2006_12_goldman1.jpg32-year-old artist, illustrator, and writer Dan Goldman may hail from Miami, but his current "Brooklyn-blessed" status is evident in his work, whether depicting subway scenes he's meticulously researched or in the guise of 2011 Williamsburg hipster turned Iraq blogger in his breakout collaboration with journalist Anthony Lappé, Shooting War. Shooting War was serialized earlier this year by SMITH Magazine, and will see an expanded hardcover release next fall from Warner Books. Goldman already had one foot in the publishing world with his own FWD Books, which released his graphic political novel, Everyman: Be The People, co-authored with his brother Steven Goldman and drawn by Joe Bucco, about a stolen election and the work of activists and a White House insider to expose the federal government's corruption.

Not one to rest on his laurels, the around-the-clock worker and refugee from a "McDesign" job, who has contributed to Cracked, Complex, Heeb and Kitchen Sink, among others, is one of the co-founders of the ACT-I-VATE collective, which posts new, free comics online daily. His striking imagery, particularly when it comes to characters, has brought numerous projects to life, among them his "surreal Craigslist roommate tale" "Kelly." The politically-minded and mischevious entrepreneur's latest creation is men's underwear with the phrase "Suspicious Package" emblazoned across the front under his tongue-in-cheek Department of Homeland Maturity (and perhaps a nod to his own recent bout with airport security). Here, Goldman emails Gothamist about his work habits and being "the pink thing in the corner," the indirect influence of The Carlyle Group on Everyman, his Jaguar-like computer, "New York Juice," and Shooting War's tipping point.

You grew up in Miami, moved to New York, then moved back after 9/11. What led you back to New York, and how does each city influence your artwork? Do you feel more creative here?
I love my humid hometown, but I always viewed my return to Miami as an extended tropical depression . . . a sabbatical from seeing machine guns at Grand Central and getting the mail with latex gloves on in 2001. I'd taken some pre-9/11 savings (back when the temping was sweeter) and rented a little Art Deco apartment two blocks from the ocean with an ancient avocado tree outside my window. It was the perfect place to lick wounds. I spent most that time drawing and writing everyday in a sunny vacuum, getting hungrier and hungrier to have all these stories I've been creating over the years finally reach people. It took me a long time to find that; I was mic-shy for years, especially concerning my crappy hand-drawn artwork. It wasn't until I moved to working digitally down in Miami that I actually could render what I was seeing in my head. The sweet-temping money ran out eventually and I moved back to the city with a jingling pocketful of change, crashing with my brother Steven while I found some work . . . but we started creating comics together within about a week and it just exploded. We didn't stop until he moved to Austin earlier this year.

And New York? It explodes me, almost everyday, from the inside out. Every city is a living thing with a soul and a voice all its own, providing the inspiration and fuel for art and stories in its architecture, overheard conversation, food, music; New York is a million things at once in every direction, and when I am anywhere else it feels . . . less than New York. Sometimes that quiet is good, for the right story, but my heart beats here.

Who are your artistic inspirations? When did you first learn to draw, and how has your work evolved since then?
I've been drawing since I was a kid, and it's been a constant source of trouble and frustration. The first time I was spanked was for taking markers to my bedroom walls. I used to make these vicious fictional bio-comics of my weirdo 7th grade geography teacher . . . until someone passed my notebook to him while I was in the bathroom; that was worth two weeks indoor suspension. Slipping subliminal messages into editorial comics for my high school newspaper nearly got me kicked out as well. I hated my artwork for most of my twenties and found I was doing less and less of it; writing's always been easier and more satisfying for me . . . words don't have line weight, y'know? Making the jump from drawing on paper to drawing on screen with digital tools opened up whole new worlds for me, almost instantly. I remember taking my first Wacom tablet home and plugging it into Illustrator around 3 a.m.; I got up to refill my coffee and that the sun had risen . . . and I'd drawn the best thing I'd ever done before.

I find inspiration everywhere; obviously being here in New York connects me to one of the country's highest concentrations of my fellow comic creators, writers, illustrators, etc. and there's peer-group influence that is inevitable and welcome, but it also shoots me full of "New York Juice" . . . that electricity you feel walking down Houston at 2 o'clock, a.m. or p.m. I grew up in Miami, which is still a young city, so to come here where the cultural pools I have chosen to swim in were invented and are mine to join in, it's the greatest thing I could have asked for.

