In the second part of our interview, we discuss the untimely death of Dan Goldman’s Act-I-Vate comic, Kelly, and how the phoenix of Red Light Properties sprung from its literal and spiritual hard drive crash.
I know you didn’t do the lion’s share of the writing for Shooting War and 08, but are there any rejected pieces from those books that made it into later works?
Yeah. I felt like—for me the most personal thing I did before Red Light was Kelly, which I did for Act-I-Vate. I never finished Kelly because I had a hard drive crash and lost all of the files.
Oh man, I never knew that.
Yeah, yeah. I’m sad about that, because I really liked those guys—they were real fun to hang out with. But there were things that I did I was free to do in Kelly that I was really proud of. A lot of people saw Shooting War and maybe, like, five or six people read 08 [laughs], but the work that I was always happiest with was the stuff I did in Kelly, which nobody really talks about.
I felt like I could press a lot of those buttons, but do them in a way that was five years of work more mature. There’s definitely a through line between Kelly and some of the stuff that’s going on in Red Light, and I think that the love that I have for the character Kelly came through in the character of Rory Partch, who is this sort of fey paranormal researcher with a southern drawl. There’s definitely two or three cups full of Kelly in that character, which I wouldn’t have know—when I wrote him, he was totally different.
From the first draft of the character until now, I have pages and pages of Kelly, and I guess he soaked up some of that.
Why did Kelly take precedence over a story [Red Light Properties] that you began developing in 2001?
I really hadn’t done comics the way that I have been working since then. Kelly really was a first stab. It really was—as much as I love the story and had fun with it—an experiment. I learned how to do this technique that has evolved a lot since then. It was only really a warmup for Red Light. And then it wound up—it got a lot longer and a lot more fun.
Act-I-Vate was starting, and I wanted to be involved. That was a story that I wanted to tell, and I didn’t want to do Red Light Properties until I was a lot more competent with my art and my writing. I’ve done a lot of that in the last five or six years. When I was sitting down after 08 and trying to figure out what to do next, it was like, ‘yeah, it’s time to do this one. I’m ready.’
That’s why I just jumped in. It was a matter of finding the right home and finding some other—the whole 3D modeling aspect of it was something that had frustrated me with prior projects, and I was like, ‘if I can learn how to do this, I think I can get Red Light Properties to look the way I want it to look.’
Is that why you decided to completely drop Kelly after the crash? Because you had something else you wanted to work on waiting in the wings?
Yeah. It felt like a sign to just let go of it. I spoke to Dean Haspiel about it, and he was like, “well, why don’t you just finish it?” To finish it, realistically, knowing the story—and it was all written—would be another six to nine months of work.
Dean would have liked that.
Yeah, and I’d have loved to have given that to the fans of the work, because they’re like the coolest people, but at the end of it, I couldn’t sell it as a book, because the first 100 pages or so are missing. I’d have to completely redo it, in order for it to come out in print. It just didn’t make sense. I had to let it go. Maybe I’ll pick it up later. I’d like to, but I’ll just have to see where I’m at.
That’s interesting. Do you feel as though, in spite of the fact that you’ve been working in Webcomics for so long, that you’re still continually work toward print?
Well, in the case of Act-I-Vate, I have to make a book, in order to justify the time, economically. Doing the comic on the Web for Tor, I’m getting paid, so I can let this be my job, and it’s not hard to justify at all. But to put aside six to nine months to do a comic for Act-I-Vate, that means I have to be doing a comic on the side to pay the bills.
It sucks. I wish I lived in this perfect world, where I could just play all day. But I think, if I lived in that perfect world, I would still be doing Red Light Properties. I don’t know how I stumbled in to things coming together the way they did, but it’s kind of perfect.
What came together, exactly?
The way that the deal with Tor came together was just perfect, because I’m supporting myself with a Webcomic, and I can turn around and publishing it with anyone I like when I’m done. It doesn’t have to be Tor.
So they’re in it for the ad revenue?
There’s actually no ads. A year ago, they were looking for content to just drive up traffic and build communities. And I thought it was pretty smart. In a way, it’s almost stronger than something ad-based. What you’re doing is creating sticky traffic. That’s smart business on a longer timeline.
Getting readers for Tor books.
Just getting readers for the site. Getting people involved to come to the site often, to read, not just the comic, but all of the content—the reviews, the fiction. There’s a very vibrant community over there, and I’m just a really tiny part of it.
From their point of view, it makes sense, and from my point of view it makes sense, obviously, because it produces the work for them while I’m making it online, and then I can have it published by anybody. I’m just waiting to see—I don’t know who is going to publish the book, but I’m told I will know soon. It’s just wait and see, I guess.
Is Tor in comics at all? It that a space they’re interested in exploring?
Yeah, they are. They have an imprint that they’re starting up, next year. I don’t know the name of it, I don’t know if that’s been announced. They’ve purchased the full-run of Phil Foglio’s Girl Genius. They’re going to be putting out the graphic novels in omnibusy editions. It seemed like a great idea for me to jump onto Tor.
How did the relationship come about? There’s certainly a—if not science fiction, at least paranormal aspect to the work. Did they approach you and ask if you had anything in that vein?
Yeah, but I was a bit of a nudge, too. I met Pablo Defendini, who used to run the site up until a couple of months ago, before he left to do something else. He was the one that acquired it. I met him doing my Digital Arts panel at New York Comic Con—it’s about how to use Wacoms and stuff like that. Pablo was there the first time I did it.
A couple of months later, he commissioned me to do a short piece for the site. I did it, and it did very well for them. Since then, I’ve been nudging him, asking if they were going to do long form stuff. Every couple of months, we’d bullshit over IM, and one day he said, “what’ve you got?”
I, of course, had Red Light Properties in my pocket. I can rattle off a list of places that it’s already been. He flipped out over the script, and then, a month later, we were doing documents. It was just a matter of time. and I had to learn how to work with Maya and do modeling and rendering. It was a whole summer. Nobody saw me, but I was learning to do 3D stuff.
We launched in January, and that’s really all I’ve been doing, here in Brazil. I’ve been in Brazil since December and it’s now early August, and I’m 180 pages into the 200-page book, which is pretty kickass for me. I’m usually pretty fast, but this has been an excellent speed test for me.