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The year was 1986, and what a big year for popular culture it was. Studio Ghibli released its first feature film, Ripley fought the Alien Queen, Ferris Bueller took the day off, Watchmen rolled out its very first issue, and a young Dan Fogler fell in love with comic books.
During an interview with SYFY WIRE about his three upcoming comics from Heavy Metal (all of them go on sale this summer), the Fantastic Beasts actor probed his memory to try and pinpoint the moment when he first became acquainted with the medium of panels and superheroes.
"I was 10 years old and I saw an oversized comic book in my brother’s collection and I said, ‘Ooo, what’s that?’ And it was f***in' Heavy Metal, man," he says. "Then I saw Heavy Metal the movie. I obviously was looking at the stuff way too young, but it was a huge influence on me."
Dating back to the late 1970s, Heavy Metal is a magazine that prides itself on publishing original comics that inhabit dark worlds of sci-fi and fantasy. Fogler's graphic novels — Brooklyn Gladiator, Fishkill, and Moon Lake — definitely fall into those categories, exploring dystopian futures, jaded homicide detectives, and a northern town populated by every conspiracy theory you've ever heard of coming to life.
From there, the floodgates were open and Fogler's life would never be the same. He didn't know it yet, but his passion for properties like Mirage Studios' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Marvel's famous wall-crawler would set him down a path of becoming a professional storyteller himself.
"I used to draw Raphael on my notebook in school and people were like, ‘Who’s that?!’ And I’d be like, ‘Oh, man, you have no idea,’" Fogler recalled. "I was into the craze before the cartoon and the whole ‘Cowabunga, man!’ thing. And, of course, I grew up in New York, so I loved all of the Marvel New York characters — Punisher and Daredevil and Spider-Man."
Comics about Wolverine, Batman, and the Joker (still the actor's favorite villain of all time) also topped the list of what Fogler was reading back in the day. Since then, his appreciation for the field has grown exponentially.
"Over the years, I’ve just continued to fall in love more with comic books, because they’re just getting better and better," he admits.
By the time he was ready to write his own graphic novels about dystopian futures and jaded detectives, Fogler was an expert in crafting unique characters and dialogue. Not only did he have the experience of making movies and television shows under his belt, but he also spent countless hours of his formative years reading comic books and playing tabletop RPGs.
"We played Dungeons & Dragons and Marvel Super Heroes," he continues. "You’re creating your own characters and then you’re drawing your own characters and you’re writing histories for [them] and then you’re playing [as] them in the game. It’s asking you to be creative and create your own world."
Soon, those RPGs could not be contained and would spill out into "little comic books" that Fogler would draw, while his brother handled writing duty. Then came home movies (complete with storyboards, of course), which served as a forerunner to a lifetime of joyous pretend.
"I made a bunch of movies and I’ve made a bunch of storyboards for movies, so it definitely translates over," he says, referring to his career so far. "[Comics are] like a streamlined film. You have to tell the bare minimum to get the idea across on the page."
Personally, Fogler tries to limit the pages of his own comics to seven panels or so but is often in awe of how others can push the medium to its absolute breaking point. He cited Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta's East of West as one of his favorite comics in recent memory. The monthly series from Image, which ended last December, had certain pages made up of dozens of panels.
"I’m just like, ‘Oh my god!’ It just works," Fogler adds. "I think that it’s just a certain alchemy that happens with the storytelling and sometimes, anything goes and certain people can just make everything work on the page ... I really admire these people, like Greg Capullo who does the Batman stuff with Scott Snyder. I feel like he’s [Todd] McFarlane 2.0 or something. He just keeps on putting out amazingly detailed stuff. I’m just really impressed with that. That’s why he’s working for DC on a consistent basis."
For his Heavy Metal books, Fogler collaborated with some of his personal illustrative heroes like Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night) and Simon Bisley (DC's Lobo). Working with people that helped shape his upbringing is the literal definition of "a dream come true."
"I just love writing a script, giving it to some artist that I grew up reading ... and then having them—in a relatively short amount of time—give you something that you can hold in your hands, [seeing] the art and the colors and everything," he explains. "It’s like having a little movie in your hand, but it’s almost better. I don’t know why. It speaks to the kid in me. It makes the kid in me very happy."
Luckily, Fogler has been able to share his love of comics with some of his Hollywood co-stars like Jay Baruchel and Ezra Miller. Fogler and Baruchel appeared in 2009's Fanboys, an unabashed love letter to nerd culture that tells the story of a wacky road trip to Skywalker Ranch. Miller meanwhile appears alongside Fogler in the Fantastic Beasts movies as Obscurus Credence Barebone.
"When we were on Fanboys, that’s how [Jay] and I started talking," Fogler says. "We were talking about our favorite comic book characters and then that was it. It was almost like we were already our characters from the movie, you know? And I feel like Ezra is definitely a comic book guy... He’s become a buddy and he definitely wants to make sure the Flash movie is comic book-accurate."
Fogler also plays Luke on AMC's The Walking Dead, a role that combines his loves of acting and comic books. Once again, it's a literal dream come true.
"It’s cool being on The Walking Dead; it’s just cool being a character that exists in the comic book," Fogler says. "Robert Kirkman’s my boss! I geek out around him. It’s just weird to be working for, minging, and [being] friends with people whose work you are a fanboy over. It’s such a surreal experience."