Can you walk me through a typical workday? How many projects are you juggling, and do you devote set amounts of time to each one, or work on whatever's the most pressing?
A typical day starts early and ends late; I'm been working more than I would like to be right now . . . but dem's de breaks. It's part of this biting-off-more-than-you-can-chew syndrome that runs in my family. My wife Lilli and I do that live/work deal in our tiny Brooklyn studio, so I very literally roll out of bed, make a cup of tea, and plug in. Sometimes she calls me "the pink thing in the corner" when she'll go to work in Manhattan for the whole day and find me in the same place when she gets back. I usually take a break for lunch and a video or a short burst of gaming, but I'm pretty full-time and almost always seven days a week.

My juggle-management is mostly deadline-based: the hottest potatoes get worked on first. Being part of ACT-I-VATE has taught me to carve a day off of my week for strictly personal stuff, in the form of "Kelly" and it's turned into a kind of play therapy for me.


You wrote that you once worked at a McDesign job. Can you elaborate about what you did there and why you found it stifling? How did you transition to working for yourself and which part of your work is your main source of income?
I was doing graphic design for "seminar support & fulfillment" in the temp-staffed in-house print shop for Big Pharma, reformatting signage and designing brochures for their sales conventions where they promote ADD meds for children and anti-anxiety drugs for pets. It was lots of copying, pasting, resizing for wide-format printers . . . all based on the corporate design department's existing work, about as creative as an Abercrombie & Fitch outfit. For me, the brilliant part wasn't just the fact that I could do my own work on their dime, but it paid the printing bills for Steven and my comics we put out under our FWDbooks banner in 2003-05, which included Everyman, our first graphic novel.

My "transitioning myself to freelance" was pretty unceremonious though; I was told my group was being cut in two months and I emotionally prepared myself . . . and then they let us go in a week with an extra week's severance and a handshake. The interesting part was that I was dismissed on Wednesday morning, but I had just finished building my website the night before. Push on the universe and it pushes back. I was thrown into the deep end, suckling Uncle Sam's teat for 6 months; I worked my ass off, hustled for freelance gigs and ate lots of peanut butter, but I was drawing and writing something everyday, treating those Dole Days like a gift. By the time I received my last check from the gov, I negotiating payment with SMITH magazine for Shooting War's online run.

You're a founding member of the ACT-I-VATE comics collective, along with Dean Haspiel, Nick Bertozzi, Chip Zdarsky, Michel Fiffe, Leland Purvis, and others, which posts new, free material online every day. Why did you start ACT-I-VATE and what do you as an artist get out of working with other artists to promote your work?
ACT-I-VATE is one of the best things I've ever had a hand in. After my Big Pharma explosion, I'd been going over to Dean Haspiel's almost every day to work and chat; he was free-flowing with both career advice and sage cartoonist wisdom. One day, right after New Year's, ACT-I-VATE was just there. Dino planted the seed and hand-picked who he wanted to join; I was lucky and grateful to be invited and said yes immediately. I hadn't been doing any new comics for awhile then, just single illustration portfolio-building experiments I was using to evolve my style faster, but the opportunity ACT-I-VATE afforded came at just the right time, and I committed myself 100% to it so we could launch it hard, which we did. Within our first week, we knew this was something bigger than all of us.

We're celebrating our first year this February, having growing from 8 to 20+ members, and I am proud and honored to have my stuff lining up with everyone else's. ACT-I-VATE is a daily comics anthology, a laboratory, a gym, a family and a posse; it's also like joining the Marines: it's hard work to add another project to your plate, especially a 600pg graphic novel like "Kelly" that will take two years to finish. In the process, though, watching everyone else's work morph and mature, our mental bees are bringing back each others' pollen, making us all better storytellers . . . and at the end of the day, we've each got another book to add to our ouvres.

In 2004, you released Everyman: Be The People, a graphic political novel about a stolen election and one group's attempts to expose the corruption within the administration. It was written by yourself and your brother, Steven Goldman, and drawn by Joe Bucco. How did it come about, and why did you choose someone else to do the artwork?
Everyman started with a PowerPoint presentation I was editing while working at the law firm who reps The Carlysle Group (the temp stories are so riveting, aren't they?). It was titled "Economic Opportunities in Occupied Iraq" and it kept coming back with edits, week in and out; the edits I was making would make it into the news weeks later after the behind the scenes deals were cut. It was enfuriating. I woke up from a dream in the middle of the night late in 2003 and scribbled some notes on a stolen Post-It pad about an author who becomes president and a humanist third party based on American commonalities instead our bipartisan playbooks. Steve was sick with fever, so our Saturday Writing Session at my crib was done over IM, and before we started working on the poor project that still waits alone on a back burner somewhere on our shared mental stove, I popped him the contents of my Post-It and we spent the next few hours hashing out this political fiction epic called Everyman. Turns out that my brother had been following the under-reported electronic voting machine controversy and when we crossed those wires, our chat window nearly burst.

