Writer: Ryan K Lindsay
Artist: Owen Gieni
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Negative Space is a challenging read that works on multiple levels. On one hand, it’s a sci-fi adventure that draws on a variety of influences and manages to integrate them smoothly. On the other, it’s a heartfelt examination of the loneliness and isolation of modern life.
The protagonist, Guy Harris, stands out from the usual white, heterosexual comic book heroes. He’s an overweight, gay American Indian. Oh, and he might just be the saviour of all humanity.
Every person wants to believe that they’re special, that they contribute something unique to the world. In Guy Harris’ case, this happens to be true. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that his contribution is involuntary. His misery is being mined by the shadowy Kindred Corp as part of their nefarious deal with inhuman beings known as Evorah.
The issue opens with Guy struggling to overcome writer’s block. But in his case, he’s not working on a novel or poem. Instead, he’s writing his suicide note.
One of the key themes of Negative Space is creativity versus waste. Destruction itself isn’t shown as evil or wanton as long as it has meaning. There’s a sad beauty in the fact that Guy, a man cast down by fate and milked for his misery, still seeks to craft a worthy suicide note.
The first page shows Guy surrounded by crumpled drafts of the note. There’s a noose beside him. The means of his self-destruction is contrasted against his creative debris. He cannot bring himself to go through with the suicide until he has completed this last creative act. Failure to create means he cannot destroy anything, least of all himself.
We’re introduced to his love interest, Woody, early in the story. Whereas we first see Guy in his claustrophobic apartment, Woody is surrounded by trees and other people. “Writing is living, Guy. Live a little, y’know,” Woody advises the main character. With that sincere line and a brief touch of hands, Ryan K. Lindsay manages to craft a more human moment than any seen in a dozen run-of-the mill superhero books.
The villains, quite differently, are presented as nothing short of inhuman profiteers of misery. While the corporate drones, Rick and his coworkers, are the face of Kindred Corp, they are simply the appendages of the story’s true big bad: the corporation itself.
Rick is eerily reminiscent of the Nazi ideal of Teutonic perfection. He seems incapable of a full range of emotions, hovering between gloating ambition and smug self-congratulation.
He acts as a foil for the protagonist. Guy may be flawed, fat and depressed but he still evokes our sympathy. He is the everyman brought to his knees by forces beyond his control. Yet despite this, he still hopes to transform humanity through his words. Guy is humanity, our ability to feel. He is the best of us – the opposite of everything represented by Kindred Corp.
Even at his lowest, he is a force for good, a saviour figure. This is demonstrated in a scene where he rescues a baby from a car crash. This could be viewed as the equivalent of a resurrection. He doesn’t quite raise the dead, but still brings forth life from disaster.
Like that of most saviour figures, it’s a foregone conclusion that Guy’s destiny is likely to be one of self-sacrifice for the greater good. The story hints at this early on when Rick compares him to a saint.
Ryan K. Lindsay’s writing is gentle and low-key. The first issue reads more like a slice-of-life drama than a high-concept sci-fi romp. Within a few pages, he manages to connect the reader to Guy, and he focuses the majority of the book on deepening that connection. The science-fictional elements are deftly woven into the story, taking second place to the protagonist’s emotional odyssey. The writer carefully paces the comic, giving each moment weight and significance.
Reading this book is like walking into a quiet room after the sound and fury of your average action comic. This is more than just a good comic – it might just be a great one.
Owen Gieni’s artwork is a visual treat. There’s a sensitivity to his portrayal of the various characters and the worlds, both mundane and surreal, in which they move. His stylization is completely different from anything I’ve seen. This unique style, combined with the delicate, almost translucent colouring, helps set the comic apart.
The first issue has been described by others as a love story within a monster story within a sci-fi story. But the real love story is between the reader and Guy Harris. We’re encouraged to fall in love with his humanity and to invest in him. This issue signals the beginning of a journey. Not just the descent into the strange world of Evorahs but into Guy’s psyche as well.