Zany, spontaneous, action-packed, mad… these are the kinds of descriptors that go well with writer Dan Fogler’s (Of Fantastic Beasts and Walking Dead fame) growing oeuvre of experimental and rivetingly adventurous comic books, and which often spell success in the more mature kind of storytelling of the medium. On the cusp of the release of his first two comic book series; the four-part hard-boiled detective story Fishkill and the six-part dystopian fever dream Brooklyn Gladiator, as well as the re-release and continuation of his off-the-wall anthology series Moon Lake all under the Heavy Metal label, Fogler appears to be realizing the dream of his own fictional world come to life. Or nightmare dystopia depending on how you look.
Satirical, sardonic, with the dial always turned up to max volume, Fogler’s storytelling often revolves around desperate men in desperate times, but with a hint of humor inherent in the corresponding surrealism that feels right at home on his new label. Oftentimes equal parts outlandishly wacky and brutally serious, it’s no wonder he’s attracted such remarkable talent as Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night) and Simon Bisley (Slaine) for his newest endeavors. Screen Rant caught up with Dan to discuss his storytelling philosophy along with the details on his gritty-yet-fantastic upcoming releases.
Screen Rant: First let’s talk about Moon Lake. Going through your influences like the old EC anthologies and Heavy Metal Magazine, you have the storytelling technique of painting with shades, and trying to use those shades to form the overall picture. What is it about those old styles that draws you in?
Dan Fogler: Like Tales From the Crypt, Creep Show– all of these early comic books that I read. Heavy Metal Magazine was the first comic book that I picked up. I was way too young, I was like ten-years-old, and it was on my brother’s shelf, and it was oversized so it stuck out from another comic book. And I picked it up and was like ‘holy shit, this is what people are doing with comic books?’ And I was just hooked. And I then I saw Heavy Metal, the movie, and I just really fell in love with that kind of storytelling where you have the Loc-Nar which is the narrator which weaved its way through all of the different short stories.
And I thought ‘man, I want to do that’.
So, my Loc-Nar for Moon Lake is The “Man in the Moon”; he’s like Hitchcock on acid, y’know? It’s an homage to Hitchcock Presents, where you have the Man in the Moon, this weird narrator telling creepy tales just like the Cryptkeeper, or the ghoul from Creep Show, and he tells tales this specific place called Moon Lake, and I thought, y’know how can I make my world, a horror/fantasy/sci-fi world, different? And I was like ‘that’s just it’: it’s a lasagna! It’s like layers and layers and layers and layers of different brands of evil, in a lot of ways.
You’ve got everything from aliens to ghosts to werewolves and vampires and sasquatches and beasts. So when you have Sasquatch fighting alongside cave-girl and her zombie t-rex, then things start to get surreal, and that’s when a lot of comedy comes out of it. It’s a fine, specific kind of alchemy to get the perfect kind of balance of everything. Some stories are really dark, while other stories are really funny, but what links them together is this Man in the Moon. And sometimes some characters from one story will end up in another story.
Then when Volume Two came out, I really wanted to paint the picture that ‘oh, each one of these stories is actually part of a much larger picture, and they all have puzzle pieces fit together to make a much larger story.’ Where it’s like wherever you go there’s just a million different rabbit holes, kind of like the island in Lost. I loved that show, Lost, and the idea where it’s this place is displaced from time, and once you go there, you can’t escape and it’s an endless labyrinth of rabbit holes, for every single character it’s its own rabbit hole, and you’ll never unearth the actual history. It’s just everything is a mystery.
So I just basically did, in Moon Lake– I actually put in all those things I loved watching past my bedtime growing up, like Amazing Stories and Twilight Zone, and all the pieces reflect that. I like a good anthology. I hope to go the animated route with it. For all my projects, I want them to go on and be TV shows and movies. I’m excited to reveal all the new Moon Lake material that we have been compiling for this specific moment.
SR: What do you think makes a good mystery?
Dan: Well it’s gotta be something that hasn’t been done before. Something that is surprising, you can’t have people figuring it out before the end of the story. So I take a cue from shows like Lost, where you have the ‘what’s in the box’, y’know the magic box, and as long as you this question of ‘what makes this place kick?’ ‘Are we ever going to get to the bottom of this place?’ The answer is no! I want the stories to just go on forever! It reveals history all the way back to our history to prehistoric times and even before to ancient civilization. It just goes on and on and on.
What it is is just a Pandora’s Box. It just keeps on revealing information. And that’s the world we’re living in today. We’re living in one massive conspiracy theory that just keeps on revealing itself to be true every single day. It’s quite an exciting time to be alive, but very surreal, trying to get to the bottom of what’s really happening, and I think that Moon Lake is like a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. Truth is stranger than fiction and I’m just excited in Moon Lake to make an enormous goulash of all of these different characters working side-by-side together which makes the stories fresh.