Before we connected with Joe Bucco, I really wanted to draw Everyman, but I hadn't undertaken anything like that before (my previous longest comic story was six pages); also my style was a little funky for this project, which we wanted anyone and everyone to read. It was our weapon, leading into the 2004 election, to try and educate about how to recapture the American Dream from people who'd perverted it to serve themselves, and everything had to be just so. We interviewed a handful of artists, including now-fellow ACT-I-VATOR Tim Hamilton who couldn't do it at the last second, and then Joe just popped up in my inbox with his clean lines, real-world style and boyish charm. Joe worked closely with us and twice as hard as we did and I think the degree to which Everyman is a labor of love really shows.

The term "Everyman" comes from The Federalist Papers, which Dita reads to Thomas to provide motivation and inspiration for their nascent political movement, One Love. What do you think we can learn from history in terms of the current political situation?
I believe that "history" is just a story that we're living over and over again, in different forms, and with every go-round we have the opportunity (and the responsibility) to mold it and change it for the better. As a writer, you can introduce new characters into the story and change it, and that's happened in reality throughout human history. I am waiting and hoping for those important new characters to show up in my lifetime and point us towards a better way, or at least towards making new mistakes. Everyman was our attempt to kick-start that with a fiction-bomb.

When the book came out, it was criticized as being idealistic, but Everyman was intentionally that, drawing a lot of its inspiration from the ideals of the Founding Fathers and the dissonance between their vision and the State of the Union today. Steve and I, two little Jewish brothers from Miami, sans poli-sci degrees, were really trying to figure things out, reading, knowing thy enemy, trying to figure out the shape of That Which Could Make Things Better. I don't know how successful we were, but instead of Everyman continuing as planned, Steve left New York to get more involved in policy planning . . . so maybe it was a raging success, in a different and unseen direction: the person we wound up inspiring was him.


Your online graphic novel, Shooting War, a collaboration with journalist Anthony Lappé, ran for 11 weeks at SMITH magazine. How did you come to be involved in Shooting War, and was the text all written before you signed on to draw it?
Anthony had been searching for the right artist on Craigslist and I dropped him a line about it weeks into that process already, but after meeting him at a screening of his doc Battleground and then our first proper conversation that following Monday, we both had a feeling of what our collaboration was going to yield. I did alot of preliminary design work off of his original treatment, but the scripts were written mostly while I was drawing the previous chapter and the world of 2011 evolved into something dark and saturated quickly. We had also had Larry Smith and Jeff Newelt as sounding boards, and their on-the-pulse observations lent a lot of the crackingly black humor beats to the mediascape around Jimmy and Sameera.

The process remains collaborative; instead of being handed a "final script" to draw, we meet about once a week and talk things through, draw some layouts and brainstorm details. A lot of random ideas and characters have found their way into Shooting War's world as a result of this; I had a dream about this massive sandstorm that bears down on Jimmy and Sameera at the end of the run on SMITH . . . with Anthony's first-hand journalistic knowledge there, filling that sandstorm with depleted uranium particles left over from U.S. shellings created both a level of political commentary and doubled the threat of the plot device, all in one shot.

Did you draw it each week as it went up, and did the project itself change at all as you worked on it, whether reacting to items in the news or responding to feedback you got from viewers online?
Shooting War was drawn as it was being written much of the time, which allowed Anthony and I to riff on, or even predict, news items and deal with feedback from the community that grew up around us online. I spent the spring and summer drawing frantically, probably setting the bar very high for the first week in terms of episode length and level of detail . . . and then forcing myself to hit it again every week for eleven chapters. I went without sleep lots, but mostly it was my own fault: I started getting macho and tried to outdo myself with every chapter, in the process learning shitloads about visual storytelling and narrative techniques for staging battles and squeezing visual drama out of Anthony's already-intense script.

