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[Interview] Ryan K Lindsay Talks John Carpenter Inspired ‘Headspace’

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MonkeyBrain comics has been paving the way for independent digital comics, releasing quality, affordable titles from passionate creators. Ryan K Lindsay, no stranger to indie comics, just released the first issue of his ambitious new crime/horror/sci-fi series “Headspace” through MonkeyBrain on Wednesday, and it falls right in line with the rest of MonkeyBrain’s books. The high-concept series follows Shane, the sheriff of Carpenter Cove, who discovers that his strange town is actually a construct in the mind of a killer. It only gets crazier from there.

I sat down with Lindsay to chat about the crazy idea behind “Headspace”, his love for horror and sci-fi, and getting into the mind of a serial killer.

BD: How did Headspace come to be? How do you pitch such a crazy story?

Ryan K Lindsay: The initial kernel was a thought I had of a prison created inside the mind of a man by the government because of overpopulated prisons and real estate issues. It sat, an idea, not a story, and then Eric Zawadzki sent me a DM on twitter about collaborating and we ended up putting this idea to work for us, albeit in a now much different way.

From there, Eric and I spent months massaging the story, getting the characters and the moments just right, and this was all at the end of 2012 so by the time ECCC rolled around, and I flew over, Eric and I pitched it around. Pitching the book was fun but felt a little difficult. It’s a heady concept (excuse the pun) and one I don’t like dropping in just one sentence because it leaves out layers that I feel are important. I had the story paired down to a soundbite chunk – a concept I feel I’m still doing now as we hit the press and the public – and we were lucky enough to land at Monkeybrain, a literal dream publisher of mine from their very first day.

BD: I know you love The Thing, so I gotta ask, is the name of the fictional city in Headspace, Carpenter Cove, inspired by John Carpenter?

RKL: Ha, man, you know it. Carpenter Cove is such a pivotal setting in the book, it really is another character as it goes through these changes, that I knew I wanted a killer name, yet not something so involved it would isolate or deflect people. I can’t remember exactly how I landed on it but once it was there it never budged an inch. John Carpenter is a man who fuelled the imagination of my childhood and so to nod to him in this way means a lot to me.

BD: The book takes place in a world that is far from normal. How do you go about creating such a bizarre world, yet one that we can understand from the get-go?

RKL: We put in a lot of work defining the parameters and rules of the Cove. Everything had to have a reason and everything had to make sense. We open with Shane, the sheriff of Carpenter Cove, performing his duties even though he doesn’t really know why. He doesn’t know how he got to this place, where he was before, what he should really be doing or thinking so he just goes about this role somehow laid out in front of him. He keeps the peace in the Cove. And all of this will be explained moving forward, there is a reason these people were clouded in their mind, and there is a reason they were given jobs, and even why they were there in the first place. We thought everything through – or, lord, I hope everything, I’m sure someone will pick a major plothole for us in good enough time, ha.

As for making the Cove bizarre and yet understandable, really that’s all Eric Zawadzki. The way he builds locations and moves his players through it is masterful. Through the colours he creates the tone of this town and I felt it was my job to match his lead with the words I dropped. I had to complement his presentation of the Cove. I hope, in the end, we’ve created a memorable landscape but one we can also play in because we’re only just getting started in showing you what the Cove can do and what it has in store for Shane.

BD: You also waste no time showing that violence and murder are a big part of this world.

RKL: The story takes place in the mind of a killer, and the killer’s mind is invading this safehaven. Things are not going to be pretty. His thoughts, fears, memories, everything are just pulsating over Carpenter Cove in waves we can’t even comprehend with modern science. The Cove is not going to be a nice place and putting Shane, a man who states in the opening sequence that he doesn’t believe in killing, against this murder and mayhem is truly going to test him and his stance.

Then we have Max, the killer, in the real world and Chris Peterson and Marissa Louise drop bombs with their art collaboration. Max is a slick and efficient killer, who does what he must, and then he retreats into himself. An introspective man with a hidden world inside him is going to be a man torn apart.

BD: In the first issue Shane starts to realize that there is something very wrong in Carpenter Cove, and also starts to see glimpses of his past life. Can we expect those worlds to collide more in future issues? How does the world start to change around him?

RKL: Yes, Shane’s memories of the real world come back to him and this sparks his quest, he has to get out of Carpenter Cove and back to the real world and his real life. His returned knowledge of his life is obviously a major motivator for him but things also slowly tighten closer as things from the real world really do collide with this headspace. We will learn more about Shane, and then more about Max, and we’ll see that just leaving the Cove isn’t the only complication to be solved.

BD: The concept of literally going into the mind of a killer is intriguing and quite disturbing, yet the world you present is almost quirky. Why did you go in that direction as opposed to making it completely dark and horrific?

RKL: There are two reasons. One, we open on Carpenter Cove and it’s this messed up government facility. My favourite character in the world, Gil the dogheaded cyborg bartender, is a perfect example of how the government were running this place. The Cove was the safehaven, it was this weird little place, and so we play with it quirky because it’s what leaks into it now that is the black tar of the mind. I’m also not overly interested in just writing the bleakest stuff imaginable, I wanted this book to feel a little gonzo.

As for the second reason, well, I think you’ll find that out in issue #5

BD: You’re a huge science fiction fan, yeah?

RKL: Oh, man, so much. I grew up devouring horror and science fiction as a kid because my eldest brother is a decade more mature than I. I saw things no 6 year old should see, and I loved it. I always thought I’d be a horror writer, Stephen King and Clive Barker being the muses, but I’ve found I like playing with the sci fi genre a lot more. I think it’s because it can be more free, more open. Look at Headspace, we make up this entire science idea that we’ll never have to explain because it’s complete fiction. I know how it works, on a layman’s level, and we discuss it in the book as much as the narrative needs it, but otherwise I get to wholly make this up. That’s why I love sci fi. If I can then blend some genuine horror into the sci fi then my job is done.

