Several weeks ago, Ryan K. Lindsay reached out to see if we wanted to take a peek at his upcoming new Dark Horse series Negative Space and talk to him about it. A quick glance at Owen Gieni’s imaginative and unique art made it clear Negative Space was going to be a different series than readers of Lindsay’s previous work for publishers like Monkey Brain might be used to. Following Guy, a writer whose emotions are being sucked up by a shady organization with possible Elder God ties, Negative Space is a novel look at both the creative space and social empathy that happens to look like nothing else on the shelves. We chatted with Lindsay about the genesis of the series, its meta aspects and working with Owen Gieni in part one of our two part interview. Now in part two we discuss social media’s impact on the study of comics process, which of Lindsay’s peers he especially admires and more. Be sure to also check out our review of the first issue.
NH: You’ve got a rep online as a guy who really loves to discuss “the process” of comics, so I’d like to talk about that. There are a few things that the current generation of creators have in common and this continuous discussion of comics process is one of them. You’re a writer who historically likes to stick to “high concept,” sci-fi oriented work but because the comics internet is becoming increasingly more democratic and diverse in more ways than one, a lot of the big “process” talkers are involved in the artier end of the medium. I figure a lot of why you talk about process so much is simply because you love it but would you say it’s almost like a comics education designed by committee? What elements of your craft have evolved as a result of all this open discussion?
RKL: I talk a lot about process for two main reasons: I have a lot to learn and I like doing it with peers, through chatter, and openly. And, I try to raise issues/points/questions that I wish I’d seen 5-10 years ago because I would have soaked it up then instead of learning the hard way now – though learning by doing is sometimes the only/best way.
The question then is: why the hell do I want to do those things, why that way, and why, lord, why prattle on about it all the goddamn time? Right? :]
I’m a teacher by day, and my classroom is all about sharing, and teachable moments [where you stop everything and build from something that just happened in the wild], and having no dumb questions [though a tonne of sarcastic answers]. I take this approach to writing where I teach myself and I be the student I want to see. I ask questions, I share information, I try to promote discussion. If I can bounce something around and figure it out, aces. If I can bring something to the table that unlocks something for someone else or inspires them, giddy up. I just want to be what I want to see in the world that gets me excited to make comics. When Matt Fraction writes about the triangulation of Mazzucchelli art in Born Again I lose my banana skins. When Jesse Hamm starts slinging tweets about art/page process, I sit and learn. The fact we have Twitter at all for these sorts of things, and Tumblr [Facebook can go eat a bag of nuts], makes me so happy.
I’m also just a dude who loves writing. I’ve written comics, prose, criticism, short films, random blog posts. Writing is something I love because it’s all about transference of emotion and knowledge, and any time I can get better at either is going to make me very damn happy, so it should come as no surprise I wanna get online and talk about that stuff. It’s the stuff that genuinely makes me happy.
Previously, you’d either have to wait until cons, or you’d have a studio, or periodically there’d be a book by Eisner or Miller or McCloud to facilitate this learning. It had to be a long time between drinks for really sinking your teeth into the gristle on this stuff. Now, it can happen every single goddamn night. That’s insane to me.
And you’re right, the biggest process talkers online are generally the ‘artier’ comics peeps. I am certainly not of that crowd. My work isn’t on that level and I’m no doubt not smart enough, but that doesn’t stop me wanting to still engage, to question, to share, to be as open as possible. Also, against that point, I think Matt Fraction got himself to an insanely mainstream place and he’s got great process chatter, and Kieron Gillen is a guy who just eats up cultural critique of and around making comics, the dude is sharp as a laser. But honestly, I don’t care if you’re writing zines, stories for the Big Two, or transitioning into writing video games, whatever, good process thoughts and chatter is always appreciated by me.
Though I’d challenge the ‘comics education design by committee’ because any creator worth their salt is eclectically selective. You take the pieces that work for you, and you discard what you maybe disagree with or what doesn’t work for you. Some people like to use more splash pages, some go meta, some use thought balloons, others are itching for a new ‘Nuff Said issue [a Marvel concept that was built around making comics with no dialogue – ed.]. There is no recipe, hell, we don’t even have standard writing formats, but there are tips and tricks that work and don’t and ones you aren’t ready for and then you suddenly find the right project to try them out. If you are just synthesising all the process tips/talk you see and regurgitating them I guarantee your script/story will look just like that – regurgitate.
For my money, engaging in all this chatter has definitely made me a better writer and creator. As for specific lessons, hell, in general it’s brought me ideas on story pacing, using pages in inventive ways with a plethora of panel choices available to you, it’s made me think about theme tied to character and environment, and how to simplify story but then build around it to layer moments of raw awesome and inspiring galactic exploration. Basic stuff like ‘get into a scene late and leave early’ is something that’s only basic because you hear it enough. I write emotional splash pages because I started to analyse splash page use and work out what I liked to see as a reader, and what I felt complimented my strengths as a writer and served my stories best. That doesn’t happen by accident unless you are delving deep into the study, and throwing out a “What are some of the best character based splash pages of all time?” tweet and then cataloguing the responses is a very helpful exercise.
But one of the biggest things has been to make me think, consider, and action diversity in comics. Twitter has been huge at showing me how undiverse comics are on the page [which we all kinda knew and saw anyway, but this was a spotlight on it], and that we should create diverse characters, but then it also showed me the effect diverse characters have for people who generally have not seen themselves represented in comics. It’s a huge deal for a black woman or a gay man to find ‘themselves’ in a comic in a starring role. It means something to them, whereas not writing another white male dude lead [which I’ve certainly already done in my career] means insanely little to me. It’s a no-brainer to create diverse characters but it was Twitter that shoved that idea into my brain enough that I now have this book with a gay American Indian lead.
