A Chat With Creator Dan Goldman of RED LIGHT PROPERTIES
By Eric Diaz on December 20, 2013
Early next year, Dan Goldman’s critically-acclaimed cult favorite web comic Red Light Properties is going to be making its long-awaited print debut from IDW. Re-edited, re-lettered, re-colored and re-scripted, the first-ever print edition of Red Light Properties will be available as a trade paperback in late January, 2014. The book includes more than 20 never-before-seen pages and is designed to bring Red Light Properties to a whole new audience, the first of an ongoing series of releases from IDW.
Here’s the official description: “Red Light Properties presents the adventures of an unusual Miami real estate agency with a very specific business model. The husband-and-wife run agency unearths properties that are unsellable because they’re haunted. The husband, Jude Tobin, then cleans out said haunted homes by whatever (often unsavory) means necessary. The ghosts find closure. The seller unloads their property. The RLP Agency receives a fee. Everyone wins… except maybe for the Tobins, who are barely on speaking terms. You see, it’s not an easy business, flipping haunted houses.”
We talked to Dan about the comic, the characters, and where he might take them next:
Nerdist: So I just read the collection for Red Light Properties a few days ago, and I really, really loved it a lot. And it is a nice bit of happenstance that I’m the one who’s doing the interview with you, considering this book has so many Cuban characters, since I am actually Cuban- American. And I gotta say, you write Cuban- Americans really well. So I am just curious, did you grow up in Florida? Because you have the voice down, the whole Cuban-American voice of certain characters. It feels pretty authentic.
Dan Goldman: Oh yeah, I grew up in Miami. I wasn’t born there, and I’m not Latino. But, I did grow up down there. You know I had friends, not just Cuban-Americans, but all kinds of Latinos, really, just, you know, everybody’s really like there now in Miami, all kinds of Latino-Americans. But yeah that’s good to hear, because my Spanish is really rusty, actually. And it actually got messed up because I am living in New York now, but I just spent three years in São Paulo, Brazil, and having Portuguese downloaded into my brain really messed up my Spanish, so I was really terrified that I was going to sneak in like some Portuñol (Portuguese and Spanish mixed) into my dialogue.
N: My first thoughts when reading this were, “Okay. This was written by somebody who has been around Cubans or is Cuban, one of the two.” And frankly, you don’t see a whole lot of Cubans represented in comics, they all tend to be “generic all-purpose Latino.” It’s kind of annoying.
DG: I hate the whole generic Latino/Latina thing that goes on in so much TV and film, like that woman on Modern Family… I mean, not to just pick on her, but it’s like…come on, the whole “Chiquita Banana” thing? For real? It’s not cool.
N: So what was the initial inspiration for doing Red Light Properties?
DG: It’s a lot of things, I mean there’s like you know, a little pieces that I’ve stolen from my life. You know, different relationships, a little bit of my parents, a little bit of this girlfriend, a little bit of that. But my mother, when I was growing up in Florida, she was a realtor, and, you know, she would pick me up from school, and she would be bitching about this client or that client, and then she’d see a house and she’d have to drive by, and we’d go peek. So I don’t know, there was always something about South Florida and real estate that just sort of stuck in there, and then at the same time, I was always obsessed with the paranormal, and specifically that feeling that you get in the middle of the night when you are like, “I’m not really alone here, am I?” That feeling that you get, you know it when you feel it, in in the back in your neck and your spine. It’s like, “somethings watching me right now.” Everybody has felt that, whether it’s an overactive imagination or it’s actually a spirit. You know everybody experiences that, or at least wonders about. So it’s like the two of those things together, and probably way too many horror movies and Stephen King books, sort of mutated over the years. I have been been writing these characters for over a decade, and the collection that you just read has been years of work.
N: I was going to ask if you were a believer, or did you think all this supernatural stuff was all bunk? Because I see people fall into one of two categories, the ones that think that psychic investigators are horrible parasites feeding off sad, grieving people, or those who really believe it wholeheartedly, and I really couldn’t tell your personal stance when reading this, because this is a work of fiction, after all. So I was wondering if you believed in this sort of thing, and if yes, then have you yourself ever had any paranormal experiences?
DG: I have had some some moments, but you know, I feel like there’s a lot of room in the human brain to have many contradictory belief systems. So I think I am a believer, and I am also a skeptic, if that makes any sense. But I am totally open to it, and I am I have had things that made me go, “Wow.” I have definitely felt things, like been in places where I’ve felt, “something is up here,” but I have never never actually seen anything. I have also done a fair bit of … dabbling with say …well, let’s not even say “dabbling,” let’s say like full on fucking experimentation with psychedelics (laughs). And I have had experiences with those that have made me think about what what we are and what society has told us were able to perceive, versus what we can actually detect and actually sense, and I think that a there’s a much wider spectrum than what we encounter in our day to day lives.
N: It makes sense that you say that, because there are moments with the character of Jude where I felt like, “Yeah, this guy is tripping on acid right now.” So I kinda knew whoever wrote this knew what he was talking about. I want to talk about the character of Jude actually. Is he based on anybody? Because the characters feel real enough that I feel that these are actually people, out there, somewhere.
DG: I mean, they have been living in my head for a decade. So they’re real to me, but they are not based on anybody, no. In Jude, there’s a little bit of me, and a little bit of my dad and just other characters that I dug, like a little spoonful of Ray Stantz, Dan Aykroyd’s character from Ghostbusters, you know, a true believer, and people think he’s just bizarre, and I love that. Ghostbusters was a huge influence for me, and the character of Jude, his last name Tobin is a Ghostbusters reference…
N:…to “Tobin’s Spirit Guide?”
