Things Will Be Better Now: Dan Goldman on “Red Light Properties”

[28 February 2014]

By shathley Q

PopMatters Comics Editor

On the other end of the phone line, or the other end of GTalk or WhatsApp, or whatever one of the myriad of communications technologies available in the early 21st century that we’re using to communicate with each other, I imagine Dan turning a dark-colored coffee mug, and drawing the secret vastness of the room, the distance from where he sits to the stacked bookshelves, around himself like a cloak. It’s the dead of winter and this conversation should be happening at the end of something, because we have found our way into the end of something. This is catharsis, and things will be better now. But there’s no permanent midnight to be found here. No cool wall of human psychology. Instead, just a phone line to New York in the winter. The rise of the real world, and the catharsis that unites us.

If there’s a chance you get around Memorial Day or so, when the summer comes sneaking in, you really ought to put some time aside and read Goldman’s Red Light Properties. It is simply, one of the finest works to meditate on the rise of the human spirit in the history of our species. It wouldn’t be unfair to speak of Red Light Properties in the same breath as Ironweeds or The Light in August or Grapes of Wrath. In the pages of Red Light Properties Jude runs a very specific realty outfit in South Florida—he exorcizes haunted properties, and in the process pays the steepest possible psychic price.

Look at Jude, in those early pages of the book, at the moment Jude looks a picture of himself on a brochure for Red Light Properties… Look at that gap, between Jude what he was when he was riding high, when his hair was slicked back, when he was lean and hungry, and Jude now that he’s grown fat, and slovenly and his mode of dress is nothing more than an old t-shirt and board-shorts. The difference between the two Judes is the palpable iron-grip of history. It is a Jude worn-down by time and undone by a sadness that has built-up over time. It is the reason for the catharsis.

And the real reason for the catharsis is simple. Goldman uses the dead who must be exorcized as a powerful metaphor for our own human failures—those things we should have done, should have said, the thousands of “I love you’s” we should have uttered before getting on that plane.

What’s a good picture for Red Light Properties, what’s a good way of framing its effects and issues and consequences? Imagine high comedy of the finest caliber, imagine a Woody Allen or your favorite episode of Seinfeld, but imagine those bereft of comedy, and instead dealing with the utter anguish of an everyday human being, fending off attacks from the ordinary slings and arrows of a humdrum world. If Goldman offers us anything, it is that inner strength and resilience needed to resist a world built in such a way as to marginalize us all, to deindividuate us, and ultimately to make us obsolete. The single word you need going in to reading Red Light Properties, is “fortitude”. Because, from this point on, no matter how hard it’s been to get here, things will be better.

We’ve had our first catharsis already, and we’re entering into a cycle of catharses, each bringing to bear more power and emotion than the one just prior. We’ve just spoken about Dan’s influences; he’s mentioned the huge and irrevocable impact Henry Miller’s writing had on him: “It’s funny, I was reading Tropic of Capricorn the week I moved to NYC in 1998, age 24. And when i moved into my first apartment in Greenpoint, the street names seemed very familiar
turns out Miller would cruise for young Polish girls on my corner in the thirties. I found (Hunter S.) Thompson too but didn’t grok him on the same level; that came later Miller was mother’s milk for finding my own voice, believing in myself as an artist. HST comes after that shit. Y’know?” Dan says “y’know,” almost like an act of conspiracy, like it’s impossible for him to imagine someone else not being an artist, not struggling with these same grand struggles he wrestles down each morning. That is a mark of compassion.

We’ve also spoken about Philip Roth, about Stephen King and about Terence McKenna, who’s inner worlds seem to light perfectly the struggles within Red Light Properties.  (“I really think of Jude as being outside myself, a facet of a facet,” Dan says, which seems to perfectly capture that single moment that makes King and Roth and McKenna available simultaneously). And about Philip K. Dick, about VALIS, “it’s the rabbit hole,” Dan tells me.

But we’ve rounded that particular catharsis (and it is a catharsis very dearly fought for, very dearly won, because it addresses directly the role of comics as literature, as art, and the still grudging acceptance that the medium is hard-pressed to come by), and we’re on to the next, to something new entirely. If the first catharsis dealt with working in a culturally-marginalized medium, the second would prove equally bombastic because it is the way in which Dan Goldman is reshaping the medium.

Goldman is a precious intellect, and we need to rally around him. He is one of the rare few artists working in any medium who are actively engaging with the idea of what it means to be making transmedia. “Do you know scrivener,” Dan asks, and I do. Everything goes into scrivener, he lets me know. “Of course, no sales mean no more books with the publisher,” Dan begins, “For me, sales are a byproduct of audience and the most important thing to me are people to absorb and enjoy the story, join its world. Engage with it, think about it, maybe make their own work isn’t that the point of all stories and art? Of course, I want to be able to make a living off it, but that’s just being smart about how many media-forms you can stuff your story into and make it sing. You can’t compare comics audience to movie or videogame or webseries for me, I want people to genuinely be fans of Jude and his work, his world.”

And we go on talking a little bit about his process of making art. How it’s transmedia from the ground up. How the ideas preexist the medium, and how the idea of the work can therefore be crystalized as easily into a videogame, as or a novel. Dan begins again, “It’s just a symptom of overactive imagination,” he says in a wholly modest way, “Probably inflated ambition, too. But I do think big, I always have. And when I go to sleep, when I take a shower or a shirt (no wait, he didn’t quite say shirt), walk outside, I always have pens and notebooks and Evernotes ready to capture falling puzzle pieces. When I sit down at a blank page, I don’t get juice from the brain-fruit. But when my mind is somewhere else, the fruits appear. So I’ve adjusted my process to catch them and then my sit-down desk time is about making fruit salad—to extend the metaphor way too far—arrange the colors and pretty shapes into something gorgeous.”

We sit in the dead of winter and the moment rests. Shortly we’ll begin to talk about Dan’s personal life, about his moving to New York about his early adult life, and about his earlier childhood in South Florida, about his dad taking him on a tour of the chains of Dollar stores he owned, about Dan getting a bag of comics in the same place that twenty or so years on, his friends would begin to mimic the cultural exhaustion we see play out in Red Light Properties. We think about what we might learn.

If we learn anything from Goldman it is that transmedia is an invitation to the higher things, and that an empire of mind, is also an empire of one. No longer one alone, no longer one interconnected, but one who can build whatever connections might be needed from moment to moment.

And then, as the moment threatens to escape, we consider what might yet come.

AB-, ENTJ, PhD: shathley Q is deeply moved by the emotional connection we build with our perpetual fictions, and hopes to answer for that somehow, somehow. He holds a Doctorate in Literary and Cultural Theory. His writings have appeared in Joss Whedon: the Complete Companion and Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men, as well as regularly on PopMatters. Like a kid in a china shop, he microblogs as @uuizardry on Twitter. Or hit him up directly on shathleyq@popmatters.com.


Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/179542-things-will-be-better-now-dan-goldman-on-red-light-properties/