‘Red Light Properties’ Exorcist Jude Tobin Talks to the Dead [Interview]
This week Dan Goldman's "Red Light Properties," a webcomic about a real estate firm that performs exorcisms on haunted properties in Miami, wrapped it initial run after 23 chapters and more than 180 pages of digital storytelling. ComicsAlliance and writer Jeff Newelt had a chance to speak with the webcomic's protagonist, resident exorcist Jude Tobin, for a meta-interview about his experiences in "Red Light Properties," psychedelic drugs, ghost rape, and the complex world of supernatural real estate.Jeff Newelt: Are you from Miami originally? Ever want to get the hell out of there, especially with your marriage on the rocks and all?
Jude Tobin: I'm originally from Brooklyn, Sunset Park; it's all Chinese now, where I grew up. I wound up in Miami because I was visiting my parents; old Jews move to Florida, right? So, my pops was having heart problems and he said, "kid, this is gonna be it," and wanted me down there to help get his affairs straight. On the flight back to JFK, I sat next to this Cuban chick returning from visiting family. We hit a lot of turbulence, and she's f*cking terrified, grabbing my arm every bump, burying her head on my shoulder. I liked the way she smelled.
We did a lot of tickling each other via email and talking at night on the phone, and before I knew what hit me, we're married, my Dad's passed away and I'm buying this funky old building on the beach with what's left of my inheritance. Do I want to get out? Yeah, I think about it all the time, but I really believe in what I'm doing. Marriage, divorce, whatever -- those are just words... legal states, even. Low-level monkey sh*t. I'm way more interested in higher concepts. I'm more interested in suckling from the Teat of Universal Knowledge, y'know?
JN: You wrote a self-incriminating blog that pretty much screwed your marriage; you said you wrote it "only for yourself." What were you thinking?! Are you 80 with no concept of the Internet? Were you subconsciously trying to sabotage your marriage?
JT: [sighs] You're not gonna believe me, but I honestly never thought anyone would ever see it! You know, those old cartoons where somebody hits the cat on the toe with a hammer, and he gets a brown paper bag and screams into it, then walks over to the window and opens the bag to let the blood-curdling scream outside? That was my blog. Never intended for public use. Never. So was it intentional sabotage? What is this, an interview or f*cking therapy...? I needed to vent and I picked a stupid place to do it.
JN: With your relationship with your father, did you find it easier to talk to him when he was dead? Some folks are like "Oh, I wish I had more time with so and so," but [as an exorcist] you DO have more time.
JT: What is it with these questions? Jesus. Yeah, it's easier now... but they're short-burst sessions. That's due to the duration of the salvia that gets me in the right state more than anything. We had a nice all-night hangout a few weeks ago; I got some mushrooms that kept me There for longer.
Pops was real distant when I was a kid. All work and no play made Judie a little lonely. Ceci used to give me ten flavors of sh*t about "holding him hostage" with his menorah; she wanted me to let him go on to the next level... but both her folks are alive, so what can she know about that, right? She don't know... We're good now, Pops and me. Sometimes a little death does wonders for a relationship.
JN: Do you consider yourself a "brujo" or "shaman?" Have you studied the occult or are you just winging it?
JT: Well, I've studied a lot of paranormal phenomena back in NYC but it was academic stuff, not field work. I'm also a charter member of SFAP [the South Florida Association of Phenomenologists], but I'm not a member anymore... they're too junior high school for me, but I did some good work with them for a few years before getting RLP off the ground.
I don't call myself a brujo or shaman or a though; those labels come with baggage, y'know? I approach my work scientifically, so I think of myself as a "conduit", and I think about consciousness as layers of energy separated by membranes of information-slash-belief. I tap into, I pass through; I don't chant or dance or kill chickens though.
JN: Your relationship with the South Florida Association of Phenomenologists... How long did you work with them and what did you learn from them? How did you last more than a minute with those lunatics?
JT: Hah! I shouldn't talk sh*t about them, but it's just so easy! You should've seen Rory when he was younger, man he was so cool, like a redneck David Bowie! I don't even know if that's his real name or some persona he made up. But Rory is a natural, maybe the best medium I've ever met. He's actually... Well. I shouldn't say this on the record. You can't print what I'm about to tell you...
[Jude explains crazy sh*t, off-record]
So anyhow, SFAP is not at all the same paranormal research group we started. When Rory declared himself King of the Ghost-Geeks, I had to blow them off. They still call me at least twice a week to hang out, join up, pool resources, any possible excuse. Rory's ego that can't take rejection. Plus, I had this hot Latina at home who wanted to go into business with me; we all know how that turned out. Hah! Maybe I should've stayed put...
JN: Doctor Amanda, the woman who deals your psychoactive substances, how'd you hook up with her?
