Last year author Chuck Palahniuk announced that he was writing a sequel to his beloved 1996 novel Fight Club, which was later turned into an immediate classic film by director David Fincher in 1999. However, Palahniuk revealed that his Fight Club sequel would be neither as a book nor as a film – it would be his first comic series and would be released by Dark Horse Comics. Though the first issue of the ten-issue Fight Club 2 series won’t be released until May 2015, it already is one of the most anticipated comics of next year considering the award-winning artists that Palahniuk has teamed up with for the project: Cameron Stewart, who is penciling the issues, and David Mack, who is illustrating the covers for the series.
Cameron Stewart has worked on a variety of popular series in his career, including Batman & Robin and Seaguy (both with writer Grant Morrison), Catwoman (with Winter Soldier creator Ed Brubaker), B.P.R.D. (with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola), and the Eisner Award-winning miniseries The Other Side with writer Jason Aaron. He also wrote and drew the miniseries Assassin’s Creed: The Fall and is currently the co-writer of DC’s Batgirl series.
David Mack is the creator of Kabuki, a series that has utilized a variety of artistic styles throughout its twenty-year run. The latest volume, Kabuki: The Alchemy, was released by Marvel Comics and the collected edition features an introduction written by his Fight Club 2 collaborator Palahniuk. Mack has also worked on Marvel’s Daredevil as both illustrator and co-writer. Just prior to New York Comic Con Dark Horse made a major announcement about Kabuki, which I also spoke to Mack about.
Movie Buzzers interviewed Stewart and Mack separately about working with Palahniuk on the sequel to the novel that became a cultural touchstone of the 1990s, drawing characters like Tyler Durden, and why fans of the original shouldn’t bring any preconceptions to the series.
People describe both the Fight Club novel and book as cult classics, but both have really transcended that and are now viewed as modern classics. Both of you have worked on comic book icons before, but is working on a sequel to such a revered book and film any different?
Cameron Stewart: I think with characters such as Batman, they’ve been around for years – it’s the seventy-fifth anniversary of Batman this year – so there are hundreds, if not thousands of people who have all worked on these characters. It’s a collective piece of work. With something like Fight Club there’s the original novel, there’s the film, and that’s pretty much it. There is a very specific vision that’s been presented to the world and responded to that I now have to build upon and in some ways not be influenced by. This book is a sequel to the novel, not the film, so as a result we have to avoid using the likenesses of the actors, but those are the iconic representation of these characters in popular culture. If you ask anybody who Tyler Durden is, the image that comes to mind is Brad Pitt. We can’t do that in the comic, and I don’t even think Chuck would’ve wanted that. I think Chuck really loves the film and thinks that it was cast perfectly, but in Chuck’s mind Tyler has always had a particular look – he’s got long blonde hair. I’m trying to be as true to Chuck’s vision as I can on this. It is a unique approach to this that is different from working on these popular characters.
David Mack: It’s very interesting because of the two mediums it has been in before: it’s been the Fight Club novel and the Fight Club film. Of course there’s an overlap, but each of them also has their own fans and audience already. Most people have probably seen the film but not read the book, so they can’t help but imagine Fight Club as Brad Pitt and Ed Norton. But the cool thing about it is I felt like the sequel Chuck wrote accommodates and still fits in harmony with both the novel and the film. Every time I would read a line of dialogue of his characters, I would automatically hear it in the voice that I’m familiar with from the film. Every line of dialogue just rings true to how he writes. We’re used to hearing those actors speak those characters, so it’s almost like it has a natural audio feel when you read it because it still fits in harmony with that. I think he solved a fascinating problem because it’s its own thing, but still feels like it’s completely compatible with everything you know about. It still works on a certain meta-level.
Speaking of the characters’ likenesses, what did you particularly try to capture in your likeliness’s of the narrator, Tyler, and Marla?
Cameron Stewart: Just kind of their personalities. Marla is really fun to draw, but this book takes place ten years later, so they’re in very different stations in life now. They’re married and they have this kind of normal but crushingly dull marriage. I was asking Chuck for advice on how Marla should look now because everyone sort of visualizes her with messy, rat’s nest hair and these black, goth-y vintage clothes. Now he says she’s supposed to be dressed as an upscale, suburban housewife in nice pantsuits and jewelry. I’ve tried to capture that sort of style in her dress and her hair, but still that dark humored acidic personality that she has. So I always draw her with very low eyelids and she never really looks happy, always viewing the world through those heavy eyelids like she’s above it all and she sees through all the bullshit. The narrator is older now so I’ve drawn him like he’s beaten down. Tyler is no longer a part of him because he’s suppressed by medication so as a result of that his life is just a flatline. I’m drawing him to look schlubbier and he’s got a receding hairline. He’s always just sort of slouched forward. It’s trying to capture the characters’ personalities in the state that they’re in now in the story.