NH: That last point stands out to me because Negative Space doesn’t commodify its diversity. What I mean by that is that your characters are allowed to be who they are and you don’t turn their identities into an explicit selling point. Many creators and publishers seem to struggle with that, as they turn diverse rosters into the human equivalent of a chrome cover and in the case of something like, say, Marvel’s promo material featuring Red Wolf, they go on about their increased representation without realizing they’re doing the wrong kind of representation. So many creators bemoan the constant “judgment” and “whining” of social media but would you say in your experience interacting with a diverse array of fans and creators has allowed you to write diverse characters imbued with more humanity than data? Do you wish more creators opened their minds to this side benefit of social media interaction?
RKL: Sorry, man, gotta take a breather to slow clap “they turn diverse rosters into the human equivalent of a chrome cover” because that’s equally funny and sad as hell.
Yeah, social media has hugely opened my eyes because you kind of get to use the Head Key on any type of person and see where they’re coming from, or how they’re feeling, or what they dig or what affects them. For me, seeing positive responses from readers to characters like America Chavez and Miles Morales tore the lids off my eyes and left them agape. There’s a palpable reaction to people finally seeing themselves represented in fiction and that’s an emotion that’s worth tapping. That’s actually important. The same way writing different genders, or having depressed characters, or having survivors of abuse. If all fiction showed us was a line up of heroic white guys then it’s going to get stale but it’s also not going to connect as deep or mean anywhere near as much to as many people.
I mean, whenever I see an Aussie bloke make it on the global stage – Ledger, Jackman, Bana, Hemsworth [because apparently Aussie blokes just are comic characters] – it makes me proud. It’s nice to see something you know successful, and it’s then powerful to imagine it could be you. I can’t even tell you what it means to me to see Tom Taylor write for the Big Two because that means to me an Aussie writer can indeed make it. Now, of course, I’d need his talent, but rarely do we see ourselves exactly imprinted in our idealisations, but just some similarities is enough. And that’s coming from me, a white middle class guy.
But as for monetising your diversity, I think if you have to tout it constantly and push it forward then it’s not as impactful – and I think that goes for everything/anything. For me, do it well and they’ll come. And you are spot on about ‘more humanity than data’ because it’s not a paint by numbers thing, you are still creating characters, you still need to engage the audience. You can’t be calculating about this, and you damn well better come from the heart.
As for more creators rocking diversity, I’m happily seeing plenty. Ryan Ferrier and Devaki Neogi’s Curb Stomp at BOOM!, Paul Allor and Juan Romera’s lead in Strange Nation at Monkeybrain, Christopher Sebela and Ibrahim Moustafa’s High Crimes and also his work with Chris Visions on Dead Letters, Tom Taylor’s creator owned The Deep with James Brouwer plus all he did on Earth-2. Watching big names like DeConnick, Fraction, Bendis, McKelvie/Gillen champion this way of storytelling is inspiring to me. It shows it can work, it can have positive affect, and that it’s becoming normalised which I think is important. I teach at a wildly multicultural school so the idea we might consider more than just one race seems obvious to me. I also want my kids growing up in a world where this stuff isn’t an issue. I have a boy and a girl, and I want them seeing characters of all cuts of cloth, and characters that represent parts of them.
NH: Since we’re now talking about the future, I want to close this interview with a question about your own. There’s a potentially troubling trend in comics now where some of our best and brightest are heading to Hollywood, literally and metaphorically, because it’s the same bullshit but at least it pays better. At the start of the 21st century, we had a problem with Hollywood screenwriters viewing comics as a way to get their unsold scripts turned into proofs of concept and this seems like a reverse of that. I know you’ve got a pretty eclectic array of media credits, but your interest in comics process and the structure of the medium is encouraging and it makes me think of a point Joe Casey recently made to me, stating he has “always tried to make things that actively couldn’t be translated into other media, because that shows the true power of our medium.” Is that something you also aim for? What is the Ryan K. Lindsay Five Year Plan? Are you interested in moving into other media after you’ve reached a certain level in comics? Or is comics writing what you’re ultimately hoping people most associate with you?
RKL: Comics are my jam, they are the thing I want to do, they are the thing I most certainly want to be known for. But I’m not going to say if some Hollywood exec came knocking with a bunch of cash to make Negative Space into a tv show that I’d turn him back to stay true to myself. Hell. No.
But the thing is, with all that fabled silver screen bullion, what would I do next? You best believe I use it to make more comics. I have little to zero aspirations of becoming a tv/movie writer. I’m not in comics to flip out of it, I’m here to bury deep like an Alabama tick. Because comics are a unique medium, and the storytelling possibilities are insane, but the money is hot garbage. So, if that adaptation booty is offered, I’ll no doubt take it. It’ll help me make more comics. I’d be a fool not to.
Though this seems pretty theoretical because my stories currently seem like they’d be a gamble to adapt. Both Headspace and Negative Space have some pretty big scenes/moments in them. If AMC wants to make that ogre from Headspace, come at me. If Disney want to find a way to have Andy Serkis mo-cap the Evorah, ha, I’d love to see them try. My comic ideas wouldn’t run cheap in other media. Though that’s not through specific plan, I worry about the story first before worrying if it couldn’t be adapted, or whatever.
As for five years from now…hrmm, I’m definitely still making comics. Hopefully get some more traction with creator owned stuff. I’d definitely like to pick up another licensed gig, double points if it’s Marvel because I’m going to spend my career circling Daredevil/Elektra/Iron Fist until I get to write one/all of them. And then I hopefully take that cred into making more creator owned stories. I just want a nice fat shelf full of floppies and trades of my comics, to be honest.
Be sure to order Negative Space #1, which is out today, July 8th.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover