Brooklyn Gladiator is one of the most out and out crazy comics you’re likely to read this year. It’s a psychotropic, violent story torn from the deep state about a 2033 that is very much like today, only even worse, and John Miller, a man who knows the messages he’s being bombarded with are not real. The consequences of that are bloody and anarchic.
The graphic novel is the brainchild of Dan Fogler, probably best known for playing the role of Jacob Kowalski in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, but also from The Goldbergs, Fanboys, Balls of Fury and so on. (He’s also the host of theDan Fogler’s 4Dx Experence podcast.)But also from Moon Lake, an anthology of horror comics by Fogler and friends that came out from Archaia back in the day. The BG project has been available at cons around as an ashcan (following a successful Kickstarter) for several years, but in April Chapterhouse is bringing out a collection of the first ‘Zero’ Volume.
With the coming of the definitive Brooklyn Gladiator #0 – which is co written by Andrew Harrison and Ben McCool, with art by Tom Hodges (Star Wars), and cover art by Glenn Fabry (Preacher) – we sat down with Fogler to talk about writing what seems more and more like a possible future (Facebook anyone?), and also find out a bit more about the nerdlebrity life. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve helped out as an informal publishing consultant on BG for a while, hence the bantering nature of our conversation.
ALSO: If you get to the bottom of this interview, you’ll see an EXCLUSIVE preview of a page of Simon Bisley’s art from Volume One.
THE BEAT: So, let’s talk about Brooklyn Gladiator. You’ve had this idea for a long time.
FOGLER: Yes, but I think it’s even more relevant now. Imagine if the current regime turned the dial up and that marinates until 2033. It’s going to smell like a testosterone riddled insanity. That’s what I’m trying to get across. In the first part of the story, we’re introduced to a classic homage to the rage punching Bruce Willis kind of character. But it’s actually the last whimpering of the male dominant energy that is clinging on. What I learned when I did this movie Don Peyote is that Yin/Yang is wheel. And we’ve been living in this Yang energy for a long time. 2012 was supposed to be a change of consciousness moment. They said that the Yin is rising, that the feminine energy is taking over.
THE BEAT: I’d like the yin to rise.
FOGLER: But you can just feel it. I mean, since 2012, you can feel that the feminine energy is fighting to create balance. Every day you see all the people who are stuck in the Yang energy, who still very much are in power but they’re clinging to that power and their time is ending. And that ending time is chaotic. That’s what we’re talking about with Brooklyn Gladiator. The changing of the guard. I’m curious what you think of it as a female reader.
THE BEAT: Well, it definitely seems like a boy book in the first chapter. But I think what impresses me about Brooklyn Gladiator the most is the timing. We started talking about this book a couple of years ago, maybe three years ago. Now it’s almost a documentary. You like conspiracy theories, right?
THE BEAT: How does it feel to see the world turning into one big conspiracy theory?
FOGLER: It’s freaky, because there was a moment where everything kind of switched into living the sci-fi movie. I started writing the book years ago. The idea was germinating since 9-11 for me. I was here in New York. I witnessed that. It was shockin and I went down many rabbit holes trying to figure out what the fuck went on that day. That’s where this character John Miller was created, where I thought, what if we had a universe where all conspiracy theories were true, and there was this oppressive regime? All the rights are being taken away. And then you had this character, John Miller, who’s essentially the Neo, who has this splinter in the back of his head which is telling him all this is all redactive bullshit that they’re being fed about what’s really going on in the rest of the world. He can’t believe it. He rejects the mind-numbing drugs they give him. And he rejects the tech. Because he goes clean, he’s just totally pure, he starts to get in touch with that yin energy, the extremely very powerful psychic energy. So, it’s starts to rise in him like a Jedi, like a hero’s journey.
It is really trippy to say I was writing this story just before Trump becomes president, he’s running for president, and I say to myself, “Whoa, wouldn’t it be crazy if he actually did become president because that would be like living in a sci-fi movie.” Where the mad billionaire takes the reigns of the world and turns everything into a reality show. And now we’re living that.
THE BEAT: I know you’re a big comics fan, there’s certainly some Watchman analogies to where we’re at now.
FOGLER: Oh yeah.
THE BEAT: And also, Elektra Assassin. I feel like Martha Washington too. We’re definitely living in Frank Miller’s view of the future from the 90s. Which is not my preferred place. I wanted it to be Star Trek, the Next Generation.
FOGLER: Yeah, we should’ve had teleporters by now.
THE BEAT: Well, we’re gonna have a space force. Did you hear about that? About our space force? Trump last night gave a speech He said, “We need to have a Space Force, because we have an Army and a Navy and …” I’m going to put in a note that says “I wish you could see Dan’s face right now.”
FOGLER: That’s scary. It’s because…why would you need a space force? Unless you’re fighting space aliens. And then we’re talking about Watchmen.
THE BEAT: It’s literally like a line of dialogue from Brooklyn Gladiator.
