Dan Goldman is a familiar name for many people who read webcomics. He was one of the founding members of the webcomics collective Act-i-vate where he’s created comics including "Kelly" and "Hairkut," in addition to contributing comics to Popgun and tor.com. He illustrated "Shooting War," the Eisner nominated graphic novel that began as a serialized comic in "Smith Magazine" as well as the acclaimed "08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail."
Goldman’s newest project is writing and illustrating "Red Light Properties," the first book-length graphic novel to be serialized by Tor.com. The genre publisher's website has been running original fiction and comics for a while now, including Goldman’s own short comic "Yes We Will" that ran on the site last year. "Red Light Properties" began running on January 5 with new installments scheduled to appear every Tuesday. CBR News spoke with Goldman about haunted real estate, economic slumps, and everything else we can look forward to in his new project.
CBR News: For starters, Dan, what is "Red Light Properties?"
Dan Goldman: "Red Light Properties" is the first in a series of graphic novels about a small real estate office on Miami Beach called Red Light Properties who specialize in "red light properties," that is, haunted houses that they list and exorcize and then find occupants for. Their focus is placing South Floridians who've lost their home in the post-mortgage foreclosure landscape with affordable places to live while liberating haunted-homeowners of properties that they couldn't get rid of otherwise. Once a red light property has been cleaned of its unwanted etheric tenants, it is certified by RLP's staff and can go on the housing market with a green light rating, now certified as being free of hauntings.
Where did this story come from, because while it sounds very timely, you mentioned on your blog that you've been thinking about this for a while.
I came up with the idea back in 2001, and I've been developing it for years while honing my art/writing craft and getting projects like "Shooting War" and "08" under my belt. I've always wanted to write and draw my own materials as it's the purest form of comics to me, and these characters' story is the thing I've been building towards for nine years.
The universe has a nice way of dovetailing reality into my story, though, with the Great Recession hitting us and the housing crash already 18 months simmering. Having the story take place in Miami has long been integral to the series and tone, but more recently, my own mother (a realtor herself of many years) is facing foreclosure on her home, and the anger/frustration of her experience definitely poured gasoline onto my already-burning story. Talking with her the last few years about the market, through good times and bad, has let me write this series in a way that I think homeowners, and even realtors, will nod their head and crack their knuckles as they read it.
What was behind your thinking to serialize the story on the web, and what do you think made this story right for this particular presentation?
After coming off "08" for a major book publisher, I got to watch something I'd worked on in relative silence for over a year bounce into stores, onto the front tables of Barnes & Nobles and promptly disappear forever in the span of about ten days. That was really sobering, and made me rethink how I wanted to approach my work going forward. I was really proud of the way "08" turned out, but the dinosaur-think of our publisher and the speed at which they adapted to a quickly-changing publishing landscape really pissed me off; most of my friends still haven't read it, and I've seen the book only at a few select comic shops. The whole reason I make comics is so people will read them, you know? It made me think back to working online and how strong and steady your readership can grow in that realm. Far more people read "Shooting War" online than ever purchased the book; you can romanticize the physical object all you like, but to me, it's about transmitting a story around a massive digital campfire, and for that, you cannot beat publishing online.
I knew I wanted to serialize RLP online for that reason, and for the experimentation I'd be able to do there before going to print. Plus, serialization is something I've really missed, working in that book-a-year vacuum. I really got off on stringing the audience along with "Kelly," and the story on RLP is something I've been saving for a long time.
I'm also playing with a handful of new ideas with this, mostly noticeably the panel-reveal click-throughs. About this time last year, Vin Deighan (Frank Quitely) sent me that Balak01 piece that just lit my brain on fire, and I'd incorporated a version of that into an original comic I was creating for AMC TV for the new "The Prisoner" reboot that ultimately didn't happen. When I showed my unpublished Prisoner story to Pablo at Tor.com and explained how I wanted to use this mechanic to tell RLP's story, he felt so strongly about it that we figured out how to incorporate the mechanic into Tor's new comic-player software.
How did you end up at tor.com? I know you had a relationship with them from a webcomic you had on the site last year "Yes We Will" but why were they interested in a long form project like this and what made it appealing for you?
My experience creating "Yes We Will" for Tor.com went very well for me; Pablo told me at the time, it was their most-viewed piece of content on their entire site, and that got their higher-ups scratching their chins about more comics content for Tor.com. That got me scratching my chin, and I kept asking Pablo about doing some long-form stuff for them. Eventually, "not yet" became "whatchoo got?" and like I said, I've been tending to this series for nine years and things were well-gestated and already itching to say hello.
You've worked on webcomics before, mostly famously as the artist of "Shooting War" and as a member of the Act-i-vate collective. What is it you really enjoy about working on the web and the possibilities there?
Some of my best friends are musicians, and I was always jealous that their mode of expression was live and immediate and group-oriented; at best I'd get to design the gig flyer. I was otherwise always holed up in a corner with a sketchbook and a pot of coffee at 4am. When I started putting my work online in 2006, I finally felt that buzz of "playing live" (with an obvious delay), of seeing and feeling your work reaching your audience panel by panel, page by page... That's a fat buzz.
There's also so much new ground to cover, and creating comics the way I do in the styles I do, I find the traditional tastes in American comics don't react as rabidly, but the web generation of readers who digest equal parts comics, illustrations, films and games really get what I'm doing and appreciate the flavor of the art and the kind of stories I work in. It's not just one type of cat; it's a diagonal slice of people across a global network. So, the short answer is, I feel my audience (at least for now) is online rather in a direct market comic shop next to the Golden Age Green Lantern figures.
After your last book, "08," which was a nonfiction account of the 2008 Presidential election, what are you enjoying most about RLP?
That it's got nothing to do with a political system that I've never really believed in. As strong a book as I think "08" turned out, working on it took me to pits of cynicism in myself that I don't like to taste. I'm a dreamer and lover by nature, and I spend my energy on higher-level abstractions than politics, so working on '08' I felt moored to a mundane reality I've fought my whole life to escape. Like "Kelly," working on "Red Light Properties" lets me visualize those kinds of metaphysical abstractions through Jude Tobin's travels as a shaman, and his responsibilities that tie him Muggle-world as he straddles the membrane between life and death.
It's far a higher and truer reality than politics, which is like watching pigs root around in shit for spoilt apples; watching the dream of Obama-Future quickly tarnish is Exhibit A for that, and I don't want to waste any more time doing lower-level thinking in my own work. There's 24 hours a day of news programs and TV and legal thrillers for that.
You've done a number of comics projects on your own, but if I'm not mistaken, they've all been shorter projects. Was it intimidating taking on a project of this size, or do you feel you've been building up to this?
It's all been building up to this, with every single thing I've done. Each one contained lessons that i'm putting into play here. They've all been long-form projects themselves, but I'm comfortable with the 200-ish page story, having done it a few times now, so the idea of dropping the phrase "a series of graphic novels" isn't as scary as it would've been years ago.
I love the structure of long-form TV series like the "The Sopranos" or "Breaking Bad" or "The Wire," and tend to think of stories in those shapes.