Negative Space, by Ryan K Lindsay and illustrated by Owen Gieni, is one of the more astute and creative explorations of depression ever committed to the page, and this week it’s available from Dark Horse Comics in a new trade paperback edition. A fantasy and science fiction epic, Negative Space stars the androgynous hero “Guy”, a writer struggling with depression (don’t we all?) who becomes the focal point of a centuries-long struggle between aliens that feed off of negative emotions and the humans who have devoted themselves to keeping them fed, by encouraging society towards dark notions. By the end of the four-issue run, our pre-existing notions of the usefulness of depression and indeed its necessity (sometimes) have been called into question, all in the context of a great sci-fi adventure comic.
We’ve previously reviewed the individual issues, but the main takeaway, thematically, here is that depression can be a weapon as well as a handicap. The Evorah (the afore-mentioned aliens who have threatened earth for years) are kept at bay by a constant stream of negative emotions, and therefore those who feel those emotions most acutely are actually performing a serious public service. Obviously there are those people who believe that a giant corporate/government conspiracy to manufacture depression is a bad thing (what a shock), but while their motives are good, Negative Space reminds us that real life is no fairy tale, and sometimes negativity is not only to be tolerated but to be celebrated. By the end, this book makes the act of being depressed, and living in that headspace, itself an act of heroism, which is rather bold and unique for any story, told in comics or any other medium.
Other than the rich thematic elements, this book is worth having for Owen Gieni’s wonderful art. With a pedigree that includes the monstrous forests of Manifest Destiny, Gieni invests the Evorah with real personality and menace (impressive since they are essentially tentacled flowers), and even makes one into a rather sympathetic “counsellor” character. The character renderings are made even more impressive by the delicately shaded colours, pencilled and inked to comics perfection, wringing every ounce of pathos from Guy and every bit of ironic humour from his situation. His portrayal of the “real world” is equally grim, emphasizing the cluttered and cramped quarters of a modern writer, juxtaposed with the efficiency of a high-tech sci-fi antagonist.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of Negative Space is the way it constantly re-framed the whole issue of depression. It doesn’t offer quick solutions (nor slow ones), doesn’t insist that medications will solve the problem (or even whether that would be a good thing) and encourages the reader to simply contemplate the concept with no expectations. It isn’t good or bad: it simply is. By the end of the book, Guy has been through the familiar stages of denial, anger, bargaining and depression and is left with a simple, pure acceptance of psychological issues, and learns that sometimes our challenges can be our greatest teachers.