Twenty years later, Fight Club is still arguably Chuck Palahniuk’s most talked about novel. The novel was well-received, if not initially a hit. Then, the 1999 movie adaptation elevated Fight Club to something that was quoted and emulated endlessly. Now, Palahniuk is picking up the story of Fight Club again with the help of artists Cameron Stewart (interiors), David Mack (covers), and Dark Horse Comics, which is about to publish the third issue of the series July 22.
We had the chance to speak with Palahniuk last week, and we absolutely broke the first rule of Fight Club in that exchange, touched on what makes now the right time for a sequel, what makes comics the right medium for this endeavor, and his decision to insert himself into the story as a character. Here’s Palahniuk on Fight Club 2:
What made now the right time for a Fight Club sequel?
Why now? Three factors. First, I’d delivered most of my latest book, a story collection called Make Something Up, so, for the first time in decades, I had the free time to learn a new storytelling form. Second, a friend, the best-selling thriller writer Chelsea Cain invited me to a dinner which also included Matt Fraction and Brian Michael Bendis, and my fellow guests insisted a sequel was a good idea, and that comics were fun, and they offered to hold my hand as I learned the ropes. Third, I had no idea in 1995, when I wrote the original novel, that I’d be asked about it for the rest of my life. Since that was the case, I figured I’d better expand the 185-page story into the past and future and turn it into the kind of mythology that H.P. Lovecraft or Stephen King are known for.
And what made comics the right medium?
Why comics? This time, just two reasons. One, the book and the film each had such a following that any sequel in the same form would suffer from direct comparison. Thus, a third medium would give the new story its best chance of achieving its own authority. The second reason is that comics can depict challenging subject matter with enough unreality to make it bearable. My goal is to always exploit the strength of a storytelling form, and movies could never make the images in Fight Club 2 literal enough to record on film. Come on, dying children? Comic spousal abuse? Just the huge overhead costs of film would render these un-filmable. Comics, however, give the audience enough wiggle room to accept the potentially overwhelming elements of an extreme story. And if you need a third reason… I just wanted to be a student, again, and to learn a new skill from accomplished, younger people. The dumbest person in the room learns the most, and I’ve enjoyed being the idiot who’s learned from experts.
Fight Club 2 is the first comic you’ve written. With #3 out soon, and I’m assuming more issues are already complete; what have you learned about the medium so far?
Among many things, I’ve learned how to break physical action into beats of stopped time that still imply ongoing movement. That, and my transitions have gotten more graceful. The first two issues cut-direct so often, like film, for a somewhat choppy feel. But gradually I learned tricks for dissolving from one plot element to another. And, I learned that Cameron Stewart and Scott Allie, the illustrator and editor, have real guts. No matter what I could dream up, they never balked at depicting it. With a book publisher, there’s always this constant negotiation about good taste and possibly offensive subject matter, but the team assembled by Dark Horse has been fearless.
How has your approach been different making this comic as opposed to when you wrote the original novel? On that same note, it’s been two decades since the novel came out. How have you and your worldview changed in those years and did that find its way into the comic in any way?
My approach. Sadly, my approach has changed. In 1995, I was studying intuitively, and, anecdotally, what I didn’t know that social scientists were studying empirically. I was inventing social models and running them to see how they would fail. Now, I’ve recognized that so much of my work was pioneered by Joseph Campbell and Victor Turner, and I’ve started to adopt their abstractions and language, moving away from the raw, dramatized exercises I used to conceive of… and that I documented other, actual people executing. See, really, how pretentious my language has become? I’ve never felt like my own authority, and I’ve begun to borrow authority from dead academics. Me = Lame! With the comic, and lowering myself to the status of a student, I’m trying to find more original, raw intuition and to stop trying to sound like another horny Lewis Hyde groupie. Not that Lewis Hyde is dead, he’s not.
Unless you’re both a writer and artist, comics is a much more collaborative medium than strict prose. How has the process been working with artist Cameron Stewart?
Working with Cameron has been humbling. The first two issues of the series were such a learning experience, I had no idea how much he could depict visually, and how his skill made most of my dialogue unnecessary. Beginning with his first “inks” for #1, I went through all of my scripts and pruned the dialouge down to fragments, which I knew Cameron would place in adjacent panels, so they read as a complete message. Dialogue has always been my enemy; it’s the worst way to further plot. Therefore, I’m thrilled to see how Cameron can keep track of visual landmarks and revisit them so they accrue meaning for the reader. It’s infinitely more exciting for the audience to discover the “reveal” without being told it in language.