SR: So these characters and the way they are unraveling this unfathomable mystery, you say you’re drawing upon the zeitgeist of today in these characters?
Dan: Well, you can’t really help it, you know? Moon Lake it has the dial turned up very, very loud on the characters. But if you take any of the characters like, Desensitized Deirdre, who’s one of my favorite characters; at the core she is a girl that was in a MK-Ultra-like mind-altering program when she was a kid. That’s real shit.
She grows up and her mind control unravels and she becomes essentially a psychotic super-killer released on society. That’s at the heart of her story. There’s other stories like the Werebear, which seems pretty horrifically innocent: it’s about this guy who turns into a bear, like a werewolf. He’s part of a deep underground military experiment of hybridization. We talk about how the moon is hollow, there’s life in there. NASA shot a [rocket] at the moon and it gonged like a bell. [Author’s Note: Mr. Fogler here refers to the experiment conducted by NASA with Apollo 12 in 1970.] In my story, I’ve turned the dial up, so I’ve got aliens living inside the moon. I’ve got a secret space war happening on the moon.
SR: Sounds like fun. You’ve got a clear love of the dystopian nightmare, bringing these fears to life. Can you tell me why you find this so prescient today?
Dan: Yeah, we’re living it, man! And I think that it’s our duty as artists to comment on the world we’re living in, to put a mirror up to society. Brooklyn Gladiator is a cautionary tale. It’s a big warning sign to what happens if we go head into trusting new experimental technologies. So Brooklyn Gladiator, the hero in it is John Miller who has rejected all this technology and all the ‘redacted information’ and all the drugs that are used to dumb down everybody. He’s living in this 1984 world and has managed to evade getting the nannites that the state [implants into everybody] in this world.
Imagine if tomorrow Trump makes an announcement, and he says [Author’s Note: Dan here utilizes a pitch-perfect Trump impression] ‘We have an experimental- it’s amazing- technology, it’s going to save everybody. It’s called nannite technology. We’re going to sprinkle it on everything. We’re going to sprinkle it the police force. For the police force, it should be one man should take on ten people, so no one’s going to want to riot anymore. We’re going to sprinkle nannites on the population, so nobody’s going to get sick anymore. We’re going to sprinkle nannites into the ocean, and the nannites are going to take the molecules in the ocean and they’re going to create a wall.’ So imagine the nannite solution!
This is pushed on everybody and everyone’s at the end of their ropes, so everyone agrees to it. Fifteen, twenty years later, the nannites are in everything, they’ve taken over. And our hero, John Miller has rejected it, and he’s gone the opposite way. He has looked inside and he’s started developing astral projection abilities and realizing that all the technology around him, it’s just a crutch. That we don’t need to become cyborgs to get to the next level. We have regain the lost abilities that we used to have, that have disappeared over time, because the powers-that-be want to keep the status quo.
The other thing that’s happening in Brooklyn Gladiator which is something that’s happening now, in our headlines, is nanotechnology. This is a real thing They are considering putting it into everything. Nanotechnology basically is, you program microscopic robots to do a job. You inject them into your bloodstream, and they will clean up your blood. They’ll brush your fucking teeth for you. They’ll go into your brain and help the electro-magnetic synapses. If they’re frayed, they help connect them. They make you better.
Dan: But it’s technology, and sentient technology, so if you get a microchip or something embedded in your skin, if you decide ‘ok this isn’t for me, I want to get this chip taken out’, you can’t do that with nannites. Nannites is permanent. Nannites become part of you. So now you have these microscopic bug-bots that could break down at any moment, that can disobey orders, that can get hacked- that can be hacked to say ‘you know what? Multiply.’ That’s a big fear that these scientists have that ‘okay, we’re going to create these nannites, but what if we can’t get them to stop converting things?’ You program microscopic nannites to take the molecular structure of dirt, and it will turn it into gold. That sounds great. But then what happens if you can’t stop it from turning everything into gold? It’ll just turn every f*cking thing on the planet into gold. Multiply, multiply, multiply.
SR: So Brooklyn Gladiator is like a gritty, street-level fight against this all-pervasive enemy?
Dan: It’s even more-powerful than that. It’s full-scale, full-spectrum domination. They’re in your bloodstream. They’re in your mind. The information they feed you…
SR: They can impact your consciousness like *snaps* that?
Dan: Yeah. Just like we’re getting impacted on an everyday basis by the news, by the food we’re given, by the pollution in the air. Turn the dial up on all that. People talk about chemtrails in the skies today. I’ve just decided that in Brooklyn Gladiator, all conspiracies are true. Just an endless rabbit hole of how powerful [the villain] is.
SR: I want to hear about your villain.