FOGLER: You know what’s scary, if you want to get into conspiracy, I think Alan Moore could have been a Freemason. They’re basically the manipulative hand behind the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. So in Watchmen, he’s warning about a classic conspiratorial theory, a new world order theory. The powers that be, in order to cull the population, get everybody together and united against some outside force. Which, in the Watchmen was the alien that was crafted by great Hollywood artists. That’s a well-known conspiracy theory. You don’t have to go very far down the rabbit hole to connect those dots. So I’m saying whether it’s true, whether it’s false, I’m just saying in Brooklyn Gladiator, all conspiracy theories are true. And what if, even if half of them are true, we’re in a lot of trouble. We see it every day. You look at the headlines today, it could be these seeds for the possible 2033 that I’ve laid out.
THE BEAT: Yeah, you have timeline in there of things that have happened, and like I said, I think maybe in our comfortable world of 2015, we might’ve look at this and been like, “Ha ha ha, what a fun adventure that will be.” And now, it’s like, you know what, that could happen. That could actually … that’s actually not so far outside … anything that’s technologically possible is possible. Like Barbara Streisand cloning her dogs.
FOGLER: Yeah. That sounds like something out of Transmetropolitan.
THE BEAT: It’s totally like Neuromancer, something you’d find in the Villa Straylight, the lady with the cloned dogs.
FOGLER: I want women to read this book. I know it is an “homage” to my favorite ’90s action heroes, basically, but I want them to see this transformation of this energy rising in him. As he gets out of New York, he gets more in touch with his feminine psychic side. Which, by the way, is connected to all of this secret society ancient mysticism. Our evolution is leading toward a full union of the sacred male and the sacred female. It’s the chaos, it’s the storm before the peace.
THE BEAT: Obviously this is talking about gender in a more spiritual and mythological way.
FOGLER: Where it’s all leading to is kind of like The Dark Crystal. [laughter] Have you seen The Dark Crystal recently? It’s the meshing of the two, where they become this hermaphroditic light-being. That’s what these ancient schools like Freemasonry, if you do the research, they believe that’s where we’re heading in our evolution.
THE BEAT: Have you ever been to the Freemason Temple here in NYC?
FOGLER: I have. When I was doing Don Peyote, Freeman [a real person who appears in Don Peyote], who is a big conspiracy theorist, took me there and showed me around, and it was really trippy, man.
THE BEAT: I used to work in that building, and yeah, there’s some pretty amazing things. There’s secret theaters and secret assembly halls and paintings and shrines.
FOGLER: Giant golden George Washington decked out in the full regalia.
THE BEAT: I’ve never seen that! My dream would be to go on a tour of that building with Grant Morrison. [general laughter]
FOGLER: He’s just explaining everything, and then he does some secret ritual, opens a portal.
THE BEAT: Or it confirms all his beliefs.
FOGLER: So anyway back to Brooklyn Gladiator. John Miller gets over the walls, he gets into the real world, it’s chaos. It’s war. It’s World War Three, and this physic energy emerges. We have all these people blossoming, and the strongest psychics are the women, who basically teach him how to be a prophet. He has many teachers along the way. I just want people to know that this is a transformation. That’s what the story is about, John Miller going from death match criminal Robin Hood to a spiritual warrior to modern prophet.
THE BEAT: Let’s talk a little bit about the publishing history. It’s coming out from Chapterhouse with the #0 volume, right?
FOGLER: Yeah, this was originally a preview. I wanted to show people the universe. So it was basically 50, 60 pages of story. I showed it to Chapterhouse and I said, “Do you wanna publish Volume One from this universe?” And they said, “We love this, man. Let’s publish this!” At that point, I’d Kickstartered it and put my own money into it, and it was great to see that, wow this maybe is gonna get on shelves, and maybe it’ll make money.
THE BEAT: Let’s go back even a little bit further. Obviously, you’re a successful, busy actor. How does writing comics fit in? I know you’ve always been a comic book fan. I think I first met you when Moon Lake came out.
FOGLER: Yeah, the first one came out, I think, 2010, and the next one came out in 2013.
THE BEAT: So has writing comics always been a hobby of yours, or a sidelight?
FOGLER: I used to make comics when I was a kid, with my brother. I’d draw them and he’d write them. I read comics and we played the Marvel game and D&D, which is really a catalyst for creating your own characters, and then, of course, making your own comic books is a segue to story boarding and making your own movies. So it all kind of went hand-in-hand. I always loved drawing and then when I realized that I couldn’t really draw that fantastically, I said okay, I’m just gonna write stuff, ’cause I like writing. And after you make your first book, Moon Lake, to have that tangible item–it’s in your hands, it’s up on the shelf, that’s like … there’s an addiction to that. You want to keep on making stuff and feeding that inner child, basically.
THE BEAT: Yeah. You first got known for your theater work, which is very ephemeral. You won the Tony for playing William Barfee–
THE BEAT: Bar-fay. Pardon me, in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee on Broadway, but for those of us who didn’t go to see it, it’s gone forever. Whereas Moon Lake is sitting there on the shelf.
FOGLER: Exactly. There may be some Lincoln Center Performance of me somewhere on a tape, someone could see, but yeah it is, it’s fleeting. But this is tangible. Chapterhouse is going to be publishing an omnibus of Moon Lake, with Volume One and Volume Two. And then 150 pages of previously unpublished. It’s gonna be gigantic.