But yeah, the nature of the project changed a few times for me. First, after the Village Voice review, which was like looking out your window to find that your apartment building is actually on a ship sailing across the sea to another continent; I'd never had that level of attention on my work before and it felt really goddamn gratifying. Secondly, Larry Smith flew me out to San Francisco for a West Coast Shooting War party and while I was there, my perspective on the life of the project changed. It had become its own thing; people loved my work, but they cared about Jimmy Burns' fate now. It was just coming through my fingers and eyes. I was at the comics-gallery-slash-scotch-lounge The Isotope Lounge in SF when Anthony called up and gave me news about the bidding war for happening for our publication rights. People all around me had been reading it already and were anxiously awaiting the next week's episode. When I got back to New York, that SF feeling had followed me, that people were hip to what I was doing when I hit "send" and coming back regularly. And the best part is, that SF feeling is still there . . . and it's spread from Shooting War to "KELLY" and other stuff. It's going to be hard to sit on the rest of the story until Warner releases the book, but the amount of support they're throwing behind us will make it well-worth it.

The hardcover is slated to be published next fall by Warner Books. What will be different about the hardcover, and is your artistic process different in any way when creating web comics vs. print (or "dead tree," as you put it)?
The eleven chapters online comprise roughly half of the hardcover, but the previously-seen SMITH material is being rewritten and reworked to be a new experience for those who are already fans. The difference in the pacing from a weekly episode to making it work as a novel, as a single machine, has been a challenge for both Anthony and I, but it's forced us to let some things go in service of a bigger story that's actually emerged very organically from the online run. For me, the pacing of something with a finite page count forces me to be conscious the book as a whole while I lay it out, creating and pacing those pages to work as design and story containers that function with the rhythm of page-turns instead of click-throughs.

You're also a writer, having written Everyman with your brother, and Lappé described you as having "an impeccable story sense and a unique juxtaposition of twisted irony meets in-your-face earnestness." How does your grasp of the written word inform your drawing? Are they integral to each other? Do you someday see yourself writing and drawing your own comics, or do you prefer to collaborate?
The storytelling techniques are different, but understanding what is important to the story you're serving transcends the medium it exists in. Knowing that the reaction of your character to something said as a plot point can create a more intense reaction in the reader than the plot point itself keeps the focus on the character's journey though the events, not just the events; in comics you expand that bit of time, in prose you use narrate around that slice of time. Different mediums with different tools still do the same thing.

I am actually already writing and drawing my own work, in the form of "Kelly" over at ACT-I-VATE, and there's no greater joy for me than cartooning and laughing while I twist my characters' worlds around and around as they try to figure themselves out. As far as future collaborations, it's hard to say yay or nay . . . if the right collaboration came along, all I want to do is create good work. That said, I'm very proud of my own writing and have folders and folders of stories that cry for attention, but since comics take much longer to produce, I've had to pick and choose to lay the cornerstones for my career selectively.

2006_12_goldman2.jpgWhen you're illustrating someone else's words, such as in these books, or your brother Steven's Styx Taxi, how much creative control over the outcome do you have? Is there ever tension between the writer's vision for the project and yours once you get started, and if so, how do you resolve that?
I think it depends on the project; Anthony and I are both strong personalities with our own sensibilities, so we knock heads from time to time on Shooting War. It's never personal, and one of us is usually right. It's not about veto or ego; we both want Shooting War to be the best book it can be, so the end result is always an improvement.

Working with Steve on his Styx Taxi series was a totally different creative experience; our short story "Singalong" started as song lyrics I wrote on the train, but Steve is meticulous; he wove characters and plot around, creating something like a poem in comic form and he wanted it just so. It was my job to translate it into images, not mold it further. Styx is now being serialized on Thursdays on The Chemistry Set, and next Thursday is our story "Singalong"'s day in the sun.

In both Everyman and Shooting War, there's both a distrust and intense pull toward big, mainstream media, floating the idea that what we see on major news networks is flawed and incomplete but that these networks also have the power to reach the masses. Was there a deliberate statement you were trying to make in each about the potential and problems within the media?
Naturally. I feel that the media is an incredible tool and an incredible weapon, usually pointed at us for monetary or political gain. It burns me up that we can reach and communicate with each other so easily now . . . and this is what it's used for. Doing subversive works like Everyman and Shooting War are key to my over-inflated sense of responsibility to do something meaningful with the days of my life.

You also do another comic, a "surreal Craigslist roommate thriller" called "Kelly." Can you tell me more about that?
"Kelly" is my kinky psychotic colorblast of New York love and longing. I started off riffing on an anecdote about an old roommate of mine, but within the first page of writing, everyone came alive and they weren't who I told them to be, so I ran with it. "Kelly" is like free jazz for me, a story where I get my freak on and experiment and learn about storytelling choices and color-as-text . . . all while using my story outline as a roadmap that I can drunk drive across. Max, Kelly and Theresa have taught me so much about pacing and freeing yourself from the Plot in order to tell the Story. The first Act of "Kelly" wrapped up about 6 weeks ago, and I've recently posted the first of several "Interlude" stories to keep it fresh in my mind while I bear down on Shooting War, but it's going to come back hard with Act Two.