DG: Exactly! Yup, Nerdist, you got it. (laughs) And I’m glad they feel real. That’s really important to me.
N: And they look real. And I don’t wanna slam the comic book industry, but comics are filled with characters that have unrealistic good looks and unrealistic body proportions. And not just superhero stuff where it’s expected kinda, but really everywhere. Everyone is too perfect and pretty. And your characters look like someone you could see in reality. Was this very deliberate on your part?
DG: Super deliberate. I do not like “action figures”, and I do not even like them when they are real, I do not even like them in Hollywood movies, where everybody looks like … you know, kinda like The CW network and the same interchangeable haircuts and Abercrombie outfits, because to me, that’s just boring as shit, and I wanted, not just with Red Light Properties, but with everything I’ve ever done in comics, I made people look real and imperfect, and sexy in a way that is not necessarily just this CW Network kinda way. And like the character of Zoya (the office manager/spirit photographer) who is like, maybe a little chubby for television, but you know, I’ve dated girls like that, and they are wonderful. So that’s important to me, and and I think it makes it interesting and it makes it real… and I do not like it when I read stuff for or watch stuff like that, where everybody’s just… generic. It turns me off.
N: So you said you’ve been doing this now for ten years… Is this something you’ve had in your head for even longer? Just how long were you carrying this world around in your head for?
DG: I had the idea, well.. I lived in the house that was supposedly haunted, when I was in… I guess that was probably when I was about twenty-five, twenty-six, in Brooklyn? And I was taking a nap, and I just heard this voice in my head that said, “Hello!” (in a booming voice), but it it said it from in between my ears, and woke me up from like a dead sleep, and it really scared me. And then I began to start talking to my neighbors about who lived in this house before, and it turned out to be this artist guy who had lived there. So I got jumped out of that nap, and I went downstairs and I got a glass of water from the tap and drank it, and the minute the water hit my stomach, like Jude and Cecilia and the office called Red Light Properties just came into my brain. And so I wrote. They were just there, it was the weirdest thing, and that was in like 2002, maybe 2001… yeah, 2001. It was like the summer before 9/11. So that’s where they came from.
N: What makes the inspiration for making the two main characters of Jude and Cecilia an estranged couple and not a happily married one?
DG: Well, I had moved in with a girlfriend, I left and moved out of New York after 9/11, with this girl, and we moved down to Miami, and my whole plan was to go down to Miami and write, and start drawing this thing, this is back in 2002. And we got to Florida, and got this nice apartment together, and then broke up like two and half months later. Neither one of us can afford to move out, because we have this like nice apartment, you know neither one of us could shoulder solo. So we live together, like, broken up, and just waited out the lease and it was awful, but I went down there to work on Jude and Cecelia, and then this whole other to dimension to them just kinda happened. But it was good, in a way. It was awful at the time, but, you know, when it was all said and done, it gave me a really meaty dimension to play with them. And then, you know, I do not have any kids but I know lot of people that do, and are stuck in that situation with an ex, and I think that’s interesting.
N: And I like that, unlike so much media written by men, you don’t portray Cecilia as a villain or “the bitch” of the story just because Jude is the protagonist. That seems like the easy way out, and it’s very common. The other question to ask you was one I’m sure you hear a lot, but this reads, really, like it could be translated into either movies and television extremely well, especially television.
DG: And it’s funny, because everybody tells me that … and you know, the the storyteller side of me is like, “yes!,” and then the comic creator side of me is like, “but it’s also a good comic… isn’t it?” I guess if it reads a certain way, that means I’m doing something right. I guess part of it comes down to the relationships in the book, and that people can relate to them. And I’ve got this kind of cross-dimensional father-and-son thing, where you have Jude, who’s talking to the ghost of his dad that he’s kinda holding captive, then at the same time he’s not really totally connecting with his own kid, and so there’s this sort of… it’s almost like there’s this backed up energy flow between Jude and his son, and for me that’s what’s really interesting, for me it’s a really interesting way to talk about these characters and this family, and then to take that and open it up to the idea of life and death and horror. To me, that’s engaging, and it’s as much fun to write as I hope it is to read.
N: Oh, it’s a blast to read. And it has AMC or HBO written all over it, that kind of out-of-the-box good kind of television we see so much on cable these days. Red Light Properties has that kind of feeling to it. Better a series though than a movie I’d say.
DG: Movies always truncate everything too. To be honest, I’ve been writing this for a very long time, And I know every character’s life, from birth to death, and this is just the very, very beginning. And it’s the beginning of a much larger story, and it is a series that I intend to be working on for a very long time, until I hit that end point. So it is definitely not short enough to fit into a movie. And I don’t know if TV is just getting better, but I’m rarely satisfied by a movie these days, but with shows, it’s like when I’m hooked, I’m hooked, I can eat them up with cookies.
N: So you say you have these characters’ lives mapped out from birth to death, and that this is just the beginning. Having said all that, do you have time to do other projects? Would you even have room for other projects?
DG: Man, that’s a good question… and, yeah, I do. I am writing up a couple of other things, I definitely do not have room to write and draw more than one series at a time, because you know there’s only so many hours in a day, and you know I have a wife that I love and actually want to hang out with and, you know, travel with and stuff. (laughs) So there’s a discipline and balance to everything, but I am writing other things as well that I’d love to find people to work on with… I have got a couple of things cooking now, and it’s just a matter of seeing where they can land and blossom. But this is not the only thing I want to do, but this one is my baby for sure, my shiniest, most beautiful baby.
Red Light Properties is coming out in early January from IDW Publishing. Are you looking forward to it? Let us know in the comments below.