David Mack: We’re not trying to make it look like the characters in the film. People could probably read it and still imagine that the actors are those characters because they still have the personality and body language of the characters from the book that the actors probably tried to immerse themselves in. I still feel like that has a continuity to it as well, but what I love about the character of Tyler is the mystery to him. So for instance with the first image for the promotional material I used a lot of shadow with Tyler and keeping him in shadow. I like the idea that a lot of times there’s a shadow and a mystery to him, and it’s kind of a metaphor for this personality lurking inside this other guy’s mind, but this whole flux of identity, which is one of the most interesting tropes of the whole story – “Is this you? Is this me? Could this be anybody? Is Tyler the real me? Is Tyler infecting me? Is Tyler a virus that could affect other people?” – I like that kind of idea. So I’ve been playing with the idea of keeping a certain amount of mystery to Tyler and keeping an almost film noir approach to him.
David, the covers to Chuck Palahniuk’s novels typical don’t reveal much about the contents. After all, the cover of Fight Club has a bar of soap on it, which obviously doesn’t mean anything to a potential reader until he or she reads the book. Did he have any input or comments on what he wanted on the covers of the comics?
David Mack: Chuck has input on every phase of the process; on every level his input is there. I think he’s not dictating anything, I think he’s sort of asking everybody to just dazzle him and bring all their ideas. I think he gravitates to the ideas that resonate with him and he connects to. I’ve been doing a lot of experimentation, and before I came here I sent Dark Horse and Chuck a whole variety of probably two dozen different takes on different cover concepts and ideas. Some of them were very graphic, some were painterly, and some were mixed media, but a lot of them kind of toying with that double image idea, the overlapping personality. There’s so many different ways to tinker with that as well as the various things that happen inside each book. I like to send them a variety of approaches and see what they say back. I get the impression that Chuck kind of likes to see what you bring to it and then gives his feedback.
Cameron, Chuck is a fantastic writer, but obviously is new to comics. How was working with him different from traditional comic book writers or how you would write comics?
Cameron Stewart: The interesting thing about comic scripts is that no two of them are alike anyway. If you’re writing a screenplay, there’s a very specific format and you have to even use the right font for it. Comic scripts are highly idiosyncratic depending on the writer. The interesting thing about Chuck is that he’s never written a comic before so he really had no familiarity on how to do it. There is a fairly large comic scene in Portland which is where Chuck lives, so he was consulting with Matt Fraction, who is a comics writer who wrote Hawkeye and Sex Criminals. Matt was giving him advice and Chuck was looking at Matt’s comics and kind of trying to reverse engineer them by going through them and saying, “Okay, these comics have an average of six panels per page, therefore I’m going to need X amount of panels to tell the story.” So rather than being broken down into pages, which is what most comic scripts do – they’ll go Page One, panel one, panel two, panel three, page two, panel one, panel two, panel three – he just starts at panel one and goes right through to panel 900. It’s just this one massive block of panel descriptions. Every so often he’ll have “Page turn here” if there’s a specific moment he wants to create by the turn of the page, but generally what I get to do now is I get to go through and determine where I think the natural scene breaks are and the natural page breaks. Sometimes I’ll read through the scene and I’ll go, “Okay, well this really should be one page because of what it accomplishes in the story, but there are twenty panels that he’s written here.” So I have to figure out how to condense all of that and put it into one page. Some of them are things where he’ll just mention like a very, very small detail and I know that doesn’t need to be a large panel and it can be a small insert. But I think his unfamiliarity with the form is allowing me to be more of a collaborator than just executing a basic script.
I’m sure that’s really refreshing to have that freedom.
Cameron Stewart: Absolutely, and Chuck’s great in terms of allowing me that freedom too. I want to Portland for the summer so we could talk about this book and we would meet and I would ask him questions just to try and determine how particular he was about things. He’s basically been saying, “Just surprise me. I trust you. Do a good job. I want to be surprised when I see it.”
David, you were actually acquaintances with Chuck before working on Fight Club 2. How did he begin his approach to writing Fight Club 2 as a comic book series?
David Mack: I would meet up with Chuck and have lunches and dinners with him and he wrote a very generous introduction to the newest Kabuki volume, The Alchemy. I had a correspondence with him with letters as well as meeting up with him in Portland. We would talk about comic books and his approaches to it and I know Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Brian Michael Bendis would also give their opinions to him about stuff like that. If he or Dark Horse asked me my opinions behind the scenes I’d give it to them and just let them weigh it and figure it out. I think over a period of time since he did the Fight Club book he was in a different place than he is now and he had different thoughts, and I think the Tyler character was kind of percolating in him in a different way. I think he got the idea that because he has never done comics before and he’s talking to all these comic book creators that he thought it would be an interesting challenge. He’s already done it as a book, so he felt like even though it’s a sequel perhaps it would be interesting and challenging to do it in a new format. It’s been a book, it’s been a film, and maybe this was something he could learn in the process, to do it in comic book storytelling. He just mixed and matched all that feedback in his own Chuck Palahniuk way.
Cameron, both the book and the novel have this manic, kinetic energy that seems perfect for comics. But how does that energy translate best to a comic page?