THE BEAT: We’ve written about Chapterhouse on The Beat. They’re a plucky Canadian company. How did you get mixed up with them?
FOGLER: They’re making changes and [Canadian comic actor/writer] Jay Baruchel came on onboard [as Chief Creative Officer and co-owner], he’s a buddy of mine. We did Fanboys together, the movie that really rekindled my love of comic books. I’ve been talking with him over the years about Moon Lake and Brooklyn Gladiator. He gave me a nice quote for Moon Lake, and a great forward. But he pointed out “It doesn’t hurt that John Miller was born in Toronto, lived in America, and is now trying to get back home.”
THE BEAT: He’s a Canadian trapped in America. I can’t imagine a more poignant story line. [general laughter]
FOGLER: That spoke to Jay! Also Moon Lake takes place near Saskatchewan, so that also spoke to him.
THE BEAT: Do you have a secret Canadian inside you?
FOGLER: I have an affinity. Things are a little bit more relaxed here, like, yes they get super upset if the hockey scores get fucked. They’ll start a riot over curling. [general laughter] But, they seem to have a lot of shit figured out over there, like the gun laws. In the book in 2033 Canada is in chaos because it’s World War Three, we’re being invaded, everyone’s trying to get to America, and Canada is being invaded by Russia and China. The Canadians are just trying to hold their ground. John gets sucked into that. That’s how volume one starts. It’s like the Foreign Legion … he gets pulled into the Canadian resistance.
THE BEAT: For future volumes, you also have some all-star talent working, right, like Simon Bisley?
FOGLER: Simon Bisley is currently working on Volume One of Brooklyn Gladiator, which is awesome. There’s like a sneak peek in Volume Zero. Hopefully, knock on wood, I’m gonna put out a volume every year.
THE BEAT: Well hopefully as it comes out, it’ll seem less and less like a documentary, and more like the nice escapist fantasy that it’s meant to be.
FOGLER: Right now it’s like a warning of a possible dark future if we’re not too careful.
THE BEAT: You have some other comics projects coming up though, right? Besides Moon Lake.
FOGLER: Yeah. Brooklyn Gladiator, while I’ve been trying to get it to publishers, has blossomed into my Star Wars. It’s got prequels, it’s got side-quels, it’s got sequels, so I’ve written a bunch of stuff off of it that I’m even more excited about than Brooklyn Gladiator. Brooklyn Gladiator is my baby. I’m planning on doing more with Moon Lake. And I’m writing plays, and plenty of stuff.
THE BEAT: Okay, so you were busy when we first met, but now you have a role in a very fan-beloved franchise, playing Jacob Kowalski in the Fantastic Beasts films. When you become a player in a movie that has a huge fandom the way J.K. Rowling’s world does, I mean there’s fan fiction, there’s fan art. There’s conventions, there’s … it’s very intense. Did you know that came with the job?
FOGLER: I had a lot of events that happened to me on the road to getting that and being a part of the machine that is this franchise. I had a taste of what it would feel like. The Tony Awards was my first taste of Red Carpet. Of course you take that and you multiply it by a thousand and you send it all over the globe. That’s the machine that is Fantastic Beasts and Harry Potter. As an actor, you pray for something like this. It’s like I won the lottery. I have a family and I literally wished on a star. I said, “Please, my second daughter is coming I need a miracle here, I need some stability,” and then a month or two later I had the audition. As far as acting goes, you want security. I pretty much know I have a gig for the next couple years, and that’s unheard of.
THE BEAT: You know, I go to a million conventions, and I’m always fascinated by Nerdlebrities and how they intersect with fandom. I’m fascinated about the Nerdlebrity experience. You went to LeakyCon in Dublin, right? What was that experience like for you?
FOGLER: It’s lovely. Especially the Harry Potter fandom. That Wizarding World fandom is really lovely. It’s different because there aren’t a lot of masks in that franchise. You see a lot of their smiling faces. In Stars Wars, you can’t see everyone’s face. Before the first Fantastic Beasts even came out, the fans were just so lovely. Like, we know you’re gonna be wonderful. Welcome to the family. I thought, this is great. It’s very sweet and because I play a baker, people give me muffins and cookies all the time.
THE BEAT: Wow, that’s great. It’s a good thing you weren’t a plumber.
FOGLER: Yeah, exactly. Then they’d just give me pipes full of shit! [general laughter]
THE BEAT: As we’re talking, the teaser trailer forFantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald just dropped yesterday. And we finally see Jude Law as Dumbledore. Now do you know anything about Jude Law’s Rorschach tattoo?
FOGLER: Rorschach tattoo? Why would I? Where is it?
THE BEAT: I don’t know. I saw him once at a junket and I asked him if he really had a Rorschach tattoo because he’s such a big Watchmen fan, and he said yes. So next time you see Jude Law you should ask him about that tattoo.
FOGLER: I’ll have to preface it by saying, “My friend Heidi wanted to know!” [Laughs]
Brooklyn Gladiator goes on sale in April. Dan Fogler will be appearing this week at WonderCon at the Golden Apple booth.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.