Sometimes, you just can’t find what you’re looking for in an IKEA store, but it isn’t until you give and take a few licks at the local Fight Club that you find what you really needed. Likewise, writer Chuck Palahniuk took his turns in prose and cinema, but it turns out what he really needed was a healthy dose of comics.
The first issue in the ten-part sequel to Palahniuk’s cult favorite novel and film, Fight Club, hits comics newsstands this week as readers discover what happened in the wake of Sebastian’s “escape” from Tyler Durden and Project Mayhem. What was once a story about male frustration over wasting one’s prime years has now shifted eight years into the future with the protagonist married to Marla Singer, father to a son, and back working a white-collar job…along with the promise of someone else’s imminent return.
Having spoken with the series editor and Dark Horse Editor in Chief, Scott Allie earlier, Newsarama spoke with the man behind it all himself: Chuck Palahniuk.
Spoiler Alert: Some of the discussion centers on specifics of the plot for Fight Club 2.
Newsarama: Chuck, what was it about the protagonist from Fight Club that called out to you – that demanded that the story continue?
Chuck Palahiniuk: Boy, one was in fact that his parents were never discussed. He just appeared fully formed without a history. I thought that was a big, gaping question: “Who were his folks? What were their lives like?”
The other one was that since he was so critical of his own father, I wanted to know what sort of father he has subsequently become. Those were the two big things – the past, describing and resolving his family, but also the future, exploring whether or not he has done any better.
Nrama: Interestingly, you pin him down with a name this time – Sebastian – whereas in the book and film, he only has aliases that he goes by, i.e. “Cornelius” or “Jack,” which lent itself towards reading him as an “everyman” character. What motivated this decision for Fight Club 2?
Palahniuk: The narrator – the voice in the captions – is Tyler. And so, Tyler talking about another person required that other person to have a name, and it was a process of elimination to select the right name. I couldn’t call him “Jack” because 20th Century Fox had the copyright on that. I wanted to call him Cornelius, but I already used that name in my last novel. Now, as a humor device, I’ve had people from different support groups referring to him by a variety of names – all kinds of vaguely inappropriate names like Native American names or Asian American names. Eventually, Sebastian is what we had.
Nrama: Now, you mentioned your interest in fathers. In the first Fight Club, you – and your characters - seemed preoccupied with concerns about the state of manhood and masculinity and its decline. There is the line where Tyler and his conscious self – now known as Sebastian – discuss who they’d fight and the desire to fight one’s father comes up. This is an incredibly poignant scene as we see these young men opening up to one another about their perception of the root of their problems. Unable to reconcile or accept past notions of manhood and masculinity, we see them stranded in a sort of state of arrested development.
The only response to this problem then is to let the world burn – or more appropriately, blow the place up. Nearly twenty years after Fight Club’s release, how does a somewhat older Chuck Palahniuk view the world within the scope of Fight Club 2? Have things changed or is the problem only growing worse?
Palahniuk: Right now, I see it – ideally – in terms of organizations that empower people. They coach people to discover their own potential of what they’re capable of accomplishing. And those kind of organizations should gradually fade away and leave a sort of “residue” that consists of very empowered people.
So often with civil rights organizations, or any organization that says it’s for the people, the organization itself eventually becomes the powerful thing that perpetuates itself and fails to empower people to live and create their own lives. They create slaves instead of creating masters. That, for me, is what Project Mayhem has devolved into: It’s one of these self-perpetuating forces that started off with this very noble ideal. That’s the thing I wanted to explore.
There was also the loss of this idea that Joseph Campbell referred to as “secondary fathers”: coaches, mentors, male teachers, clergy. So many young men are floundering at adolescence and young adulthood, and they’re going into things like street gangs that serve that secondary father purpose. They’re also ripe for fascism and revolution. These young men need coaching and mentoring and a strong male presence in their lives.
Nrama: It’s interesting that you mention the need for living purpose-filled lives – something many of these men seem to be failing to pursue but desire. Many of the undertones to Fight Club can be traced back to aspirational resistance writings as early as Henry David Thoreau. Many equate him to living a simple life, which is true, but there is also the incredibly passionate side that railed against those living in the “rat race,” and that violent action was justified under certain righteous causes.
Needless to say, it’s not hard to draw a line from Thoreau to the world you’ve constructed here. How do you see yourself fitting within this tradition?
Palahniuk: I have to confess: I’m not very well read when it comes to Thoreau. However, I am quite familiar with his living situation on the lake, and that it was much more social than people generally understand. It was close to a road, and he had pretty much a constant stream of visitors. It was a time of constant contact with people and not possessions. He really had a lot of discourse with people instead of spending his time trying to acquire things.
Nrama: Certainly, that was an important element. Now, looking into this first issue, I also noticed you reference the Old Testament story of Noah and the ark – where violence was ultimately used to cleanse the Earth of the impure. If we are to see this as a sort of contemporary re-fashioning of the “flood story” of antiquity, what is this character’s – or yours – ideal post-flood, post-consumerism world?
