For many people who read webcomics on a regular basis, Dan Goldman is a familiar name. One of the founding members of the webcomics collective Act-i-vate, Goldman has contributed comics to tor.com, Popgun and other outlets. He illustrated “Shooting War,” the Eisner Award-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.”
In 2010, Goldman spoke with CBR about launching his most ambitious project, “Red Light Properties,” a story about haunted real estate and family turmoil which was serialized on tor.com that year. Now, Goldman has partnered with Monkeybrain Comics, the digital company operated by Chris Roberson and Allison Baker, to re-introduce the world to his story. We spoke with Goldman about the comic and what’s behind his new digital change of address.
CBR News: Just to review for people who don’t know, how do you describe “Red Light Properties?”
Dan Goldman: “Red Light Properties” is the name of both the series that I write and draw and its protagonists’ business. It’s a small, family-owned real estate office on Miami Beach that specializes in cleaning haunted homes of any unwanted lingering spirits or psychic echoes or bad energies in the house and then selling them as “previously-haunted.” Though the real meat of the story is what’s going on between Jude and Cecilia — they own and operate Red Light Properties together — and how their marriage seems to be constantly falling apart. They’ve got to balance this supernatural work with daily finances and domestic drama — and they’ve got a little boy torn between them, with emerging psychic abilities of his own.
You started serializing “Red Light Properties” on tor.com. What was that experience like?
It was amazing and bittersweet. Amazing to be part of a grand legacy of SF/F with Tor Books, which comes with its own fairly large readership. But it was bittersweet in that I wanted RLP to ultimately reach more people than it did. When the series launched there, I was experimenting with what I called a “click-through” webcomic interface — where with every click it would reveal another panel or another word balloon — that other people are now building on: Mark Waid’s Thrillbent site and Reilly Brown’s work on Power Play and the Marvel Infinite books are all going in that direction. When I was doing it with Tor, I think we launched quick and without enough trouble-shooting, so images loaded in a really impractical manner and ran slow in the browser. This made for a less-than-smooth reading experience the reader, so while the numbers were great at launch, they dropped off pretty quick and I felt like I was creating for a few hundred loyal (and totally awesome) people by the end of the run. So when Tor’s exclusivity on RLP ran out, instead of doing another story with them, I brought it over to RedLightProperties.com where I could make all the fixes I wanted to. I converted all of the clickthrough pages into regular “vanilla” webcomic images and kept the story moving, and that was when I started to connect with my audience.
Playing with digital storytelling using comics is something I’ve been into for years but you’ve got to be nimble and admit when something’s not working right. I am also very ADD. [Laughs] So I would try something for six months, see if I could gauge whether it was working or not — if I was engaging with a larger audience or not — and then I would try something else [if it wasn’t working]. Part of that digital comics do-si-do is what’s bringing me over to Monkeybrain. I’ve been watching what they’re doing and they’re excellent at developing an audience, building a community. I think that what they’re about is in a lot of ways what I’m about, in terms of where your work fits on the comics landscape. I felt this comrade-in-arms kinship with them and I was really excited when they were interested in “Red Light Properties.”
What has it been like, digitally self-publishing?
First and foremost, things have changed so very much in a short span of time. When I launched RLP three years ago, the iPad was just a rumor. Think of how far things have come in that time: I read recently that one out of three Americans has a tablet. That’s just incredible! If you think about that in terms of readership, I feel like whatever I’ve perceived as missteps I might have made, that now the landscape has opened up for comics work like this in a way that it wasn’t when I begin the series. And now that I’m joining up with Monkeybrain, I’ve already got three hundred pages of story done, just to start with.
But maybe I’m not answering your question. “What has it been like?” There’s been waves of incredible excitement and incredible disappointment. Like I said, be nimble and keep changing when something isn’t working: I’ve worked with a sponsor (Tor.com), I’ve produced free daily webcomics (redlightproperties.com). Last year, I switched off of the webcomic free model and I opened up a storefront on my site to sell digital issues in CBR and PDF formats. That was not as successful, but that opened my thinking up to having the series available on the Kindle Fire and Nook and Kobo stores using Graphicly’s distribution system. Again, it all sounded like a great idea, a great experiment. Also not one that yielded fantastic results.
See, the hardest thing for me is that I love to write and I love to draw and I love to tell stories, but marketing yourself and promoting yourself and building a community around it is a whole other job, and it’s not a job I really enjoy doing. I don’t want to hawk what I’ve done when my brain’s already thinking about the new stuff. If I’m going to take away any lesson from the past two years, it would be that it’s okay to have help. Where I need that help is getting the word out there, engaging with the community of readers that would be interested in what I’m doing if they knew it existed.
How did you get together with Monkeybrain?
Chris Roberson and Allison Baker and I have a mutual friend, and he’d mentioned Monkeybrain to me — they were already on my radar via the comics press — and he suggested, “You should talk to them, they’re really cool people.” I wrote to them and we wound up having this really great conversation about the business of comics, the distribution of comics, the future of comics and the sad little present of comics. [Laughs] It was one of those conversations where you’re drawing on a shared base of knowledge and don’t have to explain anything to each other, everyone just gets it — and that’s how I knew these were the right people to be involved with.
I was impressed with them even before we spoke, when they launched Monkeybrain Comics early just because they could, and wound up trending worldwide on Twitter. These are people who obviously know the speed at which digital publishing can move and they’re not afraid to run circles around dinosaurs. It just felt like the right crew.
They have the same ideas and perspectives and can do what you don’t like to do or can’t.