JT: I've known Amanda a long time; she's like a sister and a mother to me. We met at a consciousness conference in New York about 10, 12 years ago, and it turned out her situation at Florida International U is a 20 minute drive from my pops' apartment. At first, she was a good hookup for some ha-ha's when I'd come to town, but once I'd settled and started with SFAP, she became pretty indispensable to me. She was a member of SFAP in the beginning too, but she left when that thing I told you about happened. We've been through some sh*t together, there aren't many people in this life I trust more than her.
JN: [Your friend] Zoya said being you must be like "looking at a hall of mirrors into history." Is this what its really like? How does it feel to be able to see past and present, and folks who don't exist anymore?
JT: The truth? It's lonely. You'd think the opposite, being surrounded by "others," but they're alone too. Ghosts are like feedback loops with egos; most of them aren't aware of anyone else. That Golden Palms job was like being stuck inside the second half of "I Am the Walrus" with all the looping going on. But yeah, it makes you more aware of how stuck you are in your own mind, your own timeline. Combine that with the fact you can't talk about it with 98% of people without them thinking you need some kind of medication. What I've got plenty of, thanks.
JN: One time when you went to cleanse a locale, you essentially witnessed a rape that happened years ago. it must be tough to deal with that kinda sh*t... How often do you see past acts?
JT: Yeah, I see a lot of bad, bad sh*t. The rape was awful, but far from the worst. One of my first outings with Dr. Amanda, we went down to the Everglades with these mescaline gelcaps she'd concocted... she got the mix wrong and we were tripping and slough-slogging, being eaten by mosquitoes and horseflies for almost four days.
JN: What the f*ck is slough-slogging?
JT: Well, the Everglades is mostly a shallow river full of grass, so a "slough-slog" is like a wet-hike in hip-boots; it can get dangerous... alligators build underwater nests and you can step in that sh#t... I would absolutely never never never recommend doing it on mescaline.
JN: Do have any idea what happens to us when we die? Have you ever searched for some of your favorites, like Miles Davis or Jack Kirby, to say hi?
JT: It depends; ideally you kind of dissipate, when you let go of that ego you spent your whole life building. Obviously, I only cross paths with the ones that don't and wind up sticking around unwanted or unnoticed. During my exorcism work, I've personally seen this... well, I call it the Golden River... on the other side of the membrane. That's real, 100% In Kabbalah, they call it the Guf, the "Well of Souls"... it's where the souls come from, return to... every drop is a person, a living thing. That's where you go. SPOILER ALERT, hehehe!
JN: Good to know.
JT: I came across an echo of Jackie Gleason performing once with Milton Berle, down on the old Strip; it wasn't his ghost... it was the moment this old hotel was most proud of in its history. I stayed there for about an hour basking in this hotel's memory... it was like watching television made of sunlight. They knocked the place down in 2007 to build a condo with a strip mall underneath, mostly bikinis and Florida towels for tourists, lotto tickets for the locals.
JN: Don't you think there might be other business aspects to your skill? How about asking the dead for lost jewelry, treasure maps, etc! Do you have any code of conduct you abide by, anything you wouldn't ask the dead?
JT: To me, that's grave-robbing, man... karmically unethical. It's also the easiest way to get an angered spirit attached to yours, and that can come at a higher price than what the pawn shop lays out. There are other organizations that don't feel the way I do about it; some of them I've even been a member of.
JN: ...Where if anywhere does your Judaism fit into this! Have you studied Jewish mysticism at all, or do you plan on doing so and think that might help you deal with your unique occupation?
JT: I have studied, on my own and with a Lubavitch rebbe for a while, and I've come to the conclusion that deep in my heart, I'm not a Jew and can never truly be one, all circumcision aside. It's my biological-social tribe but the one my heart belongs to I'm unfortunately the sole member of.
Judaism is thousands of years of thought and social balance that I think needs to be shattered and destroyed, like the rest of the f*cking religions. They're man-made layers that insulate you from the Universe, only letting you fear or worship the Universe through this anthropomorphic lens. F*ck that; I'm for the screaming bleeding crying orgasmic shimmering Chaos of NeverForever... that's my shul, man. I do still love my kreplach though.
JN: Your life seems pretty hairy on professional, personal and psychic levels; did you guys have any "good old days" before the sh*t hit the fan, or was it always this nutty?
JT: Yeah. There were some real good days, a few years ago. Before the housing crash, things were mellower. We were more of a realty office, the exorcism was a sideline thing... I guess word-of-mouth worked for and against us. Ceci was happier then, not as demanding; Turi wasn't talking much... he was just a cute little monkey who wasn't filled with bad ideas about me from his mom yet. Rhoda hardly ever came into the office; it was nicer.
Now's good too, in a different way. Having Zoya around is a godsend; she's the only other member of Team Jude right now.. The Gov says the economy's starting to turn around again, so maybe good times are coming back; maybe it's even better for me to be single then? Who knows.