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.