Daniel might have fallen in love with his art just a little bit. From there, the collaboration ran hot.
As far as the monster designs go, I didn’t have anything too specific in my mind. Sometimes I like to come into these things not too specifically married to any visuals because then I can let the artist point themselves in a direction and fire at will. I think I gave Owen more keywords than anything – jellyfish-like, tentacles, barbs, bioluminescence. From that, Owen nailed the designs in one sweep. He sent through a sheet with a few designs and it all fit and worked. Nothing particularly surprising with that because most of what Owen brought to the book has been dynamite. His designs of our characters, their locations. He puts an insane amount of thought into these things and the proof of the pudding is on the page. Owen world builds like a beast and his character designs and emotions are constantly on point. I’m a lucky guy.
Lu: The idea of monsters feeding off our most base emotions is deeply rooted in storytelling traditions throughout history. In 16th century British literature, Mephistopheles preys upon Dr. Faustus’ greed. Sirens inspire and cultivate lust in sailors in ancient Greek myth. Most recently and perhaps most pertinently, Lovecraft’s stories are fueled by the nightmarish monsters that haunted his dreams. What do monsters signify to you? What do they mean to the world of Negative Space?
Lindsay: Monsters get to represent whatever we fear, which I like. Horror fiction has long used monsters to stand in for whatever is the current socio-terror [atomic power, the Red Menace, AIDS] and so with this I’m tapping two veins.
One big problem is depression and just the idea that we can be emotionally manipulated. Look at that recent Facebook experiment where they could alter the feelings of users depending on what they showed them in their feed. That’s some seriously scary stuff. Between that and the whole problem of these social media conglomerates selling our private information to third parties, I kinda knew part of our monster line up would just be other humans. I wanted to cut to the chase a little and show how deplorable we can be at times.
But beyond the Kindred Corporation, we have the Evorah, which you can see there on the cover illustration by Owen Gieni. These creatures are the third party in question and are much more simplistic in their ways. They feed off human emotion, they love the taste of depression, and they’d do anything to get it, which is where Kindred come in. I wanted these monsters to be unknown, and there’s nothing more unknown to me than what lies deep down at the bottom of the ocean. That old chestnut that we know more about outer space than we do about all our underwater terrain horrifies me. Who knows what’s lurking down there? I wanted to take that visceral fear and put it to use beyond just having some creatures come up and slash us to ribbons. Through insidious emotional manipulation, the Evorah become a whole different level of scary because they’ll turn your brain against yourself. And you’ll never really know it’s happening.
Lu: The head of 1984’s dystopian government is called Big Brother, and BioShock has its Big Daddies and Little Sisters. In Negative Space, you have the Kindred Corporation. All of these malevolent forces play off the benevolent ideas we classically associate with family. Why choose the name Kindred Corporation? What might the perversion of the family structure signify in Negative Space?
Lindsay: Man, sometimes I just kinda hate choosing names, to be honest. It’s something I either get quickly or I overthink and agonise over for far too long. With Kindred, the name came to me quickly and it felt right – the idea of kindred spirits tying into how they operate, the fact the words feels warm and the operation they run is so very very cold. Plus, I wanted it to be a corporation because it’s a loose homage to the Tyrell Corporation, but a corp also means big money, big business, and no specific face to the trouble they are mixed up in. Kindred Corporation are more than any person, more than a face, they need to be humanity’s omniscient counterpart to our emotional monsters that form the dichotomy of our terrorism.
The biggest aspect of family we have here is the sense of dynasty. Kindred Corporation is a dynasty, a solution to a problem so old we don’t consider its weight anymore, nor the effectiveness of the way we solve the problem.
Lu: What’s the collaborative process between you and series artist Owen Gieni like? In your CBR interview, your answers reflected a very visual method of thinking. Do you have a specific vision in mind when you create a page, or do you prefer to leave Owen to his own devices?
Lindsay: Owen is just amazing to work with. I recently tweeted that if you want to know how hard an artist works, look at a panel they drew for you and then rewrite your panel description to match everything they’ve drawn. Now do that for your entire script. It’d be pure insanity, right? Well I’d die at the thought of doing it with Owen. He brings so much detail to the page, and so much emotion. His pages are just gorgeous. I feel complete trust in Owen that he’s either going to get what I’m going for, or he’s going to make it better.
