[Interview] Dan Goldman talks Death, Drugs, Horror, and His Creative Process in “Red Light Properties.”

Jude-2009sm

Dan Goldman’s “Red Light Properties” releases today from IDW. It is the story of real estate exorcists who clear spirits out of haunted homes to prepare them for sale. The story and the artwork were entirely created by Dan and the book is a true labour of love. Building 3D virtual sets to shoot inside of, working off actors’ performances (often his own), Goldman produces the series using just a laptop, a Wacom stylus and a smartphone.

Goldman has become one of the leading thinkers and creators for web comics. Along with writing and drawing his own groundbreaking comics, he works on AMC’s Story Sync applications for The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. He’s spoken at SXSW Interactive, MIT’s Futures of Entertainment and numerous comic book conventions about digital-first publishing and the digital-only production processes.

Bloody-Disgusting sat down with Dan to talk about his monumental release.

Bloody-Disgusting: Everything is dying in the story, the business, the marriage, and the market, why create such a dreadful theme within a sun-drenched environment?

Dan Goldman: That’s the funny thing to me about Florida, all the suffering and terror toasting in the sunshine. I grew up down there in the 1980s, and there was a whole generation of transplants (people who moved there from NJ, NY, etc in the 60s and 70s) who were dropping dead all over the place. I’d go out for breakfast with my parents and some old man would grab at his chest and collapse, his wife would start screaming, the paramedics would rush in too late and they’d cart him out with a blanket over his face.

I remember that kind of thing happening all the time, sunshine and death, constant reminders of your own mortality. And as that generation slowly died off, their homes hit the market… and that got my brain wiggling. People die everywhere, in every city and town on earth, but South Florida’s a very particular setting for this story.

BD:Jude deals with drugs in order to see the spirit world. What is your experience with psychedelics?

DG:I’ve logged my fair share of hours with psychedelics, but always as a tool for self-exploration more than an excuse to get fucked-up and laugh at the wallpaper moving. I’ve had (re)formative experiences, particularly in my twenties, that helped me edit out weak parts of myself that I’d inherited from family and replace them with more functional chunks of code… and that’s made huge differences in the way I’ve lived my life. Getting into the work of scientist John C. Lilly was big touchstone for me too, understanding human egos-as-editable-software.

Used as tools instead of escapes, psychedelics can be fantastic tools for self-growth, healing and understanding. That’s very much Jude Tobin’s view as well. He uses them to boost his clairvoyant abilities and enter the closed reality-loop of what we call “ghosts” to get them break their cycling energy and dissipate. I’ve had a few weird experiences like that before, seeing other people’s memories while in that state of mind, and that definitely fed into who Jude would become.

BD:How much research went into the book?

DG:Other than living there for 20-plus years? I had the idea for the series living in New York the summer before 9-11, and the first draft actually took place in Brooklyn, but I went down to visit my mother for the holidays and passed almost instantly, Red Light just HAD to take place in South Florida. I moved down there for a while with the intent of working on the series, but life got weird and I wound up living and soaking the place up from a different perspective, into the soul of it, you know? The research has happened since I returned from there in 2003, and I’ve gone back and forth in spurts. It’s still ongoing, like the series itself.

In addition to studying the real estate market and the history of Florida itself, RLP has taken me into all kinds of bizarre readings into phenomenology, paranormal detection, psychedelics, Yoruba religion, Cuban history, etc. The deeper into it I go, more doors appear, and I’m really lucky to have my own characters as a guide.

BD:Phenomenology is wildly outside the norm, what brought on interest in exploring the field?

DG:Probably personal pain, at first. Feelings upon leaving my parents’ house of being a broken little man-child who wanted to be something more but didn’t know what yet. I couldn’t see the expanse of my own potential, maybe I still don’t, but digging into the idea of subjective reality and internal landscapes as a way forward to creating the life I wanted to lead came when the right reading list fell into my lap. I took to the library like a kitten to a saucer of milk during a very strange time in my life that’s arguably still happening and I hope it never ends.

BD:Jude is a broken man who is profoundly lost, yet his relationships make him endearing, but he almost carries his gift like a curse. Has he lost his passion?

DG:No, he just experiences it more on the dead side of the Membrane than the living, and that’s his fault, his flaw. He’s safer there because he’s more than human in his shamanic state, it’s a secret artistic life for him where nothing can hurt him but it also cuts him off from everyone else around him that is still living. Therein lies the rub.

BD:What makes “Red Light Properties” different from other ghost stories?

DG:Other than the fact that the ghost hunters are also real estate agents? I suppose that these ghost stories are ongoing adventures that tell a larger story, not just self-contained spooky tales. The focus stays on the Tobins’ world and we take it all in through them, with the highest tension levels actually see-sawing between the horror of the ghost stories and the dramas happening in the lives of the living characters.

BD:Your artistic style is a wild combination of different assets using photographs, 3d models and hand drawings. How did you create or come up with the look for the book?

