My name is Matt Dan; usually go by he or they. I’m 28 years old. I was born in Las Vegas, Nevada; lived there until I was about five. My parents moved around a lot. Moved up to Oregon and lived in different places around Oregon. I was homeschooled for a while. For some reason when I tell people that they’re like, “Oh, yeah, that makes a lot of sense.”
My dad worked in law enforcement,there was some, you know, conservative. We also took in a lot of foster kids, and that was wild to get a view up close of many other kids my age growing up and their sort of experiences, and also started the system that put them in the house. I grew up religious, under this sort of branded, very, commercialized, kind of Christianity with VeggieTales in the Bible men, and all this stuff. It was just a pattern in my life of , identifying these kinds of contradictions and trying to reconcile them in some way.
I’ve been making animation on and off in different contexts for probably the last 13 or 14 years or so. I got started making little Lego animations in high school, and then from there, I started making more and more elaborate things. I was lucky enough to be able to take an animation class during high school, and by the time I graduated, I finished my first hand-drawn animated film.
I went on this misguided mission’s trip to Russia and lost my religion through that experience. Definitely a culture shock experience and all that. It was weird because over there, it’sBaptists and Evangelicals are considered to be something of a cult there. You’re either atheist or you’re orthodox, and everything else is looked down on. Because they were trying to create American style commercial Christianity in Russia basically, we were passing around these things for this concert, you know?
Somehow, I guess, the FSB or some security agency, heard about them—next day, there's 10 cops outside of the church or something to send a message, but…I remember talking to random people on the streets , what they are ere having us do and just having a moment of , “Okay, what on earth am I doing here? What am I...? Who do I think am?” I realized, , I don’t know if I believe this stuff that I’m spouting out, and maybe I’m, kind of, my motivation was to go on a little adventure. I took a train ride south from Moscow — historical context, I guess, during World War II, that was one of the points where the Nazi invasion turned around. There are a lot of used AMS there for that sort of thing. It’s pretty, some big deal there. They had 20 million people die. From their point of view, “We did the work, and the US came in afterwards and swept that up.” It’s interesting to get that direct perspective there. I think I was somewhat disillusioned with Christianity or religion by the time I went there.
After that, I came back home. I enrolled at Portland Community College. There I kept on taking art classes because I knew I was interested in art. I wanted to continue pursuing being an animator. I had a pretty good time at PCC; I did a lot of painting, sculpture, theater. I got involved in the theater classes there and did a lot of video work for the theaters. While I was there, I also made another short film called Pinko Cowboyo. Sort of towards the end of that, I was pretty set on going to art school. So, eventually, I settled on PNCA. I started getting into doing a lot of interactive installations.
As an artist, I enjoy getting into sort of the technical aspects of making things. I made a lot of animated installations, interactive installations. I enjoyed that for a bit, but after a while, I started the novelty of it and just having it within an art space. It felt a one-liner to me. I knew that I wanted to do more narrative-based work, but there was a limit. You know, when you walk into space and play with the thing and then walk out, there is a limit to how much I could do with that. I finished my thesis at PNCA. I did it on ‘Environmentalism on Pause in the 21st Century.” It was a combination of sculptural work and some animated video that I had made. It is basically about that sense of..., that disconnect from this urgent thing that’s hanging over our heads that affects our survival.
Nighttime Science, we started around 2015. We originally started as sort of this community-oriented scene, we decided to focus it on Beaverton, Oregon. Because me, and Hector Estrada and Charlie Brewer (shout out to them) we decided to collaborate on this project. At first, we put up posts on Craigslist, and posts around town and just asking for submissions, social media and such. Hector and Charlie were born and raised there. I’ve pretty much spent all my teenage years there. We say, there’s nothing about this space, and we’re familiar with this space.
We did a few issues that were just compilations of poetry, art, short stories, things that. After a while, we switched gears and started focusing on making artists additions with artists who had submitted with us, sort of do, you know, focusing on , let’s give this to an artist and let them do whatever they want with it, and then we’ll pedal it around and do this, and started taking it little more seriously after that.
The 2016 elections were a big point for us when we realized, hey, politics is life or death, this isn’t just silly, you know, you can’t just be absurd about this stuff forever. But around that time, I had also wanted to, you know, after pushing other people’s things for a bit, I tried to make my own thing. One day when I was driving around, I came up with the idea of, oh, what if I recontextualize Beaverton, Oregon, as this futuristic cyberpunk place? What if I took Blade Runner and married it (or more particularly probably Akira) to Beaverton, to create this uncanny resonance between this familiar mundane place and fictionalizing it?
I spent a few years on that. The project grew bigger and bigger. Then we finished it, and it’s this eighty-page long graphic novel. We self-published it. Think while I was working with other artists, I figured out some things, oh, here’s how I can get an ISBN, here’s how I can contact different comic shops, and we just distributed it myself, you know?
Luxury Gulag is a two-part narrative project. It consists of 22 pages, well graphic novel, and then it continues on with a point and click adventure game on the computer. The premise of the game is that it’s set in the same sort of universe as Beaverton 2200, but set in the people’s utopia, Tacoma, and it’s set in this rehabilitation center for reactionaries, Nazis and jerks, you know, sort of people who can’t get along with it, or get with the program.
The game itself is stylized after a lot of point and click adventure games 90s games: Freddi Fish, Hot Pot, Secret of Monkey Island, stuff that. We’ve been working on it for the last three years or so, and through that process, it’s definitely evolved and grown quite a bit. At first, it was just going to be aa little 16-page comic. But as we kept writing on it, and elaborating on it, kept feeling. I felt I wanted to say more with it.
It’s Johnboy Booer on his journey through the Gulag. The goal of the game is to get Johnboy through therapy. As you’re playing through the game, you find you have a lot of other characters within the Gulag who are unsavory in their own ways, and you help them through some of their issues.
I hope people enjoy it, and, you know, maybe they’ll see some bits of themselves in the Gulag as well. One thing that I did when I was fleshing out some NPCs and stuff is I put out this post on social media and I made an announcement, , “Hey, I’m working on this game called Luxury Gulag, and it’s about this cybernetic futuristic utopian rehabilitation center for reactionaries and jerks and you know, would you to be in the Gulag?” I made a Google Sheet form for people to fill out. I put in a lot of questions in there, , describe a time when you hurt somebody, describe a time when you felt betrayed, and how you think about therapy? I actually got pretty surprised, because some of the questions were, you know, a lot of people started out filling out the forms as being jokey, and then by the end of the form, they’re , “Oh, my God, I feel tense.” there are a lot of people who I know in real life who volunteered to be put in a Gulag.
A couple of things that I find work for me, because I’m either in a sort of conceptual or planning mode or I’m in some more labor-intensive, you know, labor long, where I’m making animation or... When I’m feeling stuck, or I have an artist block. I think I’ve hit a wall, something that someone once told me is just to start writing down questions, not any answers, don’t try to answer anything, start writing questions and let the questions lead into another question and another question, and that’ll help open you up in a way, rather than trying to find answers and lock things up. I find that that helps loosen my mind up a bit. When I have a lot of work I have to do, then I’d be a little more redundant animation. I find that if I enter my workspace or the studio, I’ll immediately get started. I’ll set a timer for five minutes to get over that initial hump of you know, where I don’t want to, you know, make you don’t feel doing it. Then usually by the time the timer runs out, I’m in my flow.