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Tyler Durden returns

Fight Club gains a dark future and deep past via a short story and new graphic novel series


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I am Jack's subversive sequel. But just a copy of a copy of a copy. May I never be complete.

Because every era apparently needs Tyler Durden, a phoenix symbol for the pill-popper generation. A projection of our liberated, fearless, better selves.

Remember: You are not the contents of your wallet, or the clothes you wear, or your clever furniture. In the world of Fight Club, you have to tear it all down. We all do.

We know this, because Tyler knows this. Because in 1999, director David Fincher turned Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel into a cult classic — an ode to anti-materialism and mischief. Brad Pitt's bruised face, in the character of Tyler Durden, became a societal symbol and familiar graffiti subject. An emergence of real fight clubs occurred internationally.

Nearly two decades passed. Then suddenly there was news of Fight Club 2 as a 10-part comic book series, illustrated by Cameron Stewart (Catwoman) with cover art from David Mack (Kabuki), and published by Dark Horse Comics. Along with it came a Free Comic Book Day teaser, plus a precursor short story in Palahniuk's Make Something Up: Stories You Can't Unread, which like Fight Club 2 releases this week.

Mr. Durden is back in full force, and with more power than we ever realized before.

The novel left our unnamed narrator shot in the face, by his own hand, in an attempt to kill his delusion and alter ego, Tyler. He lay in a mental hospital, missed by his Project Mayhem "space monkeys," as the underlings were called. The film, meanwhile, chose to go out on a more definitive note, exploding a skyline with pre-9/11 prescience as the bullet-holed narrator and his twisted romantic interest, Marla, held hands.

The comic picks up a decade in the future, where the two are married and have a boy. Some things haven't changed. Marla still fakes illnesses to attend support groups, where she now bemoans her sorry sex life. "What's an orgasm?" a rapidly aged pre-teen asks her at a meeting for those afflicted by Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome.

You hate yourself for laughing. But that's one of Palahniuk's gifts — he's a morbidity master.

Others' situations have changed, though. The narrator, now called Sebastian, suppresses Tyler via palm-fuls of medications that slay his libido. That is, until Marla slips him placebos so she can get laid. Enter Tyler, who's been secretly running the underworld all along via scheduled hypnosis sessions. By the end of Issue #1, we're seeing the familiar element of fire again.

And keep your eye on that special boy ...

In "Expedition" — the only MSU short story tied to Fight Club — Palahniuk establishes a clear father-son theme in what ultimately serves as a lead-in to the comic book series. Set in 19th-century Germany, it finds Tyler ushering another protagonist named Felix over surreal footing into a dark subterranean network, but not without humorous notes. It also offers an entirely new style of writing for Palahniuk, who plays with longer sentences and somewhat dated dialect.

Palahniuk says he selected a comic book format for the sequel so as not to tarnish the legacy of the book or film in either of those same mediums. The new format certainly poses new challenges, but also allows wider boundaries in its own way.

We spoke to Palahniuk last week for further insight into the unusual revival, which may also bring about a stage adaptation; below are excerpts.

Indy: Your new book released May 26, followed by the comic series May 27. Aside from making us all feel unproductive, why the tandem releases?

Palahniuk: The story collection was supposed to release this fall. Doubleday got a sense that there'd be a lot of excitement around Dark Horse's project so Doubleday thought, wisely, to piggyback on it.

Did you ever consider any of Make Something Up's short stories as beginnings of longer works, or were they always standalone? In "Zombies" in particular, I could see the premise of the teenage self-defibrillating craze and the theme of de-evolution as a great launch point.

That was one of the stories I wrote last year, when I had this resolution that I'd write nothing but happy endings. No story would be complete until it had a happy ending. Because that's just not a muscle I work very often. And I was so glad it achieved a happy ending, that that's as far as it needed to go for me.

Was there a particular life experience or something that made you want to start writing those happy endings?

