Joe Manganiello might be better known from his roles on True Blood, Magic Mike and Justice League, as well as being a huge fan of Dungeons & Dragons. However, he's also made a name for himself with his line of streetwear, Death Saves. If the name "Death Saves" sounds like a reference to the death-save rolls players make in D&D, that's because it is. Manganiello's clothing line draws heavily from classic fantasy and heavy metal art, as well as pulp art.
In a new deal with Netflix, Manganiello decided to make a new line of clothing featuring art inspired by The Dark Crystal and its Netflix prequel series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. At New York Comic Con, CBR sat down with Manganiello to discuss the line and realized that, for him, this isn't just a matter of good business and branding: he just really, really loves The Dark Crystal.
Manganiello could have selected any property for his clothing line. With that in mind, CBR asked the actor what The Dark Crystal meant to him, and why it was so important for him to use for his clothing brand.
"What it meant to me as a kid is that creativity was endless. There were no boundaries," he replied. "The fact you could make a movie with puppets that -- they didn't look like the typical Muppets, I should say. You could create an entire world -- an immersive world -- in which human beings didn't exist."
The lack of any human characters in The Dark Crystal speaks to the otherworldliness of this franchise. For many children, this was a deep dive into the potential of your imagination in ways few other films could offer at the time.
"So to me, as a young kid, it opened my mind to all of those creative possibilities," Manganiello recalled, "and the understanding that you didn't even have to have people in a live-action film to tell an amazing and compelling story in which you really cared about the characters and were scared of the villains."
Jim Henson spent years mastering the art of puppetry on camera with The Muppet Show and Sesame Street. These puppets would later take on a new life when his techniques were applied to Yoda in Star Wars and in his follow-up to The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth.
Manganiello seems to think we lost something by moving away from traditional puppets, and sees The Dark Crystal as representative of the potential puppets can have in a storytelling manner -- because they're physical props that are tactile.
"[...] You have to keep in mind that, at the same time, they were puppets," he said. "You could reach out, you could touch them and your brain new that. You knew you were actually looking at a real creature. As for CGI? I've seen great CGI -- we all have -- but sometimes your brain knows you can't touch it. There's a visceral response to it as a kid."
The Dark Crystal is noteworthy to a lot of kids of the '80s for a particular reason: it's a pretty scary movie for kids. The Skeksies and their grotesque faces and bodies are properly frightening. You watch one literally rot and crumble inward before your eyes. You see innocent characters drained of their vitality before your eyes. It's all quite intense. Manganiello feels that was, for him, part of The Dark Crystal's appeal.
"It was scary," he reflected. "So there was a different stimulation coming on from a creative level, in that the monsters were scary. And that appealed to me as a kid who wanted the lights when he went to bed. I knew there were monsters in the closet; I wanted to be friends with them."
But there is another level of Manganiello's Death Saves line: preserving the lost craft of fantasy art. Fantasy has a history of being tied to elaborate heavy metal album art covers, such as Dio's album Holy Diver. Frank Frazetta, one of the most prolific fantasy artists, worked on various comic, paperback and heavy metal art.
Manganiello sees Death Saves as part-clothing line, but also in conversation with this tradition, keeping the craft of fantasy art alive in 2019.
"I am also introducing a young crowd to those incredibly creative properties that I grew up with, but also then building then a bridge," he said. "For example, with our Frazetta Girls collaboration, with all the artwork of Frank Frazetta, showing a young generation and even my generation who didn't know that's where He-Man came from, that's what lead to the real mainstream popularity of Conan, were Frank's paintings. That's what built that bridge so that people understand that's who built the popular images of fantasy in our mind.
"So, there's a part of it that's part historian, part art historian," Manganiello continued. "In a way, I'm patroning a new gallery of artwork from artists that would be working on heavy metal albums, because there isn't really heavy metal or album artwork around anymore. I'm trying to keep that cottage industry alive by drawing metal artists in around the world."
But if there's anything Manganiello really feels, it is this: today, now more than ever, it is possible to proudly wear fantasy on your chest, almost like a shield, while in years past, the images that you'd see in fantasy and art weren't so acceptable.
"Growing up, we didn't have conventions like this. You couldn't walk around and fly your freak flag the way that you can now," he said. "You had to do it in secret. You also felt you were doing something you felt you weren't supposed to do because of all the accusations of Satanism that we now know are so absurd. I think there's a bit of it that's cathartic to people in that that this thing we did hidden in a basement... Well, now we can take over a convention center. So I am very happy to be carrying a flag for that."