Interview: ‘The Walking Dead’ Star Dan Fogler Discusses ‘Brooklyn Gladiator,’ ‘Fantastic Beasts,’ and More! [EXCLUSIVE]

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Image courtesy Warner Brothers.

It seems that actor Dan Fogler has been everywhere in the past few years, playing characters well known to audiences like Jacob Kowalski in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them films and Luke on the previous two seasons of The Walking Dead. But Fogler is also an accomplished graphic novelist. His latest series Brooklyn Gladiator is set to be released by Heavy Metal on July 1, along with his other series Fishkill (July 8) and Moon Lake (July 15). Brooklyn Gladiator is described by Heavy Metal as:

a vivid, violent, and frightening glimpse into a fictional future that feels all too familiar, a future we may find ourselves sleepwalking into if we’re not careful. Welcome to Brooklyn, 2033! New Yorkers survive on scraps in a despoiled America. John Miller is an action hero for the ages, a rough and ready badass who could drink Han Solo, Jack Burton, and John McClane under the table. ‘Brooklyn Gladiator’ is a tribute to the comics, films, and experiences that have inspired author Dan Fogler.

We had the chance to discuss Brooklyn Gladiator with Fogler, as well as his roles in Fantastic Beasts and The Walking Dead. Check out our conversation below!

Image courtesy Heavy Metal.

Nerds and Beyond: So I wanted to start off with talking about Brooklyn Gladiator. How did you come up with the idea for it, and what sort of inspirations from pop culture did you look to when you were making the world of the comic?

Dan Fogler: Okay, so the homages are basically all of my favorite sci-fi movies that I’ve watched over the years with a base of Orwell’s 1984. And then it’s an homage to Akira. It’s an homage to The Matrix, Blade Runner, Escape from New York. And my take on it is that I wanted to set it in somewhat of a possible … It’s a cautionary tale, so it’s a possible reality. It’s taken from the headlines of today and the dial has been turned up. So I just basically said, “Okay, what’s going on with nanotechnology today? What’s going on with politics today? What’s going on with pandemics? Martial law? What’s going on with pollution?” And then I turned the dial up on that.

And then as I’m describing it to you, I took… There’s nanotechnology science that’s also embedded in Brooklyn Gladiator. And that’s all stuff that’s happening now. And I was like, “Man, we’re living the sci-fi dystopia right now in 2020.” So I thought, “Well, what if it was happening right now?” That’s Fishkill, which is the prequel, which is the seeds that are sown that lead to Brooklyn Gladiator. I’m very proud of this stuff and it’s all really prophetic.

Image courtesy Heavy Metal.

Nerds and Beyond: This graphic novel started off as a Kickstarter campaign back in 2018. So I was wondering if you could talk us through a little bit the journey that’s gone through from your conception to now with this new release of Brooklyn Gladiator for Heavy Metal?

Dan Fogler: It’s been a journey. I got the idea when 9/11 happened, actually. I was in New York. I was about 20 blocks away when 9/11 happened. And I was there. I witnessed the lockdown after that and the change in the atmosphere and the environment. And I obviously went down a lot of rabbit holes trying to figure out what exactly happened that day. So I always wanted to cultivate a story where there was a character, a hero on his reluctant hero’s journey where he has rejected all of the redacted information. He’s rejected all the tech. And he’s rejected all the chemicals and the pollution and the food that is dumbed down. He’s just rejected it all and meditates and starts to call on his astral traveling abilities and projecting abilities.

And he starts to realize, “Man, everyone’s facing the singularity. Everyone and their mother is trying to convince us to combine with technology.” And he is just doing the opposite. He’s like, “We are more powerful without it. It’s just scaffolding. It’s just a crutch.” But that’s at the heart of Brooklyn Gladiator. That’s the heart and soul. So this guy who’s living in this Orwellian world.

And so he becomes a sort of a Robin Hood where he traverses the city of night in his actual form and he finds all the nooks and crannies where he can navigate around all the cameras and the scrutiny of the all seeing eye. And he uses those to become a Robin Hood. He basically steals from the rich, gives to the poor, and does his best get out of New York. That’s his plan. He just wants to get out. He feels like, it’s much like Neo, trying to get out of the matrix.

