The term “writer” is a bit limiting, especially in an era where visual storytelling options and the distribution of said stories is so robust. You want to be a storyteller now. You want to be someone who can move between media; still able to hold people with the power of your words, but also eager to marry those words with imagery (moving and otherwise) when appropriate. And if you need a role model, novelist Chuck Palahniuk is still the one for you.
Last year, Palahniuk jumped into the realm of comic books with Fight Club 2, and now he’s recruited a team of comic book artists to collaborate on Bait: Off-Color Stories for You to Color (available on October 26), a short story collection in the form of an adult coloring book (you can see two exclusive images from the book below). Not content to be limited to those newly familiar media, Palahniuk also has plans to co-adapt his novel Lullaby into a film, and an ongoing interest in creating both video and card games. We spoke to Palahniuk on these possible pursuits, why he wanted to create an adult coloring book, and how his band of artists pushed Bait to bolder heights than he had imagined.
Was there ever a thought to take on an adult coloring book with a larger story or incorporate it into something tied to Fight Club or another past project of yours?
No, never. Bait was always its own animal. The goal was to create eight stories, each very different from the others so we could enlist eight artists with very varied styles. This gives the reader/colorist a wide range of images to complete and enjoy. The page count tops 150, making this the most lux coloring book, ever, and the over-sized, hardcover binding gives it a coffee table art book quality. A gift that people can be proud to give. Completed or not.
What made a short story and an adult coloring book the right choice for you?
My prejudice: I love short stories. A story must work so quickly, they’re ideal for reading aloud. Their brevity also allows such stories to experiment with stylistic voice and intense pacing that would exhaust a reader in a longer work. Perhaps my preference is linked to childhood bedtime story anthologies; I’m not jarred by seeing illustrations embedded in those stories. Instead, I crave them. There’s an old saying, “Short stories make great movies while novels make lousy ones.”
Can you talk about your involvement when it comes to plotting out these images with your artists and how it differs from the way you plotted Fight Club 2 with Cameron Stewart?
Thank heaven for my editor at Dark Horse, Scott Allie. He instantly grasped the idea and asked me to follow each story in the manuscript with a list of suggested full and partial-page illustrations. Then Scott submitted the stories to artists — most of whom had done variant covers for Fight Club 2. Bear in mind, these are stories as edgy and potentially offensive as anything I’ve done, including the infamous “Guts” story. Only one artist, who shall remain nameless, balked and ran. The others instantly responded with illustration ideas bolder than I’d suggested. Between the artists, Scott and myself, we kept ratcheting up the extremeness of the illustrations. Alone, none of us would’ve had this much nerve.
You keep pushing into new media, first with film, comics, now adult coloring books. Is it curiosity to see your work presented in new ways, boredom with telling stories in black and white, or something in between?
Writing, like so many creative professions, can be a lonely job. After 20 years of novels, I find I love to collaborate. Likewise, using only language to tell a story has its limits. Sure, I love to dick around with language, but working with visual images allows me to minimize passive description and focus my energy on writing action. The artists create the images far better than I could with words.
Following up on that, what other forms of media have you curious? Are video games an option? Something tied to VR? You mentioned an interest in developing a game in a Reddit AMA, but not Fight Club for licensing reasons, any other past work that you think would work well in that realm?
Gaming beckons, and not just computer gaming. Chelsea Cain — who originally roped me into creating Fight Club 2 — tells me that multi-player card games are becoming the rage. These are intense, updated versions of D & D-type worlds, and Chelsea just so happens to know a top game designer living, here, in Portland. My novel Rant, with its consensual car chases and demolition derbies, would make a good game. It’s also likely that the final book in my trilogy about the dead girl, Madison Spencer, will jump the shark and become a new long-lasting world via comics. All of this — the comics, the coloring, the gaming — springs from the wonderful world of comic conventions. I’ll take a weekend of cosplay over the National Book Award and literary readings at the 57th Street Y any day of the week.
Exclusive Bait art from Joelle Jones: