You might think real estate might be an unusual subject to be talking about on Newsarama, but when you find out who’s doing the comics you might sing a different tune. Cartoonist Dan Goldman, fresh off his work on a book about the 2008 Presidential campaign called 08, has been working on a new series entitled Red Light Properties. But these places in the so-called Red Light district are marked not for their promiscuous endeavors but those of a supernatural nature. Goldman’s well known for his more exotic works like on the webcomic Kelly, and he continues that in this new comic – also on the web, this time at Tor.com.
We recently spoke with the creator…
Nrama: So Dan, how would you describe this series?
Goldman: In a nutshell, Red Light Properties is the story of a tiny family-run real estate office on Miami Beach that exorcizes and connects "previously-haunted" homes with people who've lost their own houses to foreclosure. It's both a family drama and straight-up "tropical horror", with spirits closing in on you as you squint in the sun. This story is the first book in a series of novels that I've been mapping out for years in between other projects that tells the tale of Jude Tobin's journey from chemically-enhanced shamanism into "the real deal", how their modest office grows alongside that, and what it does to his family in the process. In fact, this book begins with the end of Jude and Cecilia Tobin's marriage and spirals out from there. I quite like the idea of people that are stuck together, with family and work all tangled up so that even when things aren't working, they can't really ever be free of each other.
As fans of my series Kelly know, I love complicated and conflicted characters that turn you off and on at the flick of a switch, and Red Light Properties contains my absolute favorite characters. Jude Tobin contains equal parts Larry David and Terence McKenna; born with heavy psychic sensitivities, he uses/abuses a variety of "ethno-botanical hallucinogens" to cross the membrane between the living and the dead in order to perform exorcisms on haunted houses. The problem here is that he spends handfuls of every day tripping his tits off to make their own mortgage, which isn't really conducive to being a good husband to Cecilia and father to their son Turi.
Likewise, Cecilia is the business-brains of the outfit, and she's spent the last few years riding Jude to build what they've created against all odds, only to watch the business and their marriage slowly crumbling as her demands on Jude begin taking to take their toll. There's also the 70-year old mortgage originator Rhoda Lipschitz who uses their office as a base for her services, and the bouncy office receptionist/ghost photographer Zoya Pashenko, who was a fashion student until her camera began picking up... other models.
Nrama: With Jude and Cecilia’s marriage on the rocks here, I see their son being stuck in the middle. What led you to depicting this in a comic?
Goldman: The Tobins are a modern family in modern America; isn't there a ~60% divorce rate in the US now? It's the rule more than the exception at this point. When I was a kid in the 80s, I was the odd one out because my parents were actually still together while all my friends had two bedrooms in two different houses and two sets of parents. Even then, I watched what it did them, how it always affected their character; it's going to create a really nice arc for Turi over the course of things.
My parents eventually split up too, once I went off to college; you'd think it wouldn't matter to the kids at that point, but it does.... whether you think you're all adult about it or not.
Nrama: One of my favorites of this has been Zoya, the hired help / babysitter it seems. Will we be seeing more of her in this?
Goldman: Yes, Zoya Pashenko is one of the main characters; she's only the de facto babysitter because Cecilia's just selfish and Turi likes her, but she is RLP's office manager and sits up front by the entrance. Zoya's also the group photographer as she has some strange quirk to her body's electrical field that lets any digital camera she touches photograph spirits in the room, so she's essential to the Red Light Properties outfit. She's also been working in secret with Jude on their proving-ghosts-exist book project after-hours. There's so much more to her, and I like to peel my onions slow... but Zoya's a character I'm pretty crazy about.
Nrama: We’ve seen Jude convene with the ghost of his father, bartenders, and some others but haven’t seen him on an actual job for the business yet. When can readers expect that?Goldman: Very shortly; I purposely didn't structure this like a TV pilot, because... well, it's not TV. It's more important to me for the characters to come alive and the reader to grow them and their relations to each other, so that when the heat is slowly turned up over the course of the story, first with the marriage and business then with cases, you care enough for these events to have emotional power. The ghost-busting action you desire is coming soon enough though; I'm drawing them on a case right now.
Nrama: You’re seventy-some pages into it now, and its really developed in the past few pages – the talk Jude had with the ghost at the bar especially. How has the series grown for you as you’re doing these pages?
Goldman: Things definitely feel more solid as I move from script to actually drawing the pages, but I'm working from my own finished script, so the story's set in stone before even I do layouts. While drawing RLP, I am finding myself opening up my series project docs and making notes on the future volumes pretty regularly though; I'm really excited to work on the next 2 volumes of the series right now, I'm even dreaming about them while working on this one.
Nrama: Jude went on a really interesting trip thanks to the medicinal gifts of Amanda. Drawing that segment – with the pearls and the visions – how was that for you?
Goldman: It was a lot of fun to experiment with that "pearls" sequence, and someday I'll have time to do a process post about it as it was very low-tech the way I build that trip sequence. Given the nature of Jude's abilities (and his taste in drugs), something we're going to see a lot of more of. I really like using that kind of narrative device to bend the timeline and reveal/foreshadow larger things lurking just outside the frame (was that a hint?).
Nrama: After that, a new group entered the scene – SFAP. What can you tell us about their relationship with Jude and Cecilia?
Goldman: SFAP (the South Florida Association of Phenomenologists) has been present in the series from the first chapter; their head honcho Rory Partch recently visited, and we'll meet more of their group soon. They're a needy and self-important group of psychic academics who believe the world revolves around them and their research into "phenomena"; Jude was a member years ago and decided to leave after getting together with Cecilia and growing up a bit, turning his psychic talents towards their new business. As with any small collective, their members took that personally and need Jude to rejoin the group in order to save their own egos. They're definitely their own corner of the Red Light Properties universe with their own role to play in the larger story, but you're going to have to hear it from them.
Nrama: What would you say is coming up in future installments of Red Light Properties?
Goldman: Most obviously is the Golden Palms job, which Cecilia bet the Jentas she could solve in exchange for access to the rest of their haunted listings, and how the success or failure of that job affects the hanging threat of foreclosure on RLP's own building. Those b*tches gotta make some money fast to save their skins.
Nrama: This is set in Miami – a town I believe you spent considerable amount of time in. Why Miami?
Goldman: I grew up in Miami and it's an incredibly interesting and unique place, and though there are lots of stories set there, few of them really nail the darkness that it radiates. I believe in writing what you know, and knowing more before you start writing; there's loads of research that's gone into RLP, from city history and immigration patterns, to the current real estate market, to the Afro-Cuban religious traditions of santería. it's a love/hate letter to the weirdest place I've ever lived.
Nrama: How did the idea for Red Light Properties originally come about, Dan?
Goldman: From a glass of water, actually. Back in 2001, I was living in this cheap-ass house on a not-yet-gentrified street in Brooklyn with my brother, where we’d built a creative space upstairs to dream up many wonderful comic ideas together. There was another resident though; I could feel him in the twilight hours when I was sliding towards sleep, lurking around and watching. After a few months of catching someone out of the corner of my eye from the drafting table, I asked some “lifers” on our street about our house’s previous residents. Annette-from-a-few-doors-down told me that back in the ’80s there was an artist couple there, and that Charlie, a middle-aged painter, died in the upstairs bedroom (mine), and his wife moved out shortly after.Charlie’s name immediately sank into my subconscious like an anchor. A few weeks later, I was snoring on my futon when Charlie leaned into my head and introduced himself properly with a “hello” that came from between my eyes and sounded as though it was played through blown speakers/eardrums. I sat up bolt-upright; of course the room was empty, but my sweat was cold. I went downstairs, heart racing, to the kitchen and poured myself a glass of water from the kitchen sink… and by the time the water reached my stomach, there was something else there. A cast of characters, years of history, echoes of terrible things in the walls of buildings, and a realty office named Red Light Properties.
Nrama: You’ve been working on this for years – I remember you mentioning in the Newsarama Up & Coming feature we did on you years ago. What’s happened to develop it in the intervening time?
Goldman: I've been holding off on this one for a while, developing my craft on both the writing and art sides; I've had a vision for the look of the series years ago, and used Kelly as an experimental space for new comics ideas and techniques to use in Red Light Properties. When my other long-form comic projects came knocking, I had to slide my baby to the backburner for a while, where it simmered for a long time. I've got series notes and book outlines and research reaching back to mid-2001 that I've been carrying with me, up and down the coast and now down to South America.
With this series, I've actually spent last summer getting my head around the 3D modeling software Maya in order to create virtual environments that I can "shoot" panels in, with ultra-realistic lighting that I then place my drawn characters in. Working on Shooting War, I'd used this digital collage technique to create the dystopian Baghdad, which looked great until I had to turn the camera around to direct the drama. Using Maya to create virtual spaces means I can use all of my storytelling chops to create a fully-realized world for my characters to inhabit without having to stress over Creative-Commons-licensed collage elements panel after panel. That has been incredibly liberating.
Nrama: This is coming out online – not a first for you – through Tor.com. You’ve done webcomics at Act-I-Vate and Smithmag.net – why Tor.com for this?
Goldman: Tor.com is a very forward-thinking outfit that are way ahead of the publishing curve, and those are the sort of cats I want my dearest child to be associated with. Site-runner Pablo is as obsessed with experimenting with digital publishing as I am, and while working with him last year on my short Yes We Will, I was constantly goosing him about when they were going to start publishing long-form web serials. I was already prepping Red Light Properties to run as a standalone ComicPress site, but the last time I goosed, he said they were actually very interested in hearing what I had cooking, and from there everything just came together beautifully. Tor.com's got a huge community built around it that's composed not just of comics fans but readers of genre stories of all stripes, and I've always found my most passionate fans to be coming to my work from tangential angles.
From Tor, I'm really getting me the best of both worlds: a budget to work on my series full-time for a large online audience as well as total control over the content and the digital/print rights going forward. But more than that even, I get a feeling of trust and respect from them that I haven't yet felt: that I'm creating something great that they're willing to invest in. It's the perfect scenario for me to create Red Light Properties under, before even thinking about where it will turn up in print.
Nrama: You’re working on this after a recent move from New York to São Paulo, Brazil. What led to the move?
Goldman: Just a desire for a change; I'd been living in New York City for eleven long years, and each year it just got less and less interesting to me. There's such a big world out there, and I wanted to experience it while I'm still young and cute. My wife is a native Brazilian, so this was a relatively easy first jump to make.I've been in São Paulo just over a month, and it's already been quite the antidote to all that. And yes, on top of creating Red Light Properties, I've also been rewiring my brain for the metric system and 24hr time AND learn to speak/think in Portuguese all at once... but the standard of living is so much higher here. The food's better and healthier, people are sweet and polite, the weather's always gorgeous, the healthcare is affordable, the energy of the nation as a whole is totally different from the States. It's a wonderful place to take a deep breath and tell this story that's been burning in my brain since 2001, and that's something I want to approach with a steady hand from a place of gratitude.
Nrama: How long do you expect Red Light Properties to become?
Goldman: This first book, Red Light Properties, is going to be 200pgs (half of which is already in the can), but it's just the first in a series of graphic novels; I've written the next two already with plans in place for several more beyond that.
Chris Arrant is a freelance writer that's written about comics for Newsarama, Publishers Weekly, CBR, TOKYOPOP and Marvel Comics. For more, visit his website at www.chrisarrant.com.