Comics Beat picks the brain of literary mayhem purveyor Chuck Palahniuk as he catches us up on Fight Club 2 and his fond comic book memories.
If having your art be misunderstood is requisite for greatness, then Chuck Palahniuk already belongs in literature’s hall of fame. A newspaper reporter turned serial killer, a tale of accidents involving masturbation, they’re just a sample of the works his unique mind has created over a meaty career. Few authors, not named King or Clancy, have had so many of their stories adapted to other mediums like Palahniuk has. Perhaps none more infamous than the book that showed the world how dangerous imaginary friends can be, Fight Club. Now almost twenty years after its first literary publication, Chuck Palahniuk decided our beloved universe of comic books is the right place to tell its follow up. Currently published by Dark Horse Comics, Fight Club 2 is grit, it’s light, it’s unapologetic, it’s Palahniuk; and it’s shaping up to be one of 2015’s best series.
Comics Beat: I wanted to start by finding out about your history with comics from the fandom perspective. What was your first memory of comics? Were there any works in the medium you’ve read that over the years which cemented with you like that sentence the mason said about mud?
Chuck Palahniuk: My earliest comics memories are long family road trip vacations during which my dad liked to make as few stops as possible so keeping the four kids quiet and distracted, bottled up in a car dense with cigarette smoke for the entire length of Montana was crucial. My mom’s strategy was to take us to a comic store where we’d pour over the used, dime comics. My favorites were the EC horror books with their ominous landscapes and mind-bending ( when you’re nine ) plot twists, letting the villain suffer horribly but always with a paint-thin moral message. My next-favorites were the Classics Illustrated. Who can forget the babysitter swinging on the gallows in Frankenstein? Or the evil Viscount’s carriage killing the urchin in A Tales of Two Cities, and the child’s father throwing the blood money back in the killer’s face, saying the line, “Drive him fast to his grave!” Those comics led me to reading the actual novels, and I even enjoyed them! And nothing frightened me more than reading those EC books by flashlight at night, camping out in a pup tent.
CB: As for Fight Club 2 itself, one of the biggest things that stood out to me was you giving a name to the previously unnamed narrator character. The first novel ended with him, in a way, going to the prison of a mundane life. Was naming him from the start of this new comic part of showing the audience his imprisonment and what made you decide on Sebastian?
CP: Watch out, Sebastian might be only a place-holder name. So many other characters knew him by different names in previous support groups, and even Tyler and Marla will occasionally refer to him as “Running Wolf” or “Hamish.” That said, I couldn’t call him Jack without violating the copyright held by 20th Century Fox. And Fox couldn’t call him “Joe” – as in “I Am Joe’s Prostate” – without a lawsuit from Reader’s Digest and the estate of the author who wrote that series of anatomy articles decades ago. My original choice was “Cornelius” but I’d used that name in Beautiful You, last year’s faux-erotic novel, so I could feature Cornelius Linus Maxwell, nicknamed “Climax-Well.” Also, Cornelius was my favorite monkey from the original Planet of the Apes movie. Ultimately, Sebastian was the second-choice for a pretentious, fake-sounding alias that would automatically ring phony. At least that’s my impression based on the likewise-named, teddy-bear-clutching character in Brideshead Revisited, possibly the most annoying character in Western literature. Just saying.
CB: It’s been almost 10 years since the Fight Club novel was first published; how have the changes in our world (social media, the occupy movement, etc) affected your writing the sequel, thematically? What particular change would outrage Tyler Durden?
CP: Next year will be the twentieth anniversary of the publication. And not even Tyler would’ve foreseen the surge in shooting spree killings in the years to follow. The Columbine shooting happened just as the film was being released in the spring of 1999, and the premier was consequently bumped to October. Since then the shootings – and bombings and plane crashes-into-mountains – have only increased. Including one theater shooting during a showing of the film in South America. My vision was that Project Mayhem would involve assigned tasks which would build members’ confidence and problem-solving skills, but that no one would be physically hurt. The story begins to disintegrate when Big Bob and a government official ( “the mayor’s Special Envoy on Recycling” ) are killed. Not even Tyler Durden would condone shooting sprees, but at least Tyler would notice the growing pattern and take some action to address the human problems behind these outbursts.
CB: You’re right it has been twenty. Apologies, my math brain must be on the fritz or I just refuse to acknowledge the existence of the early 2000’s.
Most comic scribes will tell you they write to the strengths of their artist. Are there any elements of this story you’ve reshaped to suit the talents of a fantastic visual storyteller like Cameron Stewart?
CP: Cameron told me from the onset of our working relationship that his artwork is criticized as being “Too Cartoony.” So much so that he’s embraced the jibe as the title of his annual books of collected illustrations. It’s this quality that makes him perfect for FC2: The characters are not so realistically depicted that the reader will be defeated by their emotional pathos. My characters might live in dire circumstances – dying people, defeated people – but they seldom succumb to self pity. Instead, they push forward. Cameron’s style allows the reader to follow these otherwise heartbreaking characters. There’s also a slight element of ‘camp’ to my worldview – a failure to take events too seriously – and Cameron also captures that quality. Composition-wise, I appreciate the way he often occludes, covers or only partially reveals characters’ faces, so I write to encourage that tendency. The incomplete visage – or the truncated bit of overly clever dialog — is infinitely more engaging.
Comics Beat: Based on what we’ve seen so far, the visual and narrative limitless nature of comics feel like a perfect place for Fight Club 2. Will you do more comics in the future?
Chuck Palahniuk: Only death could stop me. Not that I want to put ideas into anyone’s head.
CB: Before I let you go, I have to ask. Chuck Palahniuk is on of my top three absolute favorite writers, but you’re also a bit of a mind f***er, so I can’t always trust what I see on the page. Is Sebastian and Marla’s kid real or a figment of both their imaginations?
CP: Hey, the kid has a babysitter and a life insurance policy so he has to be real. I was just as irritated as everyone else to discover that St. Elsewhere and a whole season of Dallas were only fantasies. To expand the delusion beyond Tyler, that would be the avenue of last resort for me.
CB: Thank you again for your time and we can’t wait to see how this story continues, but if you could give two words of advice to aspiring writers out there what would they be?
CP: Shock Yourself
We hope he meant that in the figurative sense and not in the –stick a fork in the wall socket– meaning. Either way we’d still eagerly away the next chapter of Fight Club 2. Since it’s Comic-Con week let’s do something cool and exclusively debut the Duncan Fegredo variant cover to Fight Club 2 #6.
For those attending SDCC, Fight Club 2 will take over room 5AB on Saturday night at 7p. Chuck Palahniuk, Cameron Stewart, David Mack and Dark Horse Comics are throwing a no holds barred panel where you’ll be encouraged to break the first rule of Fight Club. There might also be a surprise for fans cosplaying their best Tyler Durden and Marla Singer, so grab your leather jackets and put on your best battle scars.
Pick up Fight Club 2 from Dark Horse Comics at your local comic book shop or on Dark Horse Digital.