'Fight Club 2' Breaks The First Rule With Our In-Depth Chuck Palahniuk Interview
If you're looking for a list of the most famous fictional characters in history who are also fictional characters in their own stories, Tyler Durden has to be up there. The uber-male creator of the fight clubs in, er, "Fight Club" has become an icon both through Chuck Palahniuk's best-selling book, and Brad Pitt's portrayal of the character in David Fincher's movie.
And now, nearly two decades after the book was first published, he's back. Or maybe. Because when we last left the unnamed narrator of the book, he had shot himself in his own face, effectively "killing" the Tyler Durden side of his personality.
Either way, when Palahniuk, along with artist Cameron Stewart, colorist Dave Stewart and covers by David Mack -- scroll down for our exclusive reveal of the cover to issue #4 -- bring the world of "Fight Club" back in comic book form for a special prelude issue on Free Comic Book Day (May 2), they are ready to rock Project Mayhem and make soap like its going out of style.
In advance of the release of the issue, MTV News talked to Palahniuk over the phone about the lasting legacy of "Fight Club," what inspired the sequel, and whether we'll see it head back to movies (probably not) or maybe even as a musical (probably, actually):
MTV News: One misconception to clean up right off the bat, this is a continuation of the book, not specifically the movie, right?
Chuck Palahniuk: Yeah, because if I continued the movie 20th Century Fox would sue my ass! We had to be really careful. It was 80 elements –- even really small things –- that Fox put into the movie that were different from the book. We could not use those. We couldn’t pick them up.
MTV: So then is moving this into comic book form a way of taking "Fight Club" back for yourself?
Palahniuk: You know, it’s kind of me being part of the party. The party kind of moved away from me. And if I had known I was going to have to talk about it for the rest of my life, I would have made it a bigger story –- kind of develop it into a Lovecraft mythology or Stephen King mythology, like they both have. And I thought I better take the chance to do it now.
MTV: Okay, so what was the experience writing the first book like -- and what led to the idea of this continuation?
Palahniuk: You know, the first book was more or less so linear and it was so focused on one person’s experience. It didn’t really talk about his backstory, his family, anything. There were just a couple references to his mother and his father and that was it. Other than, you know, going about being disappointed by his father.
And it was written so general that my father thought I was writing about his father, and my boss thought I was writing about his boss. People really put themselves, you know, in the shoes of the narrator. And so, with the sequel, I wanted to put this guy ten years down the road where he finds himself being just as bad a father –- if not a worse father –- than his father was. And then to explore really what his family history was like.
We all think that history is us. We are everything in the moment. But having this man realize that he is just a small sort of connective tissue between the past and the future and that he really isn’t doing anything but perpetuating a bunch of things that will lead to something beyond his control.
MTV: The movie was very much about this sort of uber-masculinity, I don't think the fatherhood issues even entered into it. So moving the main character forward in this way, is it a way of bringing it back to these main themes?
Palahniuk: The main themes –- and not just of fatherhood but, again, of perpetuating ideas that weren’t yours to begin with that are not great ideas. There’s the act of destroying all of his cheap IKEA furniture; but in the sequel I want to deal with the contents of his head. All of these received ideologies and opinions that weren’t really his or original to start with, and how do you rid your mind of those things.
MTV: How much has the world –- both outside and inside the book –- changed since the original story? How has that changed how you approach the characters and the themes now?
Palahniuk: You know, originally, it was about my friends', all of my peers' disappointments with their biological fathers. And since then, I see a lot more kind of fathering happening in the world. But there is a secondary father that Joseph Campbell cites. Beyond the original father there has to be a kind of secondary male figure that steps in and continues or completes the maturation of the child and adolescence.
And that’s typically a teacher or religious figure or drill sergeant or sports coach. But we’re seeing this dearth of those male secondary figures. That coaches really have become a kind of presumed sexual predators, and that religious figures certainly have, and that men are leaving teaching in droves, and that all those secondary fathers are disappearing.
And that leaves all of these young adult men just primed for really charismatic, sort of fascist leader, like Tyler Durden who will serve the purpose of that secondary father figure.
Joseph Campbell is a great example, because he says this is why we have street gangs. Because they serve as that secondary father if the secondary father isn’t there. And they send men on missions and they build their confidence and they give them orders, they challenge them, and that’s the purpose that street gangs serve.
MTV: In the book, movie, and comic, by necessity there's not a ton of female characters... But in the intervening time the way we discuss gender had changed significantly. So will we see female characters more incorporated in this sequel? Treated in a different way?
Palahniuk: The female character Marla really needed to be more of a character, something beyond just the catalyst that she was in the book. So, she will be playing an equally big role in the sequel. And she will have kind of a female plot, and be much more sort of a force of action in the sequel book.
MTV: So why a comic book at all? Why was this the right medium to continue the story in?
Palahniuk: You know, because there was such a following and such an attachment to the book and to the movie that I thought, 'If a sequel is going to attain its own authority, it would have to be in a fresh medium, so it couldn’t be compared directly to either the book or the movie.'