I can't think of one catalyzing moment, but I realize that I was kind of being chickenshit in having dark endings too often. If I was going to be a fully formed writer, I should be able to do any kind of endings I wanted, without constantly defaulting to the conflicted dark ending.

It surprised me, especially after hilarious lines like, "The voltage even cleared up his acne." I wasn't expecting it. It was so sweet.

It makes people cry. It's amazing how many people cry by the end, when I read it at events. That was one of those stories I read on tour to get the kinks out of it, and it worked really well out loud.

We're told these works span a decade, but you wrote "Expedition," the Fight Club precursor, by Doubleday's request more recently, calling it marketing of sorts. Why not just include this backstory in the new comic? Or that could have been the Free Comic Book Day Fight Club 2 teaser, instead of the adaptation of the novel's ending.

On one hand, I was in Spain for most of last summer. I was in Madrid. And I was re-reading a lot of Poe and all of Lovecraft. And I just really wanted to set myself the task of writing a Lovecraft story, using as many of the Lovecraft tics as I could identify. I've never written in that kind of over-the-top third person. So it was a challenge, and I wanted to do it for the challenge. And also I think Doubleday didn't want to get lost in the fuss over Fight Club 2.

You have created this surreal, era-spanning mythology with Tyler Durden in "Expedition." But you balance the suffocating fear of being lost in underground tunnels in the dark with humorous lines like "Prithee pay heed, the first-most rule regarding the monster is thee must nevermore speak of meeting the monster." Are you trying to establish a tone with your audience, to not take it so seriously? To get away from Fight Club's anti-consumerism and self-realization messaging and more into this story about fathers and sons through eternity?

Not just fathers and sons, but also the idea that Tyler isn't just a mental aberration that occurred once in one person's life. That Tyler is a thing that is reoccurring, as a kind of evil genie across time whose purpose is to destroy people's lives in a specific way. With a very specific ending in the near future. Because that's ultimately what the 10 issues are about.

Your parents split when you were in your early teens, and you and your siblings went to live with your grandparents. Was your relationship, then or before, tense with your father? Were you close around the time of his murder in 1999? And is exploring this father-son dynamic with "Expedition" and Fight Club 2 cathartic, therapeutic or merely curious?

Boy ... and of course this is just speculation. Because I don't think anybody really knows anything very true about themselves. But my father had serial relationships throughout his life, I theorize, because he was always looking for his mother. Because his father had become unbalanced and killed his mother and then killed some of his siblings, and then ultimately killed himself.

But my father's earliest memories are of being 3 years old and trying to find his mother, who has been shot to death, who's dead. While at the same time he's evading his father, who has the rifle and is trying to shoot him, my father. So my father spent his life kind of looking, I believe, for his mom. And the irony is that he finally finds this woman he's madly in love with, and the man with the rifle shows up and kills them both. So there was a kind of a completeness to his murder. A spooky sort of completeness. ...

The woman that my father was dating when he was killed by her ex-husband, she had run a personals ad and the heading of the personals ad was "kismet." Which I believe is Arabic for "fate." So he answers this ad that's headlined "fate" and it leads to the completion of this greatest childhood fear. I think all these things as we look into them so much, we find even more bizarre coincidences. ...

And as for me, boy, his absence for so much of my childhood kind of left me in a different situation. Kind of always looking for him. And God only knows how that will end.

In that regard, do you look at this work and that theme, and see much of yourself in it, or do you feel distant from it?

There's a kind of revelation, a self-reveal about how the character's default is anger. And anger is what has rescued him from going under, time and time again. That's the only skill he has, is getting really angry — getting really pissed and acting out of it.

And that was one of the most honest things I've ever written. I was shocked that I was putting that on the page. Because so much of my life up to this point has been being confronted by a problem or an obstacle, and then just developing this enormous rage that gets me past it. And it's not just me, it's a lot of men my age and men much younger, tell me the same thing. That's their only way of transcending obstacles, is to develop that huge rage.