And when John Miller finally gets out, because he has a splinter in his mind that things on the other side of the wall are different, he’s right. He finally gets out, finally gets to Canada. And he realizes the rest of the world is in the middle of World War 3 or World War 4. It’s this high tech, Mad Max super war. And he’s been enlisted in the Canadian resistance and suddenly he’s this fish out of water. And just trying to figure it out like, “Wait, wait.” And nobody in America knows this is at the doorstep.

And now that he’s over the wall and he’s in Canada and the skies aren’t being blocked out and he’s in the full rays of the sun, the sun is changing. And this is also based on modern science that every 25,000 [to] 30,000 years or so the sun releases core radiation, just like any kind of battery needs to release. And those cosmic rays pump up our evolution, which would explain the missing link essentially.

So that’s what’s happened in 2033. And the powers that be who want to keep the status quo, they’re blocking out the sunlight. They don’t want any psychics. But that’s what’s happening, just like in Akira, like you can’t control it. It’s just all these psychics are popping up. And so John becomes probably one of the most powerful ones. He has to go back and free America whether they want to be freed or not. But yeah, that’s the heart of Brooklyn Gladiator. And I’ve got years of material ready to roll out.

So that was the concept. The concept was born. And then I was like, you know what, I need a way, a selling tool of what this universe is. And I thought, “I’ll make a comic book as a preview to this universe of Brooklyn Gladiator.” And that’s what I did the Kickstarter for. So that was basically like a pitch package, Volume Zero, which was the setup for the universe. And then Volume Zero was never supposed to be published. It was just a pitching tool. That got published with Chapterhouse when I was with them briefly. And I had all sorts of big plans to put out Volume One, Volume Two, Volume Three of all sorts of books with them. And that relationship kind of fizzled.

But I found Heavy Metal, which is where it’s supposed to be. The very first comic book that I ever picked up was Heavy Metal Magazine because it was oversized and it was sticking out of my brother’s comic book shelf. And I was way too young. And I picked it up and that was it. That started me off. And even the original title font that I use for Brooklyn Gladiator, it’s an homage to Heavy Metal. So I’m so happy that I’m finally here and I get to put out Volume One and Volume Two and all the rest of the volumes with Heavy Metal. And yeah, it’s been a long journey, but we made it to the right place here.

Image courtesy Heavy Metal.

Nerds and Beyond: Has writing always been something that you wanted to pursue? Because I think probably for most of our readers, you’re more well known to them as an actor. So, is this something you always wanted to do as you were coming up through acting? Or is it a more recent passion?

Dan Fogler: I’ve been making comic books since I [was] a kid. Ever since I started reading them I wanted to make them. And I started out drawing them first and my brother would write them. And we would play Dungeons and Dragons and the Marvel game. We would create characters and then we would write our own comic books based on our own characters that we were thinking.

That started really young. And then as I got older, writing plays and writing film scripts and stuff. So yeah, I’ve been writing for a while, but I really wish I could do everything. Like I really wish I was good enough to draw. Like I’m an okay penciler, but man, if I could draw like some of my favorite artists, I would just try to do it all myself. I’d probably just exhaust myself. But I’d try.

Nerds and Beyond: What are you most excited for readers to take away from this story? I know it’s been published in earlier versions before, so people are perhaps eagerly awaiting this one to kind of add a little bit more context and expand the world.

Dan Fogler: Yeah, this is all new content. So Volume Zero was published before. That was the preview. That was Tom Hodges’ art, who does a lot of stuff for Star Wars. But what they’re about to get from Heavy Metal is Simon Bisely. And his art I grew up on, reading Lobo. He basically put Lobo on the map. And he was one of the main cover artists for Heavy Metal for years. And then just to be able to work with him and work with someone who was my favorite artist as a kid, it’s so surreal. So I think a lot of fans of Simon’s are going to be really excited that we got a bunch of work out of him. Kyle Strahm from Spread also contributes. He does a lot of work for Image Comics. And I’m so excited to have him.