And number two, I wanted kind of a collaborative process. I didn’t want to sit in isolation and write another book. And I wanted to be able to depict really challenging, gruesome or edgy things without having to make them as literal as they have to be made in a movie. With an artist like Cameron Stewart who's a little cartoon-y, it gives me wiggle room, a little unreality, so that people can be with really confronting things without being emotionally exhausted and closing the book.
MTV: Since this was such a team effort, was it terrifying to let things go? I guess you experienced that somewhat with the movie, and you have an editor for your novel -- but this is a whole group of people.
Palahniuk: The scary aspect was becoming a student again and letting the people –- who, for the most part, are so much younger than me –- teach me this new form and show me what is better depicted in the illustration than in dialogue and, you know, subjugating myself to these people who know that motion cannot be depicted in these still images but there are ways of kind of suggesting motion, these ways that physical action has to be unpacked into these story board plot points.
And also really mechanical things, like what they call a page turn reveal. Since you’re looking at two pages, you’re kind of seeing everything at once, and the only place you can really surprise a reader is when they turn that page and they see the first thing on the new left hand page, and pacing the entire story so that all the big surprises come with the set up on the lower right hand page and then the pay off on the upper left hand next page.
MTV: What is Tyler Durden’s role now and how has it changed from the first book?
Palahniuk: Not to give too much away, but what we’re going to see is that Sebastian’s experience was just the experience of one person in one lifetime, and that Tyler Durden is kind of an internal meme, a parasitical meme that has found a host or created a host in every generation going back for all of human history.
And, in doing so, it has kind of destroyed family after family –- and that Tyler really brought Marla and Sebastian together, so they would have a child, in a way kind of bred them together, and that this child would ultimately be Tyler’s next vehicle.
MTV: Is there anything you’re looking to for inspiration for this?
Palahniuk: In terms of kind of expanding into a mythology that goes way back in time and into the future at the same time, I read a lot of Lovecraft last summer while I was in Europe and I just loved the way that all those stories dovetailed together to create a larger thing. And Stephen King has done the same thing, creating these very simple stories that, if you read enough of them, you can kind of collage together, the history of a huge fake world.
MTV: So if you have the first book, you have this comic –- are you building a larger world?
Palahniuk: That’s entirely possible because Random House had asked me write a story for the new collection that would be a "Fight Club" precursor, and I think, originally, it was just a way of marketing these things closer together. So, I wrote a story that was very based on Lovecraft, his style and the style of Poe and Hawthorne, placing Tyler Durden in the 19th century in Germany and it was a blast. It turned out so well. I never thought I could write such stilted, archaic fiction.
MTV: I know we're not supposed to talk about this, but with "Fight Club" being such a big part of culture, have you gotten sick of the catchphrases yet?
Palahniuk: I kind of adore it. I think we all want to invent a game that other people want to play. That’s kind of the purpose of the event, is to invent a fashion or a game or a saying that church people so well have adopted. It becomes institutionalized in a way that we’ve had 25, 35 Burning Mans –- because Burning Man is a blast! People love Burning Man –- but we’ve only had one Occupy event because it wasn’t as much fun. And we all want to create this thing that is self-perpetuating because it really serves people.
MTV: What are you trying to do with this book, this franchise if you will, then? Are you legitimately trying to incite a revolution? Or is it something else?
Palahniuk: Boy! You know, I don’t really write with an intention. I think if I do it right, I can trick myself into revealing something and arriving at an epiphany that I could not anticipate beforehand; that the writing is a kind of way of accessing subconscious, unconscious, whatever, and realizing something that I could not consciously decide beforehand. So often it won’t be until a year after the thing is done that I realize what it was really about. And it is so personal that I would have never written about it deliberately.
MTV: Could you see a movie or TV version of "Fight Club 2"? Or does that defeat the point of going a different route than FOX?
Palahniuk: For the time being, I’m keeping it for myself. But right from the get go, when we signed that 60-page contract back in 1996, it gave FOX rights to create sequels and television shows and, so, I don’t have control over a lot of that.
MTV: Have you started any conversations with David Fincher or Brad Pitt, or have they reached out to you?
Palahniuk: Fincher is optioning the stage rights. He’s finally moving on to the big rock opera. David says that there’s been a rock opera for every generation, you know, "Tommy" and then "The Wall," but there really hasn’t been a really big one for the current generation – and he and Trent Reznor are really determined to make that happen. And David’s been consulting with Julie Taymor, the director, and she’s been kind of coaching him on what it takes to get a huge stage production.
MTV: Do you have any ideas of the songs, or have you written any songs yourself?
Palahniuk: No, David said that he wanted to give Trent a year to put together the primary songs and most of the soundtrack and I think I’ll hear it after that point.
"Fight Club 2" hits stores first with a prelude issue on Free Comic Book Day, May 2; and then in stores on May 27 from Dark Horse Comics. And be sure to check out our exclusive cover to #4, below: