Negative Space TPB Review

Written by: Ryan K Lindsay

Art by: Owen Gieni

Publisher: Dark Horse

WeTheNerdy already reviewed Negative Space when it was being released as monthly installments. You can track those write-ups down if you want, but the long-and-short is we gave the comics such good scores that we’re actually featured on the back of the trade paperback that came out this week. In an ideal world, we’d have already convinced you to buy this one.

So what am I doing? I’m not sure. I guess offering a second opinion, though my opinion of this series is pretty strong. It’s not like I’m going to scream and rant that the first issue doesn’t deserve a perfect score or that the last issue isn’t near perfect. Both of the original scores hold merit (though I’d have reversed them, personally).

But reading a series as a trade is different than reading a series as a set of monthly installments, meaning having all four issues to plow through in one go made for a different experience than was originally intended.

I found this to be a bit of a problem.

Let’s jump to the beginning: Guy is a depressed writer who wants to kill himself. Problem is, he has writer’s block and can’t get his suicide note finished. He goes to get some ice cream as a pick-me-up / distraction. The whole thing would be hilarious if it wasn’t so brutally sad—made even better by the flawless artwork of Owen Gieni. Guy’s pain and misery are so thick on the page that it almost hurts to look at him. I want to hug him and tell him it’ll be alright, but just looking at those eyes, I know it won’t. He’s lost every ounce of hope possible.

We then flip towards the villains, a corporation built on harvesting depression and sorrow to feed a bunch of Eldritch Horrors that live beneath the sea. Think Cabin in the Woods but…well, no it’s pretty much exactly like that. They even want the depressed people to kill themselves, since that builds more negative energy.

All of the above information is delivered in a first issue that deserving of all the praise we originally gave it. I was on board, because apparently I love brutally sad things. It’s certainly been a theme of 2016, at any rate.

It’s the middle of the book where things get a bit frustrating. Chapter two introduces conflict (a small organization trying to take down the big organization via happiness), backstory for our Eldritch Horrors, and a turn-cloak monster named Beta who likes happiness but doesn’t really understand it. Guy is roped into it because of course he is.

The first problem is parts two and three move too fast. Negative Space feels like it should be a six-issue comic crammed into four, which is a shame because it excels when it’s walking and not running. Guy is at his best when he’s got time to think and not act; it almost feels out of character when he’s actually being productive.

There are elements of action thrown in, and I feel like they’re all unnecessary. The two pages of Beta killing people could have better been spent exploring more of Guy’s broken personality or the world around him in a way that wasn’t so rushed. The getaway scene is too quick and jarring, and once again, could have been spent walking and not running.

In chapter three, Guy has a bit of a revelation, and I’m still not sure I get it nor am I sure I buy it. It really needed more page space to develop.

The second problem is one of tone. Issues two and three add humor, and I guess it just didn’t jive with me. There were bits of levity in the first issue, gallows humor here and there that had me grin despite how dark it was, but it all stopped working when it started coming from anyone that wasn’t Guy. I like Beta as a concept, but in practice, he/she was just kind of annoying.

The main villain who runs the corporation also treads the line of being a bit obnoxious. He’s hysterically evil and it mostly works—he damn near looks like a scary clown—but it isn’t until the very end of the series when he isn’t being crazy that he comes to life. By the end of the comic, I was totally sold on his character, and I’d have liked that earlier on, in chapter three instead of four.

Because holy shit is his internal conflict is amazing and just as dark as Guy’s.

Perhaps the best part of Negative Space is its ending, which is absolute perfection. I’d like to talk more about it, but I don’t want to offer spoilers of any kind here. It really needs to be experienced blind, or as blind as can be.

On the art front, I’ve already praised Owen Gieni, but I’ll do it again: He’s fantastic. Everything about this comic looks amazing. The sorrow, the monsters, the chaos, the isolation; it’s all here and it’s all damn near flawless.

I have to wonder if my pacing and tonal problems would have been present had I read this issue by issue with a month-long break between installments. The places that moved too fast may have felt perfect in an ordinary context, and the jokes may have landed better if I had given the characters and story room to breathe. I guess that’s the risk of trades, as strange as that may sound. There’s a reason why comic books are released the way they are though: It works.

Negative Space is an amazing idea with an amazing beginning and an amazing ending. It suffers from a few things in the middle though, and that’s a shame because the mar what is a very clever little story. I do think the first and last chapters make this worth picking up, as does the idea behind it. Should you buy this, my advice is to read it slowly. Enjoy it. Savor it. Think about it. Don’t do what I did and rush to the end because reviews have deadlines.