It’s also fun because a few times I’ve really opened this dialogue with Owen in the script where I’ll be typing “Hey, man, so for this thing you might want to do it like X, or maybe just Y, or can you think of a Z? Let’s think and spitball!” and it’s so freeing to know Owen has my back like this and that I trust implicitly what’s going to come out from him. And sometimes I’ll have an idea, and sometimes I won’t and the script looks lazy but I know Owen will jazz it up. In the end, he’s the mastermind on these pages, I’ll always defer to him.
Lu: There’s a consumerist element at play within Negative Space’s conceit as well. What do corporations in the story gain from feeding human emotions to monsters? What do you think of the relationship between us as consumers and the companies that sell us our lives and quantify us in data?
Lindsay: That first question actually gets answered in story so I’ll have to hold off on it, but it’s something that’s key to the whole thing for me.
As for the way we operate with all these corporations, yeah, it’s such a sticky wicket. I know friends who pull the pin on Facebook because they don’t want it running their lives, or people knowing everything they do – whereas, I feel we still have control over our use and consumption of these things. Facebook doesn’t rule my life because I’m not always on it, and people barely know what I’m doing in life because I only seem to post a kid pic once every two days if I’m lucky. I choose the way I interact with Facebook. Though it all is a big drug, really. That cycle of post, like, check, repeat is as insidious as retail therapy or drug use because it’s habit forming. And it has a negative when you go without. If no one likes your post, that affects you. If you don’t buy the last things from the goddamn whatever store, you feel you’re missing out. It’s insanity. You want to be able to control your own buy in but sometimes your hand gets forced. Work needs you to have a smart phone and suddenly you’re an app away from losing hours playing what is ostensibly a stupid rehash of an 80s time killer. You start to miss functions because you missed the Facebook invite. Our society seems purpose built to incubate our worst insecurities until they crush us, or tear us apart from within.
Can we totally withdraw, yep, absolutely, but we don’t. And that says it all, really.
Lu: Like many of your characters, Guy is emotionally raw and vulnerable. You mentioned in your interview with CBR that you take an interest in this sort of character in part because society constantly tells men to repress their emotions and put up a show of strength. What’s your view on the state of men’s mental health right now? What can we do to help improve the dialogue and change the message that is imposed on western men?
Lindsay: As a man, I see the huge problems with men’s mental health and it makes me worry. I worry for my mates, i worry for my brothers, I worry for myself, and I worry for my son. I worry because men’s mental health is so often ignored. Men are strong, we suck it up, we forge ahead, we don’t bleed, and if we do we jam a gun cartridge’s load of gun powder on the wound and cauterise it. We don’t sit around and talk about our feelings, we talk about sports. We don’t admit weakness because it’ll be used against us by someone else.
And it’s all just horse shit.
I want to see men’s health addressed because it’s a killer. I want to see The Hurt Locker and Iron Man 3 taking these chances. I want men to know it’s alright to feel, and share, and get down. Moving forward, I think the more we put this out there, the more it becomes part of the conversation and we can all just be open about it.
On my site, I’ve actually started a list of resources and links that people feeling depressed or suicidal can access, and if someone needing it stumbles across it, I hope it helps them [LINK].
In regards to being a ‘helpful document’, well, Negative Space is hoping to be one but it’s also aiming at being one hell of a narrative ride. Just like you can learn a lot from something like Fight Club, our theme is present and strong but we aren’t didactic. We still wanna scare you silly and make your heart sink deep in your torso cavity as you join us on this wild ride.
Lu: Thank you for writing that article, and for sharing your deeply personal story, Ryan. As someone with many friends who suffer from anxiety and depression, and having suffered through hard times myself, it means a lot to know that there are creators such as yourself addressing issues that often go unheard of. Depression is a hard disease to recognize in oneself or another because it’s something you can’t see. From your experiences, what’s the best way to help a friend or a loved one with depression?
Lindsay: Trust and open conversation. If you are suffering, find someone you trust. And if you know someone suffering, be someone trustworthy. Once that relationship is established, and it is the bedrock of everything moving forward, then barriers need to fall and everyone has to feel safe to let everything out. From there, well, it’s a hard, long, and unique road so I won’t pretend to prescribe too firmly. Though I will also say, find time to relax, time to laugh at yourself. Writing your feelings can be a great thing. But most importantly, and this is crucial, know you are not alone. We are here to help you, and there are always [always] options. Believe.
Negative Space #1 comes out on July 8th, 2015