In the original Fight Club, the narrator, then not given a name, slanders his father. You mentioned putting that character, now called Sebastian, through fatherhood himself, as comeuppance. Sebastian has a 10-year-old son, just like the protagonist in "Expedition," Felix. Do I have it correct that Tyler's intervening mischief is to divide man and boy? I think back to the Fight Club refrain about, "It's only after you've lost everything that you're free to do anything."

I hesitate to tell you that you're absolutely right, because that really is the 10-issue story arc. It's that across time, Tyler has been working to estrange fathers and sons and even daughters and fathers so that eventually they'll all follow Tyler. Kind of consolidating this army of fatherless children who're now adults and will follow some fascist leader who happens to be Tyler. By Issue #8 that becomes very clear.

That's almost a creepy spin on child soldiers in real life, those horrifying images we see of children carrying guns.

Part of me wonders — I've never seen it addressed, but how many sons lost their fathers in Germany in World War I, and how many of those sons fell under the sway of Hitler because they never really knew their fathers, who'd died as soldiers. They were looking for a father figure and Hitler emerged. There's so many, a whole generation that needed someone. It hasn't been talked about, but I wonder if that wasn't a factor.

In an MTV interview, you talked about Tyler Durden as a secondary father figure, as outlined by Joseph Campbell's philosophy [essentially stating that beyond one's own father, secondary male figures like sports coaches help finalize a child's maturation]. In the book and film he's the narrator's split personality and alter ego. In this world you've created, does this mean Tyler's really a voice in all men's heads — each has his own personification?

In the comic, ultimately Tyler's defined by the analyst as an infectious meme. I love the idea of putting an idea out there that other people adopt, whether it's a form of fashion or a saying or a song, that people latch onto and start using on a regular basis. Tyler's very much like that.

Do you still consider this whole body rooted firmly in the "transgressive fiction" category?

Yeah. There's so many things in this that could not be depicted in a movie. That's always my goal, is to depict things that only this particular medium could do. That wouldn't work in a book and couldn't be made literal enough to be made into a film. And those tend to be transgressive things.

In the 2005 paperback edition, in the afterword you cite many real-world examples of Fight Club's influence on its readers and larger society. It clearly had impact. Do you anticipate a similar revival with the comic's release? Maybe not new fight clubs springing up in basements, but a fresh wave of counterculture action?

Hmmm ... that's a good point. Because so much of Fight Club was based on the antics of the Cacophony Society [a loose group of pranksters with chapters in San Francisco, Los Angeles and, closer to Palahniuk's home, Portland]. And I was really determined in the sequel that it was not going to be a series of character-building antics. There would be a lot less of that. I didn't want to repeat that pattern.

There'll be less of that modeling of social antics and pranking, so I'm not sure without that social modeling if it will spur people's behavior.

That said, You've encouraged your fans to tag creative places with the phrases "Tyler Durden Lives," and "Rize or Die." Can you share any favorite acts of public mayhem so far?

I haven't seen anything too spectacular yet. But for years people have been sending me photographs of "Tyler Durden Lives" as graffiti. So I've got 15 years of these photographs, and that was the basis for putting it into the book. Sometimes it's just auditory because the memes have become coded security announcements in a lot of places like airports. People will be hearing people paging Tyler Durden, and it stands for a specific emergency situation.

Any favorites from over the years, then?

If anything, there was some package designer at Avery Office Products, and the label for their mass-produced envelopes featured a return address that was the Paper Street Soap Company. And so every time I went into Office Depot or Office Max, there in the Avery display would be the Paper Street Soap Company on the label of these packages of envelopes. It was so impressive and subversive.

One of the lead commenters on my Fight Club 2 review in The Atlantic last month called it "a misogynistic ode to white males that made frat boys everywhere think they had a revolutionary bent. Equating consumerism with all the negative stereotypes of femininity while suggesting only the most primal version of masculinity is able to overcome it." Do you find yourself still defending the original work, as you expand it now? It is misunderstood?