Cameron Stewart: The thing about Chuck’s writing in general if you read any of his novels is that he writes in this very particular way that is very short, almost single-sentence paragraphs that has this very snappy rhythm to the writing. I think that translates to comics pages very, very easily. One of the things that I’m trying to do is I’m trying to keep a lot of the pages very rigid in a grid structure. They may be very, very dense grids – like I just finished the layout for a fifteen panel page. I feel like doing that is a way to replicate the rhythm of his writing, so even though it’s visual it’s going to feel in the pacing of its pages like a Chuck Palahniuk book.
Aside from Fight Club, what Chuck Palahniuk novel would you most want to make a comic book sequel to?
Cameron Stewart: Oh man. You know, I just re-read Haunted. My God, that book is just absolutely horrifying but really, really sticks with me. I actually kind of enjoy drawing horror stuff, so that might be a challenge, particularly because so much of that book is so awful that I think it would be a unique challenge to try to draw it and not be banned for obscenity, or something. [Laughs]
David Mack: Invisible Monsters is fascinating. Survivor and Rant would also be far out books to do. Even his non-fiction stuff would be fascinating. I kind of had this joke, every time I would be hanging out at Brian Bendis’ house in Portland, he would ask, “Hey, where you’re going?” and I would say, “I have a lunch with Chuck Palahniuk.” Bendis would joke that he I would always be running off to meet Chuck but he would never see him like Chuck was my Tyler Durden. Like he would say, “I have a feeling I’m going to walk be the restaurant and you’re just going to be there by yourself sitting at a table and talking to yourself.” [Laughs] So I would come back and write and Bendis would ask, “So what are you working on?” and I would say, “Oh, I just had this amazing conversation with Chuck and I’m writing it all down in playwright form so I can remember everything we talked about.” I had this idea that it would be really fun to illustrate the actual conversations that we would have over lunch when we’re talking about the writing process. I could draw it realistically at first and then it could get a little bit more ridiculous, fantastical, and elaborate with the drawing and morph into things as it goes into what we’re talking about. So I always had that idea because we could be talking about the fiction and the gems and germs of stories that are percolating, but we could also talk about the act of creating and the process that we go through and the principles that we work on. Call it, “My Lunch with Chuck” or something.
Cameron Stewart: [Laughs] Not yet! I’m trying to think if there was a flashback with him in it or anything, but there’s not.
David Mack: No, I draw that on my own. I don’t show anyone that. I do that all on my personal time, just to get into headspace. [Laughs]
What should Fight Club fans who might be hesitant about a sequel comic know about this project?
David Mack: I would be hesitant if it wasn’t Chuck, just as he would be hesitant if it was a film and it wasn’t David Fincher. Because it’s coming from Chuck and it’s this next space of the character, I’m fascinated by it. I’ve read it all, and it’s incredible. The twists and turns are just primo artifacts of Chuck Palahniuk’s brain material. It’s a beautiful script. It’s the easiest script to read that I’ve ever read, even though it’s not a traditional comic book script it’s so crystal clear when you’re reading it. It’s almost like reading a novel but you see the visual beats. He knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote it because he didn’t try to make it a “comic book thing” and let Cameron divide it into pages. It was really a smart way to approach it.
Cameron Stewart: The big thing is that whatever anybody has in their mind of what a Fight Club sequel will be, whatever their preconceptions are or what they determined in their own heads what a Fight Club sequel would be is 100% incorrect. I saw a lot of the reaction when it was announced of people rolling their eyes and saying “Oh yeah, this is a cash-in thing,” or whatever. It’s not. Even the most basic plot description that’s been released that kind of gives an idea of what the story is about really only covers the first of ten issues. It goes off into some unbelievably unexpected metafictional places. It’s as much a sequel to the story as it is a comment on the reaction to the original Fight Club and how it has been received in popular culture. I think it’s Chuck’s reflections on all of that. It’s fascinating. I mean, I read it because he delivered the entire script – which is also unusual in comics as well. I’ve read the whole story, I know the whole thing, and as I was burning through it my jaw was hanging open at places, thinking, “I can’t believe where this story is going.” The ending will blow people’s minds.
David Mack: This year is the twentieth anniversary of Kabuki, and Dark Horse is celebrating by releasing and collecting the entirety of all the Kabuki volumes together in oversized library hardcover editions. The very first one is 400 pages and the plan is for there to be a total of four 400-page volumes. I think the plan is for the first one to come out the summer of next year and I don’t know if I’m speaking out of school but I think their plan is to shoot for the next one for the holiday season to give people a few months. But the amazing thing is that their actually not that expensive. They’re only $40 each. They’re cheaper than buying them in the trade paperbacks. I don’t know they can do that! Maybe it’s because they’re not doing them as a limited edition and maybe they’re going to keep them in print. One of the exciting things is since they made that announcement the day before New York Comic Con, they also announced they’re offering Kabuki available digitally at the same time, which is the first time that’s ever happened. People can go and purchase Kabuki digitally, so right now you can buy the first Kabuki book I did twenty years ago – by the way, I should also mention the context of that first Kabuki book is that I did it for my senior thesis in literature when I was in college. So it’s fascinating that it’s now being collected in oversized books as an artifact of my very first work in college. [To preorder Kabuki Library Volume One, click here!]
Special thanks to Dark Horse Comics for setting up these interviews!