It's funny, too; people assume "Kelly" is autobiographical, they assume that X, Y, Z happens . . . and I just giggle, because everyone is so wrong. It's a grungy sleazy ride that's full of love and heartbreak and confusion and all the things that I want to read when I sit down with a good story.

Along the same lines, a lot of your work is done online, in free venues, though you also need to make a living. Is there ever a tension for you between the work you do to pay the bills and the art you do because you have to?
Tension or just TENSE? The unwritten Freelancer's Code is that the paying work always has to come first. Time management is key, and that's something living in this town teaches you but fast. You blow a job and you won't get another; sometimes those are hard to slog through, too . . . especially when something like "Kelly" is waving at you from the corner, holding a frisbee. Often, that quality time has to be the hours when you planned on sleeping, but things don't draw themselves.

You're about to launch a new company called Department of Homeland Maturity, selling men's underwear with the words "Suspicious Package" across the front. Where'd you get the idea and how'd you put it into action so quickly?
I have no idea where it came from, some dark corner of my skull full of spiders and used condoms, probably. I get a lot of silly gag ideas that I wrote down and do nothing with, but this one for some reason stuck. I mentioned it once more recently at a group dinner at Congee Village and everyone agreed it was a winner, so I sat down and did it. I've always been into the idea of making a living designing sexy things that ridicule the "war on terror" while getting people laid. The DOHM lives at http://homelandmaturity.us.

Your blog is named "This Machine Runs on Love." Is that a play on Woody Guthrie's statement about his guitar—"This Machine Kills Fascists?"
I wish I was that clever; I was really just talking about myself. Oftentimes releasing your work for free in online venues, the back-slapping and kudos of your fans and peers (aka the aforementioned "Love") is literally what keeps the Machine going. The machine also runs on the love of my lovely wife and my lazy-ass cat, who are both incredible and adorable creatures. If I didn't the feedback of ACT-I-VATE and Shooting War's communities and the support of my family at home, I don't think this little jew could do this much work all the time and find it the least bit fulfilling.

You described your new computer as being like a Jaguar. What makes it so luxurious?
I got a new 17" maxed-out MacBook Pro two weeks ago and I'm still honeymooning over it while I work. I'd been doing everything on "Charlie", my dear old G4 TiBook 550 that I "went digital" on, since 2002 and she'd been hiccuping corrupted files and burning RAM chips for a while now. Duct tape was literally holding her together, and I'd been resuscitating her with TechTool on a weekly basis most of this past year. Finally, cosmos aligned and I was able to upgrade to a new machine, still unnamed. She's a good ship: fast, sleek, efficient and effortless. So yes, much like driving a Jaguar.

Your wife, Lilli Higa, is a jewelry designer, and both of you are getting your businesses and careers off the ground, or, as you put it, "giving birth to ourselves." Does being partnered with another artist help feed your own art?
Of course, we inspire and support each other constantly, whether over diner food or stuck in blizzards or giving each other news tools to use in our craft. I believe in her talents and vision 1000% and even though she doesn't read that many comics, she's my biggest fan. Our studio is part nest and part lab, home to my comics and hot pants and to her jewelry line LILLOT. We spend many late nights together in opposite sides of the room, in our "zones" for hours, sharing music and trading sexy looks from our workspaces. The energy just blasts out the windows sometimes. We're very similar in the kind of lives we want to lead and what we want to do with our time, and I can't imagine doing this with anyone else.

What's next for you?
Once Shooting War is completed, there's going to be a long-overdue honeymoon. By then, I hope to have found the right publisher for "Kelly" so I can take some time and finish that story. After that, the next graphic novel on my plate is called Red Light Properties, but that's another story for another day. It's something I've been developing the last four years while sharpening my claws on other projects. It's one of the best ideas I've ever had, and after the last few years . . . its time is coming.

Dan Goldman and Anthony Lappé will discuss Shooting War with Marisa Acocella Marchetto (Cancer Vixen), James Romberger (Seven Miles a Second), moderated Publisher's Weekly Senior News Editor and Co-Editor of PW Comics Week Calvin Reid tonight at Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers Street, 212-220-1459. For more information about Goldman, visit www.dangoldman.net or dangoldman.livejournal.com. His various comics can be found at: Shooting War and "Kelly."