Palahniuk: Do you remember that long passage in the book, which Brad Pitt turned into a monologue in the movie, about wearing leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life and climbing the Sears Tower covered with vines in that post-apocalyptic, decayed urban sort of tableau? That is such an appealing thing. Life after people. I mean, we love those types of television shows. Seeing the world in ruins is so gorgeous and compelling. That is the vision this all careening towards.
And you were smart to pick up on that! That is the story arc.
Nrama: Thank you! But that does seem to be the culmination for the images you and Cameron Stewart are creating with the explosions, burning fires, and general chaos.
Palahniuk: I love the idea that we can cleanse our lives of things. But our heads are already so filled with things when we had no defense against them. That is something that I think is even more troubling.
Nrama: I mean, there’s that splash page with the exploding head that Cameron composed that absolutely drives home the idea that cleansing one’s self can be incredibly painful and an exceptionally violent experience.
Palahniuk: Right. That’s the idea. If it can be done quickly, even if painfully, it still should be done. And it should be irrevocably done, so you couldn’t go back and retrieve that way of being.
Nrama: This leads into the frustrated comment that “We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really what we need?”
In Fight Club 2, however, we see that Sebastian is now married to Marla. Have your interests or views changed? Or was this a necessary change to the story in order to explore other aspects of the same problem?
Palahniuk: You know, at the end of the story – the first story – I wanted to show him in community with one other person and to show that, in a way, Marla was the “grail object” and caused Tyler to manifest. But in the sequel, we’re going to find that it was much more deliberate. Tyler brought Sebastian and Marla together for a very specific reason, and he has been coordinating their lives.
At this point, Sebastian is with Marla and they have a kid. And he’s been pulling all of the strings with one particular goal in mind.
Nrama: Fight Club hardly spent much time on women and could be viewed as hostile towards femininity – even the one female character hardly comes off as remotely feminine. Now, you seem to be bringing Marla into the spotlight more. Can you discuss your thoughts about making Fight Club 2 about more than just the male protagonist but also this female character?
Palahniuk: With the child in peril, she takes on an equal role with Sebastian as they go and search for their son. She goes on her own quest while he goes back to Project Mayhem and sort of relives the grandeur of his youth in order to find his son. We cut back and forth between the two, but Marla and Sebastian end up being apart for most of the ten issues. They’re only reunited at the end, and they’re new people because of what takes place for each of them over the course of their respective quests. They’ll have a stronger relationship for it, but they’re going to need to spend this time rediscovering who they were to get to that point and come back together.
Nrama: Ultimately, do you see Tyler as being the result of what happens when we fail to achieve balance? As we see in this first issue, Sebastian is back to being a sort of “exemplar of repression.” Or instead, does Tyler represent something more to you?
Palahniuk: You know, not to give away the whole rodeo, but consider that Tyler is not just an aberration but an eternal being of his own that has come across history who has sought out people and created circumstances in their lives where he can dominate them and live through them. Tyler isn’t just a mental illness.
Nrama: That almost suggests that Tyler is a sort of secular Satan-like character – the manifestation of all things evil who operates on a grand scale but who also works through individuals to affect his schemes.
Palahniuk: Right. Satan is a kind of pejorative term, but yes, he’s a character who does not act in the interests of humanity.
Nrama: Shifting gears a bit here as we wind down, I am curious what some of the more enjoyable moments you’ve had working with veteran storyteller and artist, Cameron Stewart?
Palahniuk: Poor, Cameron! He had this nineteen-panel page …
Palahniuk: It turned out to be a mistake but it was supposed to have been spread out over two pages. Still, he ended up doing a beautiful job on it.
Then, he created this fantastic three-dimensional model of the Project Mayhem Victorian mansion. He could then shoot it from any angle or distance and always have it consistent. He really knocked out the stops for that model.
Nrama: When talking with Scott Allie, we discussed the interesting choice of Cameron as the lead artist on this series given his more cartoonish style when taking into account the hard-edged tone of Fight Club.
Palahniuk: Cartoony gives us that wiggle room to depict a room full of crippled, dying children. If we were to depict them too realistically, you couldn’t do it. It’d be too heart-breaking and overwhelming.
Nrama: It’s the line between the grotesque and grossly inappropriate, no? It also frees you from having to force the characters into looking exactly like the actors from the films.
Palahniuk: Exactly right.
Nrama: Chuck, we appreciate your time, but I have to ask one last question: What do you think the long-term is for Fight Club? Obviously, this story will have its beginning middle and end, but do you see yourself continuing it later? Any other future comics-related plans?
Palahniuk: Well, since this story now stretches into the past and the future, it gives us the option to create prequels in a George Lucas kind of way. I’ve also had a number of novel ideas kicked back from Double Day Publishing [Editor Note: This is Chuck’s prose publisher], which were deemed “too dark” and “too upsetting.”
What I’m finding with comics is Dark Horse Comics – God bless them! – is all about “too dark” and “too upsetting!” If I can conceive of it, they’re willing to publish it. I have a bunch of strong novel ideas that were rejected that would be perfect for sequels and a future for Fight Club. So, we’ll see!