A&E Q&A - Artist Pete Bregman resurrects forgotten Phantom of the Opera scenes

Graphic novel The Trap-Door Maker offers interesting prequel to popular musical

Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera returns to the Fox Theatre this week through July 18 for the farewell engagement of Broadway's longest-running musical. The popular stage version of the tragic tale varies from Gaston Leroux's original 1911 novel, as well as the 1925 film version starring Lon Chaney. In addition to the story's more classic versions, there's also a lesser-known Phantom prequel with local origins that offers devout fans a look behind the monster's mask.

Originally published as a three-issue comic book series, a collector's edition of graphic artist Pete Bregman's The Trap-Door Maker was released in 2008 and features cover art by famed monster artist Basil Gogos. Before moving to New York in 1997, Bregman was living in Atlanta and attending the Portfolio Center when he found himself inspired by a few pages of the story that most theatrical interpretations overlook.

How did the idea to do a The Phantom of the Opera prequel come to you?

I was going to the Portfolio Center when I read The Phantom of the Opera for the first time. That kind of planted the seed and I started doing character sketches and stuff. I had the idea in my mind for years, but it wasn't until years later that I actually started scripting it out. My prequel is based on a small section of the book that features a character that is completely ignored in the musical that I thought was very fascinating.

How much is your story connected to the one people see in the Broadway musical?

The original book is more like a mystery novel and there's a Persian guy pursuing the Phantom known as the Daroga. Erik the Phantom was born deformed and runs away from home and becomes a sideshow freak and magician. But he's a genius architect and caught the attention of the Shah of Persia and was hired to create secret passages. Then the Shah wants to have Erik executed for knowing too much, so the Daroga, who had become friends with Erik, helps him escape to Paris, where, decades later, he goes mad and starts killing people. It's only a few pages in the book, but I think the Daroga is one of the strongest characters in the original novel and, for some reason, people have always removed his story.

The stage show is good and the music's great, but they change Erik's origin a lot and the Daroga is just gone from the story. They're both equally entertaining, just very different.

You've also done illustrations for Atlanta-based Platinum Championship Wrestling, where you've also wrestled as Johnny LeDoux. How did you get involved with wrestling?

I went to school with Travis Sharp, who worked on B.R.A.W.L., a wrestling improv show at Dad's Garage, with Stephen Platinum of PCW. When I got the job I have now, I needed a creative partner so we hired Travis for that. Travis moved to New York and we've been working together for about three years now. A few years ago, we were in Atlanta on business and I decided to go to some of Stephen's wrestling classes while I was there. Instantly, I got hooked. I stayed in touch with him, and Travis and I have done some graphic design work for him and stuff like that.

I got my foot in the door doing that, but now I'm actually a wrestler for Forgotten Championship Wrestling and a couple of other indies up in New York. I am the current FCW champion and Travis is my manager, Professor Paul Pope.

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