Yes. It’s been a lot more difficult than I expected it to be, trying to maintain excitement when I’m working from a different continent and don’t physically interact with my peoples at conventions. When I moved down here to Brazil, I thought I could just reach out through my magical computer screen and publish my work to a global audience and I’ll have my own personal rainbow that ferries my new comics up to the clouds where everyone’s waiting to read the new work. The reality is, you’re fighting a heavy, low signal-to-noise ratio online, and it’s really no substitute for face-time in the real world. I I’m way better in person than I am on Facebook or Twitter.
I like to think that most of us are better than we are on Facebook.
[Laughs] I’m glad you said it.
Do you want to try to do more translations of the book and make it more available?
Yes! The thing is, I really love my characters and what I’m doing with them. “Red Light Properties” is my baby, and the most recent issue, “A Series of Tubes,” is probably my favorite 26 pages of comics that I’ve ever done. For myself as a creator, I rose the bar on myself with that story, years of experimenting and trying to get things to work a certain way really clicked with that story. Now I’m ready to do more stuff like that. It’s just a matter of loving your own creation and wanting as many people as possible to love it too.
Because RLP takes place in Miami and deals with Santeria and supernatural stuff with a Latino flavor, I think it’s perfect for the Spanish-speaking market and Portuguese-speaking market. It’s also very exotic and sexy for other people in other places, from Germany to Korea to India who’d find it interesting. I would love to have all kinds of translations available; so far I’ve got three languages and anybody reading this interview who is interested in helping me translate, I’m open to that. I just want the story to reach more people.
What’s next for the book?
There’s nothing definite for the series in print, but on the digital side, I’m launching the series through Monkeybrain with five titles to start in three languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese. All of them are totally remastered, too, with the first issue being “Family Business,” a heavily-reworked “intro chapter” from the Tor material. I’ve also got four self-contained issues, and those will all be available Wednesday, November 28th.
From there, I’m continuing to rework the existing material that I’ll be releasing in digital issues through Monkeybrain alongside the new stories I’ve been writing. This way, I’m planning to have monthly RLP releases for the foreseeable future.
So we’ll see you at New York events and at conventions throughout 2013.
Definitely. I really miss doing conventions. I miss all of my convention friends where we only see each other in hotel bars because we live all over the world. For me, that’s the best. To sit around and get drunk and hug the people whose work I love and who made me want to do what I do. I love meeting new friends at cons. I love technology and all it’s enabled us to yadda yadda yadda. But there’s no videochat window in the world that comes close to sitting on a squishy hotel couch, talking with friends.
I have to ask, what is the comics scene like in Brazil?
It’s very strong, the national flavor down here. The first books I read in Portuguese were comics. There are some really vibrant Brazilian cartoonists. Up until, I would say, the late nineties, Brazil had a very particular “national” style of comics that’s more influenced by Italian and Spanish and Belgian cartooning. When the commerical borders opened up in the mid-nineties, the American superhero stuff came in and became popular, but it’s still not as popular here as manga. Outside of Japan, Brazil has the largest concentration of Japanese people in the world, so manga culture here is just massive. What happens over time is those different flavors cook together into something new, and that’s what you see with guys like Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon and Rafael GrampÃ¡. Those are just the big names that CBR readers would know, but there’s a whole pool of brilliant Brazilian talent who’ve only been published on a national scale, talent just itching to blow up. The only problem is that in terms of work, the most successful ones are working for publishers overseas where they can earn a living. Brazilian cartoonists doing material locally, the ones I know all have to have day jobs because there’s not much money in it.
Your last big project before “Red Light Properties” was “08: A Graphic Diary of the Campaign Trail.” We just had a Presidential election, so I have to ask, are glad you didn’t have to do that again?
[Laughs] Oh my God, yes! I’m really proud of that book, and I’m also really sad. The publisher really didn’t know how to handle it. “08” was published as the economic crash hit in January 2009, the publisher was laying people off left and right and they took took their promotional budget and slid it over to another department or project, so my baby plopped out and just sat there until it disappeared. To this day, I know maybe ten people who read it, and I’m very happy I won’t have to do that again. There’s a lot more of me in my work like “Red Light Properties” or even “KELLY,” my old webcomic I used to do on act-i-vate.com. There’s more value and fire in work that’s personal and metaphysical and romantic and philosophical than in my trying to be a journalist, which I’m not. I’m not saying I’ll never do it again, but I like what I’m doing now best of all.
So “Red Light Properties” launches on Monkeybrain this Wednesday, November 28 —
Yes, there’s five titles available on Wednesday and they’re all 99 cents. I’m aiming to maintain monthly digital multi-language releases going forward.
I’ve never done comics work in the European market but I’ve always been in love with the album-style format. To me, that’s the most delicious and logical format for a comics in print. When digital publishing changed and the idea of digital comic shops became a reality recently, that made a lot of sense to me too. For years, I’ve been working only on graphic novels, where you’d spend a year working on a book and that’s all you do, and nobody hears from you until it’s time for you to get out and promote yourself once a once a year. I always envied creators working in monthly comics because they get to show up on stage and do a little dance once a month, while people would only hear from me when I had a book coming out. With this new/old model, you have more opportunities to get your work in front of people. Partnering up with Monkeybrain, I hope I can bring more people into my own strange little world of RLP.
Aside from the remastering work I’m doing, the next new RLP story features a surprise visit from one of Jude Tobin’s “I hate my marriage” blog readers who we’ve heard mentioned already. We’re going to learn more about their codependent only-online relationship as they get to know each other IRL as Earl does a ridealong on Jude’s house-cleanings for the day. And in one of those houses, there’s a SPOILER in the SPOILER that means major SPOILER for SPOILERRRRRRR.
Dan Goldman and “Red Light Properties” make their Monkeybrain Comics debut Wednesday, November 28.