It’s been quite a week for master purveyor of words and professional mind f**k*r Chuck Palahniuk. The off the wall comic book sequel Fight Club 2 has a collected edition in stores now. He’s in the final hours of a successful Kickstarter campaign to adapt his novel Lullaby to independent film. If that weren’t enough, he just announced a new short story collection called Bait: Off-Color Stories For You to Color. Oh and did we mention Bait is in the form of a coloring book for adults, illustrated by some of comics most talented artists? We caught up with Palahniuk while in the middle of his creative boom.
COMICS BEAT: Let’s go right into the end of Fight Club 2. What was your first thought once you finished the script and when that last page from Cameron Stewart came in?
CHUCK PALAHNIUK: My first thought? About that last page? I was thrilled. It pays off the similar image from the first issue so… perfectly. Such symmetry is what I crave in my OCD world. Like a glimpse of Heaven. That said, I was irked that Cameron depicts me in my ratty old Mongolian sandals – the ones I wore to every meeting with him and our editor, Scott Allie. Cameron didn’t miss a trick, but I wish he’d overlooked those sandals.
CB: I’m certain that Cameron wanted you get that “rize” out of you. Ha! see what I did there? That was awful, I promise you can make the jokes from here on out.
Now going a little more into the meta-textual and very definitive finale of FC2 (without spoiling major plot points for anyone who hasn’t read it yet); you gave Tyler a happy ending. As the antagonist of the story I never really felt like he’d earned it until that very last panel of the book, which makes more sense when you think about the story of Fight Club and its sequel as a whole. Tyler’s long history as a disease comes into play on our sympathies. How did you land on the ending and was this always how you intended to end things?
CP: Hell no, that wasn’t the ending until the bah-zillionth draft. After agonizing over the script for months, in sit-down meetings, I think Cameron suggested the radical ending because he wanted to see me… resolved. He says I conceived of it. Whoever did, it beats my twenty original endings. Best of all it also pays off Marla’s most controversial line from the novel. Completion, completion, completion. It’s like an orgasm when you can get the pay-offs to occur so bunched together.
CB: That’s really interesting! I’d love to know what some of those original ending ideas were when you come to town on the Palahniuk tour. For now let’s leave some of that mystery.
The world of Fight Club has been filled with super liminal lessons as well as masterful subtext commentary. Fight Club 2’s final issue has one of the most relevant comments on fandom versus entitlement today when you yourself are in the issue amongst a horde of angry fans. There seems to be a culture today where when fans don’t like the way something turns out in film, literature, or television they tend to cry out that these characters are “theirs” and the creator or storyteller doesn’t know what they’re doing. Where do you stand on the fandom v entitlement argument?
CB: Oh dear, I’m going to paraphrase David Fincher here, and probably get it wrong. Fincher told me that audiences are being programmed to expect perfectly formulated plots. Not good stories, but stories that conform to what people already know. A copy of a copy of a copy, you know? So when a writer ventures away from tried-and-trite plot points, the audience objects. Even the timing of the expected plot points must be exactly what the audience has been trained to expect. I’d add that the financial investment in a big film/series/book is so large that producers don’t want to risk straying off the formulaic path. This works in the short term, such products are easily consumed and forgotten. But more original stories take years and years to find acceptance. What’s the saying? “Design a house for one person, and millions will love it. Design a house for millions of people and no one will like it.” I give up. Let me quote the writer Joy Williams, “You don’t write to make friends.”
COMICS BEAT: [laughs] I once spent a week writing fortune cookies and was told not to come back when I wrote “only the whore pleases everyone” to this day I have no idea where that came from. But I do understand where you’re going with that thought. It seems like today there’s a large part of the audience that’s lost the subconscious idea of wanting to work for their meal without knowing they’re doing it.
COMICS BEAT: You’ve also got quite a creative storm brewing lately. One of your most boundary pushing novels, Lullaby, is in its final hours of a Kickstarter (or completed depending on my horrible schedule) to adapt the book to independent film. Were there any nerves about your first venture into screenwriting?