DG:I started developing this style when my work went all-digital back in 2002 and it’s been an ongoing experiment since then. On my graphic novel SHOOTING WAR, the whole future-Iraq-war was created using collage. RED LIGHT PROPERTIES is the first project I’ve done using 3D modeling as part of the workflow. This way I can “shoot” on virtual, relight day for night, move around furniture, have the scenery evolve along with the story, and it makes my life a lot easier (and the setting feel more alive to me).

The look of the book from its web launch to its final print publication has developed a lot in my eyes. It continues to, as you’ll see in the second book, which is where my layouts start getting really nutso.

BD:How do you decide when to use a photograph and when to create a background?

DG:I try to never use only photographs, but at least collage together images with 3 or more layers; the end effect gets hyperreal. I’m a big fan of the visual style in the Wachowski’s SPEED RACER movie and it’s important to me that the look of RED LIGHT PROPERTIES has the same depth as the storyline.

BD:How did you create the intense and overwhelming look of the spirit world and the drug trips?

DG:Again, probably a combination of research and digital technique. I draw on things I’ve seen in my own experiences and in my own imagination and find tricks to render them from things I find out in the world. I’ve used chicken eggs, gemstones, strings of pearls, medical photos, astronomical photos, burned paper, wallpaper fragments, everything all together to create where Jude goes when he passes through the Membrane.

BD:What was the inspiration for the book?

DG:It’s a combination of growing up in the “sunny death” of South Florida I mentioned before, and my mother being a realtor in Miami during the late eighties, telling me war stories from the front every day after school. I didn’t realize how deeply they’d sunken in until I started this series and it all started bleeding out of me into the work.

BD:The level of detail in the characters is incredible. Were photos used as reference?

DG:Photos and videos, to get nuances and performances. I play a handful of the characters, use a few friends to help. The actual photos are the most embarrassing images of myself that you’ll never, ever see, but the little things like tension in the forearms while someone’s waving their hands in the air and screaming are hard to realistically invent out of thin air. I love having low-tech tools that help me get that extra emotion onto the page.

BD:The book is less about haunted properties and more about haunted lives. Was this a conscious choice?

DG:Definitely, on both sides of the Membrane. It makes for a more gripping read if you understand and care about the characters before all the crazy shit starts happening, the stakes are much higher that way.

BD:Do you believe in paranormal entities?

DG:I believe our senses are limited. I believe we don’t use enough of our brain hardware. I believe our society has winnowed down what we’re allowed to acknowledge as “real” into a tiny slice of what exists in fear of being labelled a kook. Do I believe in ghosts per se? Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t… but I definitely believe that we exist on more levels then we are given tools to manage, and I think it’s foolish to reject anything outside that for the sake of a narrow and self-imposed framework.

BD:What are your favorite horror stories or movies?

DG:To me, horror is always a psychological FEAR thing, not a shock or scare. I get bored by (most) zombies/axe-murderers/vampires and always gravitated toward skin-crawling building horror instead of shock-and-gore. A lot of the J-horror and K-horror resurgence since the late nineties has done horror so well that Hollywood’s remade them, most of the time weakly, sometimes brilliantly.

For horror films, I love the ones that actually scare the shit out of me: Kubrick’s THE SHINING, the horror films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the Japanese classic ghost story anthology KWAIDAN gets me every time. I’m also a giant Cronenberg body-horror fan, especially THE FLY and VIDEODROME.

I grew up reading Stephen King in the eighties, he was my first adult author and I read him waaaayyyy too early, so that DNA is buried deep. I’m also really into noir that borders on horror, especially rough-and-tumble Florida noir like Charles Willeford and classics like Jim Thompson, ands some of those tones bleed into this series. Also, Chuck Wendig’s Miriam Black novels are a fantastic bare-knuckled blend of supernatural and gritty noir. If you haven’t read those, seek out his book BLACKBIRDS immediately.

BD: The sense of dread in the book is overwhelming, and consumes everything around Jude but his attitude creates a light mood of comedy. Why this juxtaposition?

DG: When you get down to it, most of our world is this cruel and unreal shitshow and it all ends in death, and you’ve got to snatch your good times from even the worst experiences; the way Jude copes is the way most of us are forced to… You have to laugh and fun your way through it or you’ll never make it out in one piece.

Check out our glowing review of this must have book here.

“Red Light Properties” hits comic shops today, February 5th and book stores later this month on February 19th.

If you like the book, and want to chat with Dan yourself you can find him here:

February 19: Word Books (Brooklyn, NY)
March TBD: Book People (Austin, TX)
March 12: Austin Books (Austin, TX)
March 22: Locust Moon Comics (Philadelphia, PA)
May 11-12: TCAF (Toronto, ON)
June 20-22: Heroes Con (Charlotte, NC) [tentatively]
July 24-27: SDCC (San Diego, CA)
Sept 5-7: Baltimore Con (Baltimore, MD) <<<<< hoping to launch RLP Vol. 2 here
10/9-12: NYCC (New York, NY)
10/25: Locust Moon Festival (Philadelphia, PA)
12/21-22: Mumbai Comic-Con (Mumbai, India)