Dan: My villain is a complex villain. My villain is Nikola Tesla. Nikola Tesla is looking down from a pocket dimension, in the fourth dimension, and he’s looking down on the earth and he’s pissed off, because he’s seeing how his technology has been corrupted, nannite technology, HAARP technology, and he has seen how instead of creating a utopia out of his technology, free energy which is what he always wanted, he sees that the people that are in control now have corrupted it. He’s like the master in The Matrix. He’s like God, he’s looking down and he’s saying ‘yeah, there’s going to be a lot of pain in this transition, but there’s going to be a thousand years of peace after, once we get to my utopia.’ So, from where he is, he’s pulling the strings, he’s keeping agents, manipulating them from the astral plane, like John Miller, like other psychics, in order to herd them towards his utopia, whether the world wants it or not.
SR: And he’s the villain of both Brooklyn Gladiator and Fish Kill?
Dan: In a sense, yeah. But Fish Kill is the very beginning of the rabbit hole. They’re connected. I was writing Brooklyn Gladiator, and I said ‘man we’re living the sci-fi dystopia right now. I better start writing the story that’s happening right now. Fish Kill is the prequel to Brooklyn Gladiator. It’s about a detective who goes sniffing down the wrong corridors looking for lost children. And he knocks on the wrong door, and his superiors get pissed off, and long story short, he’s punished for it. He went down a trail that unbeknownst to him led him to a secret society, and they decided that he got too close. So he finds himself on the Brooklyn Bridge, on bridge duty in one of those meter-maid three-wheeled carts. He was a detective and now he’s demoted. He’s in limbo.
And a bomb goes off, and it’s horrific, and it’s called the “Home Dog Terrorist Attack”. He wakes up the next day and he learns that it’s all being blamed on him. He’s the “Black Friday Bomber”. Now he’s a fugitive, now this detective has to prove his innocence going against the deep state. So he gets to that level of the rabbit hole. He’s gets to prove his innocence, one man against nefarious society.
SR: It sounds like that this story is a mirror reflection of Brooklyn Gladiator, one man against the multitude.
Dan: Exactly, you got it, brother. They’re connected. John Miller and Barton Fishkill are eternally connected. I’m cultivating a storyline where they maybe meet up later in Brooklyn Gladiator.
SR: How many years before Gladiator is Fish Kill?
Dan: Fishkill is happening right now, and Brooklyn Gladiator in 2033. It’s all connected. Fishkill deals with the headlines of today, tittering on the edge of martial law, forced lockdowns, quarantine, forced stagnations, riots, it’s crazy. I wrote this years ago, and if you read it now, you’re going to be like ‘oh my god, it looks like you wrote this last week.’ And it’s impossible that we wrote it last week because we have Ben Templesmith drawing it and he couldn’t possibly work that fast.
SR: Certainly an impressive line-up of artists you have, Templesmith on Fishkill and Simon Bisley on Brooklyn Gladiator.
Dan: I couldn’t believe it. First of all, Bisley is like- I used to read Lobo, he was the big Heavy Metal artist. That’s just amazing to have a comic book [with him]. Same from, Ben, man. 30 Days of Night. Both of these guys are legends, and both of them have reputations for being rock n’ roll and doing their own thing and taking their time. So it was a big risk, but my god it paid off, man. I’m so happy. Very proud of both of those books. I really believe that Fishkill really has the full alchemy that you want in a book. I’m very proud of it, of both of these books coming out, I can’t wait to share it with everybody.
SR: What can you say about the atmosphere, the vibe of these two books?
Dan: I’d say Brooklyn Gladiator is classic, gritty, dystopian sci-fi, my homage to Matrix, Blade Runner, Escape From New York, and once he gets out of New York it becomes very Mad Max. Meanwhile Fishkill is modern noir with a little sprinkle of sci-fi. It’s a dark, gritty crime drama, where he’s trying to prove his innocence, but the world is changing. The nannite bill has been introduced. The cops are starting to take the nannite injections during this lockdown, during the martial law period. So it’s percolating, the seeds are being sown for Brooklyn Gladiator. That’s Fishkill.
SR: How would you describe your “action hero” John Miller of Brooklyn Gladiator?
Dan: He’s like a modern Robin Hood, but also he looks like Jason Statham on the outside, almost an homage to classic Bruce Willis/1990s action hero, but on the inside he’s cultivating his psychic abilities, he’s becoming a Jedi. He’s a reluctant hero. I like making anti-heroes, reluctant heroes, that’s my wheelhouse.
SR: What new spin are you trying to add to this classic hero formula?
Dan: What’s new? I would say that the knowledge is real. It’s a cautionary tale for a good reason. On each page, there’s a little bit of information that will, if you zone in on it, it will send you down a rabbit hole of very important information I think as a society, we have to comtemplate these ideas, we have to wake people up.
SR: You want your heroes to be figures of discovery?
Dan: What binds them together is that they are both searching for truth.
Brooklyn Gladiator goes on sale August 5th, Fishkill goes on sale August 12th, and Moon Lake: Midnight Munchies goes on sale in September from Heavy Metal Publishing.
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