CHUCK PALAHNIUK: Another old saying: “Write in a good mood. Edit in a bad mood.” I wrote most of my first draft of the “Lullaby” script while on tour, last year. Tired, hungry, grumpy, I could really claw the book to scraps, thinking Who wrote such long-winded shit ?!?. My surly temper allowed me to strip the story down to the discovery process and the subsequent fight for power.
CB: You really are one of the few writers whom actually is their own best critic.
Lullaby is such a button-pushing novel, even by Chuck Palahniuk standards. Gender-bending and necrophilia were just some of the things the book used to shake the mindset of the reader. What were the challenges of scripting Lullaby as a film?
CP: To read a story like “Guts” in public I’m happy to shed every vestige of my human dignity. But writing the screenplay I was always haunted by the fear that a good actor might not want to completely debased him-or-herself just to achieve my warped vision. Imagining Kate Hudson doing hideous, degrading stuff is one thing. Actually convincing her to do it is another matter altogether.
CB: With our celebrity obsessed culture we don’t actually have to imagine it. Chances are they’ve already done it.
The sequel to Fight Club saw quite a few updates to speak about modern issues. Was there anything about Lullaby the film you updated to feel modern or will it be set in its own time?
CP: Nowadays, people are much more aware of cultural appropriation. I couldn’t explore that idea too deeply in 2002, when the book was published, without the risk of looking wonkish and boring. In the film, we can demonstrate the idea with a better chance of the audience grasping the concept.
CB: I can’t wait to see the finished product. Lullaby is such disturbingly fantastic read.
COMICS BEAT: You’ve also been working with Dark Horse again on something unexpected yet not out of the realm of surprise when it comes to someone with your level of creativity. Bait: Off-Color Stories For You to Color published by Dark Horse Books is very much an adult coloring book in every sense of those words. What was the inspiration to do this second collection of short stories as a coloring book?
CHUCK PALAHNIUK: My inspiration? All the glorious variant covers that artists did for the single issues of ‘Fight Club 2’. They left me panting to do projects with all of them. Writing “Bait” allows me to work with eight artists, collaborating with editor Scott Allie, all of us egging each other to greater heights of depravity. The reader will be the final collaborator, bringing our ideas to fruition.
CB: There were some fantastic covers I hope will be shown in the collected edition of Fight Club 2 and it would have been fantastic to see Amanda Conner draw one of those short stories in Bait. Good news is the book doesn’t lack any artistic talent.
You have quite a line up of incredible artists drawing these stories such as Lee Bermejo, Joelle Jones, and Duncan Fegredo to name a few. Did you handpick this line up or did Dark Horse pitch these artists to you?
CP: This dream team was chosen by me and Scott Allie. And God bless Joelle, especially, because she’s swamped with work and still agreed to help us. The images the artists delivered convince me that I’m not insane – at least not the most-insane of the insane. Such a comfort.
Again, my inspiration came from seeing the variant covers. The second consideration was people’s availability. If we didn’t wrangle someone for this collection, Scott and I will campaign to include them in the next. I’d love to publish a new heavily illustrated collection – bound beautifully, more like a Medieval illustrated manuscript – every year.
COMICS BEAT: Bait has a castration story, a fading glory tale, and one about a girl placed in an extinction level event (just to name a few). What’s the one story in this book that you think people will be talking about most?
CHUCK PALAHNIUK: Oh dear. The world has long needed a smart story about poop. I mean a really intelligent story about ca ca. Yes, a funny, insightful tale about celebrities and their bowel movements. I’ve been waiting for Joyce Carol Oates to write it, but I won’t live forever. Rest assured that this, the ultimate brainy story about Hollywood stars and their glamorous excrement will be included, and illustrated oh-so-exquisitely by a world-renown artist. Merry, merry Christmas to everyone. May you find this heart-warming tale under your tree this coming holiday season!!
CB: I’m still waiting for you to write Chuck Palahniuk’s Cinderella or 101 Dalmatians. I don’t think Disney would mind one bit.
While I wait on that, readers can pick up every issue of one of 2015’s best comics in Fight Club 2 collected edition which is in stores now. If you can still jump on board, donate to the Lullaby Kickstarter to follow the film’s development process. You’ll be able to join the massive collaboration that is Bait: Off-Color Stories for You to Color when the adult coloring book hits stores October 26.