Yeah. People are reading it on the most superficial level. That's a reaction to the most superficial aspect of it. It's a reaction that's completely shut down to the emotional needs of anyone but themselves. So they get to be right, they get to be clever, and golly they stated it in such a politically correct, jargon-y way. God bless 'em.

There's been concern over staining Fight Club's "literary legacy," as you put it. You've said FOX has rights to on-screen sequels, and that director David Fincher has optioned stage rights for a "big rock opera" for a new generation, with Trent Reznor's help. As you fill out your own Fight Club universe with the new comics, will that work ultimately inform their narrative direction — like, is everyone looking at you for cues? Or do they all have rights to take the story in their own direction?

As far as FOX, I think they might actually have the rights to take it in their own direction if they wanted to hook up with one of the television networks that's interested in doing a series. But I think it would always behoove them to stay in my good graces, if only to help with the promotion. I don't think they'd want to do anything with the property that would alienate me.

What about Fincher? Did you work closely with him on the film? Did they seek out your voice?

Fincher is such a bright guy that I found myself just sort of rolling over and saying, "Have it your way," because I knew that he was always going to be thinking so far ahead of me. And he knew the medium so much better than I would ever know it.

Recently I met Janeane Garofalo, and she said that David had asked her to sign a letter of attachment to be Marla early on. And that Edward Norton had objected because he was invested in Courtney Love being Marla, and that Brad Pitt had objected to Courtney Love. And eventually they went with David's [next] choice, who was Helena Bonham Carter. When you think about any of those actresses cast, Helena is definitely the smartest, most unlikely one. So I think David has that instinct, that I just have to defer to him.

Is anyone talking tentative release dates on that stage production?

David was talking about Trent working on the music for a full year. And so that would be a year out from now. And they probably wouldn't have anything onstage until a year after that. David has been consulting with Julie Taymor because of the kind of spectacle that she's so known for with Spider Man and The Lion King. I think that's the kind of scale that David's talking about.

Would that be related to Fight Club 2 or a stage adaptation of the original?

I think it would be the original. Whether it would stick with the book's ending or the movie's, I don't know.

Was there any significance to waiting almost two decades to continue Fight Club's story? Or was it just time?

I never thought that it would have this kind of legs, that people would be asking me about it 20 years later. The idea of creating a mythology that stretched into the future and the past was really appealing. That coincided with a dinner party where one of my best friends, Chelsea Cain of the Heartsick series, she invited me to dinner with Matt Fraction [The Invincible Iron Man] and Brian Bendis [Ultimate Spider-Man]. And the two of them hammered on me about writing a Fight Club comic.

At the same time, my next book was going to be the story collection, and most of the stories were done. So for the first time in 20 years I was going to have almost a year of free time to work on something. It seemed to be this perfect storm of peer support and free time.

You've had fun with all the variant covers, scratch-and-sniff bookmarks, and comic-writing collaboration so far, with what the medium allows. Is it so much fun that you'd either adapt other past works or write new works in comic form?

One goal now that we have the deal with James Franco to make Rant into a movie, is if that goes into production and becomes a movie, I'd love to do the Rant sequel as a graphic novel. It just seems like such a nice pattern, to do the novel, the movie and then the graphic novel. And beyond that, Scott Allie [editor in chief at Dark Horse Comics] really loves the stories in Make Something Up. So he's talking about doing a lot of those stories as one-off comics.

Is there anything I didn't ask you about either work that you'd like to say, in conclusion?

If anything, I really love the collaborative nature of comics. The people involved in comics seem so much better socialized than novelists who work in isolation. Comic people always find themselves having to work with different teams of people, and they seem to cooperate so much better. There seems to be a lot less interpersonal politics between them. So far, comics has just been a much more pleasant process than long-form prose.


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