So that’s all new, really exciting artwork that I’m really, really excited to share with everybody. But the story, like I said, it’s prophetic. I want it to start a real conversation about … It’s a cautionary tale. You know how they have a billboard or notes in the back of the books where we can have a conversation with the audience, with the readers. And I want to get into some deep conversations. And I want to talk about astral projection. And I want people also talking about the current climate that we’re in right now and how do we avoid a world like Brooklyn Gladiator? You know? So that’s what I hope people take away from it. And obviously, I think it’s the kind of book I would want to read. And I’m already developing it into film. So we’ll see what happens.

Image courtesy AMC.

Nerds and Beyond: I wanted to talk a little bit about The Walking Dead. Fans have really seemed to embrace your character Luke, especially since his arc in the series is a little bit different from his arc in the comics. What has it been like joining TheWalking Dead family? And is there anything that you can tease coming up for season 11?

Dan Fogler: Oh, I love the comic books. I was reading it from the beginning. So much so that when I started watching the show, I had to turn it to black and white [in my head] in order to watch it. [laughs] And then as a comic book fan, just as a fan of comic books, to have someone say, “Hey, would you like to play this character, Luke?” And I think, “Playing a character that exists in the comic books is so cool.” And I was only supposed to … Like, I knew his fate [Luke is dead at this point in the comics]. I was like, “Okay, cool. I’ll pop in. I’ll pop out. It’ll be a fun season.” And it got to the time where they started making the moldings for everybody’s stake head [for Luke’s death scene in the comics]. And they didn’t call me. I was like, “Hey guys, aren’t I supposed to be on the pike?” And then I sent an email. I was basically like, “I’m having a blast. If you guys are thinking of a parallel journey for Luke and my schedule permits, I’d love to come back and keep going.” I love action. Great dialogue, great character, riding the horses and doing that kind of Western stuff is so cool.

And then being in battle scenes! They gave me a really cool weapon for this season. It’s like this motorcycle gear mace. And just to see that in action and, oh my God, that’s why I got into this stuff. My favorite movies are Raiders of the Lost Ark and big fantasy, sci-fi, so to be in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, smashing zombie heads, for my life. That’s why I got into acting.

Image courtesy Warner Brothers.

Nerds and Beyond: You’re also in the Wizarding World universe in Fantastic Beasts playing Jacob Kowalski. That character has been on quite a journey, from some of the early trailers making it seem like he would be the comic relief to now in Crimes of Grindelwald really having a pretty big emotional crisis being caught between two very different worlds. What has it been like to develop that character on screen, and how has the fan response been?

Dan Fogler: They’re wonderful. Fans love me. And that has been just also, it’s just so surreal, such a dream come true. That was magic how that all came together. That whole thing came out of nowhere. I literally wished on a star. I was like, my second daughter is coming. I need a miracle here, man. That movie fell in my lap. That’s how it happened. And what’s crazy about it is, Jacob is, from the moment I read it, I was like, “Oh my, God. He’s like an ancestor.” My great-grandfather was a baker on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It’s like I’m playing someone in my family when I’m playing Jacob.

So it’s really very, very special. And like I said, my favorite movie is Raiders of the Lost Ark. In that first movie, when I’m running from the Erumpent, in my head, I am Indiana Jones running from the boulder. That’s what I got into this for. When I was playing in my backyard as a kid with my friends and we were being Hans Solo and Luke Skywalker and whatever. And we were jumping over the Sarlacc pit. I’m doing the same exact thing now, but I’m getting paid for it. And it’s obviously a lot more technology behind it. It’s very cool.

Brooklyn Gladiator #1 and Fogler’s other titles are available for pre-order now with Heavy Metal. You can see Fogler next in season 11 of The Walking Dead and the third film in the Fantastic Beasts series (currently set to hit theaters next year).

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By Jules
I am a nurse and dedicated nerd from Boston, MA. When I'm not at work, I'm rewatching old favorites like Supernatural or discovering my new obsessions (too many to count!). When not fangirling, I can be found reading, writing, or listening to a true crime podcast. You can find me on Twitter @juleswritesblog for more nerdy nonsense.
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