BD: As a fellow Philip K. Dick enthusiast, it’s clear that he’s a big influence on Headspace. First, how did you first come into contact with Dick’s work?

RKL: I was twelve or thirteen and at a local carpark market sale. My hometown had them every weekend and I’d ride my bike down and touch all the secondhand books. I was filling my King/Barker collection and branching into other places and one weekend I picked up this book and it was 50c. I dug the cover so I took a gamble. The book was A Maze of Death by PKD and while it’s nowhere near his finest it’ll always hold a strong place in my heart. I read this book and it blew the doors off my mind. I really dug it so I started tracking down more PKD, but strangely enough, I don’t know how it is in North America but, in Australia PKD paperbacks are super hard to find. Most secondhand book stores don’t have any, or the ones the have are prices out of their asshole. This has meant that my collection, which is currently at 37 paperbacks in length, has been a bloody hard slog to accumulate.

But it’s worth it because each masterpiece I read reminds me how damn good PKD is.

BD: What about Dick’s specific brand of sci-fi appeals to you? How do you pay homage, but make it your own at the same time?

RKL: I’ve long been floored by PKD’s ability to tell strange stories in other worlds with wide casts of characters that always end up commenting on our society. His brand of social commentary is without peer because you don’t even see it coming. You read things like Clans of the Alphane Moon or The Days of Perky Pat and you can see PKD is just on a whole other level. Parallel to this, I also love how PKD plays with layers of reality, like in Time Out of Joint and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (which I wish wish wish Christopher Nolan would adapt to the screen), and it’s this aspect I think that informs Headspace more than anything else. That idea of not knowing what is real, but having the surreal and non-real be just as dangerous to you anyway is a fantastic conceit to work with.

In the end, I am happy to be informed and inspired by PKD but I don’t want to be PKD Lite. And I don’t think anyone will look at this book and think it’s anything close to PKD (make your jokes about quality level now, people) because I’m really working my ass off to make this feel more like a Ryan K Lindsay written book than anything else. It’s got those blends of horror, and family, that set it out as uniquely being our story. Plus, I’ve also got the secret weapons of Zawadzki, Peterson, and Louise who PKD certainly never had, though his paperback covers were always so damn gorgeous…but Eric is killing it on our covers so I think I can take a run at the champ and feel good about our book.

BD: There are also elements of cosmic horror. How does this tie into everything else going on?

RKL: This is poor Max’s mind showing its true colours. All the things he keeps close to his chest, all the repressed emotional ink he bottles up, is spewing onto the streets of Carpenter Cove and the nasty we see here is some of the worst Max has within himself – though there is worse to come, we promise.

I figured, we’re dealing with an imaginative landscape so why go small? Everything should be big, bombastic, insane, gonzo because, well, basically we can. Plus, Max is a messed up dude so you never know what you’ll find inside him. But just getting to bring to life the fears and terrible shadowy corners of a killer’s mind was too much fun of an opportunity to pass up. Especially when Eric’s doing the heavy visual lifting because flying dragons and a town gone wild look amazing through his mind’s eye.

BD: You’ve worked in creator-owned quite a lot, especially with some of the more independent publishers. Why do you think there’s been such a shift toward creator owned material in recent years?

RKL: I think it’s the freedom offered. I recently said that if you give amazing talent the ability to steer their own ship then they’ll always expand horizons and maps. Right now, we are seeing this. The brightest names and minds in the game are at a place where they can fiscally dive into the CO pool and make a living from it, which is nigh on impossible to do at the start of your career. It’s no secret or surprise that a whole slew of the best books running right now are coming from industry titans, and old school names, doing their CO work. Playing in a sandbox is fun, and oft yields great work, but being the master of your domain, and being allowed to set the rules to your kingdom is just always going to offer up richer narratives with deeper intent. Most creators have done their best work on their own properties, I think most will agree with this in the majority of the statement.

And this has always been the way but the shift now is the readers are truly understanding it and instead of choosing the houses of Marvel or DC like this is some sort of Game of Thrones battle with your money and spare reading time so many readers are branching out, and following names, and trying new things because of online hype and general curiosity and desire to feed upon something new. The readers want it, thus support it, so creators feel supported, and create more of it, so the readers have more and want more. It’s a good spiral for the industry to be in right now. And I’m happy to do my bit because I love CO projects.

BD: What else do you have in the works?

RKL: The good ship Headspace will charge on through all of 2014 and I think people will dig how deep we go with this sucker. Issue #2 really solidifies this world and Shane’s terrible place in it, #3 ends on such a whopping page of glorious artwork from Eric that it’s criminal for him to be this great at delivering the good moments, and then #4-5 lift the game even further until you won’t believe what happens at the end of #6. From there, well…you’ll see.

Later in the year, I have Chum, a beach noir tale that’s my shot at a Gold Medal paperback style killer tale. It’s got Sami Kivela on art with Marissa Louise on colours and Nic J Shaw on letters.

I’m also working two new DIY one-shots: one is this weird crime tale like Polanski made it but it’s got an anthropomorphic lead and it’s also got Sami on art, and the other is a lady kung fu revenge tale from local legend Louie Joyce. Both of these are insanely tight and beautiful books.

BD: Anything else you want readers to know about Headspace?

RKL: I want them to know we have a plan. I want them to know, from the very first page, everything means something. If you pay attention, and stick with us, you’ll be rewarded with a dense story that’ll absolutely shatter your mind and your heart. Plus, y’know, it’s 99c an issue, try the first one with 22 pages and some back matter because that’s a steal and I guarantee you’ll be hooked.