Florida. What a place. Between the beaches, the personalities, and the up-and-down real estate market, it’s an exotic and tumultuous place. But with all those vacant properties, what happens when ghosts and the supernatural move in? You call Red Light Properties, Miami’s premiere renovator of haunted homes.
Launched by ACT-I-VATE co-founder and cartoonist Dan Goldman as a webcomic four years ago, the Red Light Properties comic series is finally making its way to print with a deluxe collection of its first storyarc by IDW. Scheduled to debut on January 29, Red Light Properties mixes “sun-bleached supernatural noir” as Goldman calls it with his taste for the supernatural. Goldman doesn’t pull any punches, mixing the personal dynamics of a husband and wife who aren’t getting along, with the dark comedy that comes out of death, life, and real estate.
Goldman, who recently completed a stint working with AMC on digital projects for both Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, continues to create new Red Light Properties stories each week digitally for Monkeybrain Comics. Newsarama spoke with him about the series’ first print collection, his time living in the thick of it in Florida, and the religious roots of the supernatural phenomena of the series.
Newsarama: Dan, for those just learning about Red Light Properties, break it down for us.
Dan Goldman: I’ve been writing Red Light Properties for over ten years and drawing it for the last four. The series is a genre mashup of ghost stories, family drama and real estate that centers around a husband/wife team who runs Red Light Properties, an exorcism and real estate agency specializing in “previously-haunted” homes. It follows Jude and Cecilia Tobin, their mess of a marriage and their young son who always seems to play second fiddle to spirits of the dead that Jude spends his down-time with, including the captive ghost of his own father. This first book in the series is 200 pages long, published by IDW and lands in comic shops on January 29.
Nrama: Why would someone want to hire Jude and his associates at Red Light Properties?
Goldman: You’d need the services of Red Light Properties if you wake up feeling like someone else is in the room with at night (when there isn’t), or if stains appear on the walls after you’ve repeatedly washed them off. If your home has a bizarre smell you can’t explain or your family always seems to get into fights in one room in the house.
These are all results of echoes, energies that remain in a home after someone has died or something traumatic has happened that’s embedded itself into the structure… and houses that feel weird don’t sell. Ask any real-life realtor. It takes a certified professional like our man Jude Tobin to cross the Membrane between the living world and the dead to access that pattern and break it.
Jude’s methods are… unorthodox, but his assistant Zoya is right there with a camera that shoots “skeptic” photos of things in the room with you that can’t see. And if you’re not a believer by that point, you’ll still get the benefits of Red Light Properties' "green light” certification and buyer referral service.
Nrama: This book mixes ghost stories and real estate, all set in the unique world of South Florida. Writer Carl Hiaasen has made a mint on telling stories using the unique culture of Florida, so for you – as a former resident of the Sunshine state – how is it setting it up here in this part of America?
Goldman: I grew up down in South Florida, and it’s a bizarre and totally unique culture. Setting the series there lets me riff on places and ideas I grew up around, but also adds a unique flavor I don’t see in comics very often, this idea of sun-bleached supernatural noir. Florida’s also not just one flavor like it is on TV, there’s a whole spectrum from retirement communities like the Golden Palms community that Red Light Properties visits in this volume, to the various Cuban/Haitian/Colombian immigrant enclaves to the rollerblading-calendar-model-slash-adult-film-star scene on South Beach. Red Light Properties lets me use all of that material to talk about life and death and America and consciousness and family.
So, it’s pretty fertile ground down there, you know?
Nrama: Don’t I know it. Red Light Properties has been a long journey for you, from Tor to self-publishing online and now ultimately coming to print at IDW. How’s it going to feel when you have the first volume in your hands?
Goldman: It’s going to feel great, Chris. Especially since IDW’s let me play with all kinds of toys in the publication design. You can’t tell from seeing the book jacket online, but this volume actually has hidden glow-in-the-dark ghosts in that white background you can only see with the lights off. And once you’ve read the book, you’ll recognize all of them.
Nrama: Red Light Properties has evolved from its iterations digitally – is the IDW print edition just a printing of the comic people read digitally, or is there something more in this package?
Goldman: Actually, this version of the story’s never been seen before, and I’m considering this the definitive version of the story that’s had a few iterations already. Aside from the 20+ pages the world has never seen before, I’ve recolored and re-lettered literally the entire book as well as redrawn many panels, swapped out early 3D modeling work for updated models, clarified some initially sloppy storytelling and tweaked a good deal of the dialogue. Lettering is normally my final pass at my own scripts, so this was, as they say, another chance to get it right.
Nrama: I’ve known you and your work for going on a decade now, and I’ve never seen you shy away from bawdiness – even embracing somewhat in your earlier webcomic Kelly. Can you talk about doing mature material and not shying away from exploring that?
Goldman: I’m an adult and my brain wants adult entertainment… and that old chestnut of “make the book you want to read” definitely 100% applies here. I don’t have a lot of patience for art or stories that play it safe to be commercial in any medium, especially in today’s age when the cultural climate seems to be all about how far you can take a thing. It feels like the kid gloves are off on television, so perhaps the American comic-book audience has seen enough Breaking Bad or whatever by now to be a little more demanding from their comics? I believe they have. If TV shows are the new novels, then our generation is a lot more “literate” in terms of understanding story then they were before Tony Soprano showed up, you know?
Nrama:The “magic” that Jude uses here to root out the supernatural has its roots in Santeria. How did you become aware of la Religión, and how did you go about using it for your story?
Goldman: Growing up in Miami means you’re going to be around Santería at some point as it’s everywhere. My first direct exposure to it was probably through my dad’s secretary, who insisted he bring home these weird red santo candles and say a little prayer in Spanish when he lit them while he was waiting for a deal to close. It worked but he would never admit the orishas had any part in it.
Later when I was in college, pretty much all my friends had parents or family members who worked with orishas. It’s a beautiful religion, not at all the scary thing white media makes it out to be… and I got to understand it deeper while living in Brazil as there are different offshoots of the same Yoruba religion practiced there (umbanda, candomblé) that came over from West Africa with the slave trade. The same spirits with different spellings. It’s fascinating and powerful stuff.
Nrama: If this print edition proves successful, how many print volumes could you see Red Light Properties going?
Goldman: Approximately eighty-seven volumes in total.
Goldman: I’ve got the Tobins’ lives all mapped out and it’s full steam ahead from here. I know what how it all ends, but I can’t see it from where I’m standing. I’ve done 300 pages of RLP thus far, which is just after the beginning. I plan on dictating Red Light Properties stories from the afterlife via ouija board.
Nrama: In addition to doing this, you've been parlaying your digital skills online for AMC, doing the Facebook game for The Walking Dead, as well as doing some unique online second screen material for Breaking Bad. What’s it like working in those worlds and coming back to Red Light Properties and your own work?
Goldman: The AMC projects are a lot of fun and I’ve gotten to work with some really talented people. I was one of less than 100 people in the world who knew Walter White’s fate on Breaking Bad months before the rest of the world while I was working on the Story Sync application. Suddenly I had this dark secret I couldn’t dare mention to anyone, including my wife (it was our favorite show); I went into the AMC offices every week and did this high-security secret work never to be spoken of outside of AMC Digital offices. That was totally cool.
But creating Red Light Properties is definitely right where I belong. Nothing I’ve ever done has ever felt as real or as right as telling stories from that grungy little real estate office on Miami Beach.