Reviews

'Negative Space #2': Even When It's Sad, It Makes You Happy

Guy Harris wants to commit suicide. If only he can get past a bad case of writer's block and finish his suicide note.


Negative Space #2

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Length: 25 pages
Price: #3.99
Issues: #2
Author: Ryan K. Lindsay
Publication Date: 2015-09-23
Amazon

One of my high school teachers believed that pecker rays were to blame. He claimed that pecker rays were beamed from the Soviet Union and designed to screw things up for hard working, freedom loving Americans. Your car won't start? Pecker rays. Your boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with you? Pecker rays. Your brain gets all fuzzy and you fail your biology test? Pecker rays. He said that we could know on what days they were broadcasting by tuning them in on a ham radio, where they could be picked up as a repetitive pecking sound, like a woodpecker pecking on a metal post. But there was no reason to go to that trouble. It was obvious when the commies were beaming them our way: you cut yourself shaving, your shoelace breaks, your toaster goes on the fritz.

Pulp sci-fi writer and progenitor of the UFO craze, Richard Shaver, called them tamper rays and believed that they were coming from a deranged race of beings that lived under the surface of the earth. But it makes no difference, I suppose. The result is the same: a rock breaks your windshield, you just can’t get any sleep, dark thoughts creep into your brain.

In Owen Gieni's and Ryan K. Lindsay's brilliant miniseries, Negative Space, Guy Harris' troubles are caused by the Kindred Corporation. They are likewise at the heart of much of what goes wrong in all of our everyday lives. But Kindred is not working alone. They're definitely not working alone. They make their living by supplying a drug to a very unique client, an underwater race of telepathic creatures known as the Evorah who just can't get enough of human sorrow.

"Imagine if sadness were a drug and an entire ocean of junkies were jonesing for a fix." That's how Guy's would-be boyfriend, Woody, describes it. Imagine if sadness were a drug.

Guy is at the center of all this trouble because he is a powerful empath with the ability to share his emotions with those that he comes into contact with. If Kindred plays their cards right, Guy can become a veritable fount of sadness. As a writer, his novel already depressed the hell out of its readers. Imagine, so the logic goes, if he committed suicide and left behind a suicide note. Sadness on top of sadness.

The only problem is that Guy has writer's block. If he can’t write a suicide note then he can't commit suicide and if he can’t commit suicide then all that work by the Kindred Corp. to screw up his life is wasted.

To make matters worse, Guy manages to stumble into a plan to strike at the heart of the Evorah and then finds himself teamed up on a suicide mission to the bottom of the ocean with a renegade member of that species who goes by the name of "Beta".

I can’t say enough good things about Negative Space. Lindsay and Gieni are really onto something here.

Guy is as miserable as they come. He is at the end of his rope, ready to give up on life, done with all the heartache and sorrow. He is ready to pull the trigger. The noose is already tied. If only he could shake the writer's block and finish that suicide note. But Woody gives him something to hope for, gives him the courage to write something different. Then Woody is gone and Kindred is out to get him and suddenly the saddest man in the world is being counted on to do the one thing that he knows he can't do. Be happy.

Lindsay gets everything just right, all the bad luck and sadness and grief. There is menace on every page, both deep and dark Lovecraftian dread as well as the everyday nuisances that make us all wonder if life is worth all the trouble. In the midst of all that sadness, however, I find myself laughing through the tears. Guy is so pitiful that you can't help but laugh at him, and Beta, the renegade Evorah who is hooked on happiness instead of sadness, is an off-center, slightly confused, wisecracking abomination. Beta says about the T.V. show M.A.S.H.: "even when it’s sad, it makes me happy." I think that's true of Negative Space as well.

Artist Owen Gieni perfectly captures the mood. The Evorah are both ridiculous and terrifying, sex organs with teeth and claws. Even the bloody panels are good for a laugh. ("Oh, shit," Beta says before one epic fight, "it's time to chew ass and kick bubble gum.") And Guy, poor Guy, is the saddest sad sack that I can ever recall. How is this guy going to be a hero? How is this guy going to find his inner joy?

So maybe one version of the story is true, I don't know. Maybe life sometimes gets cursed, hexed, out of balance. Maybe the Russians are still beaming those pecker rays. Maybe the underground dero are hitting us with tamper. Maybe corporate America is working to screw things up for us in order to please their underwater masters. Who knows? Things have been pretty shaken up for me the last few weeks, the last few months. Somebody must be to blame.

But Lindsay and Gieni get it right. What is true of the misadventures of the 4077th is also true of this little comic book. I suppose it might just also be true about life.

Even when it's sad, it makes me happy.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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