who is tyler durden really? That was the question at the heart of Chuck Palahniuk’s best-selling 1996 Fight Club. The final pages offered what seemed like an answer, but twenty years later, Palahniuk’s new graphic novel Fight Club 2 suggests we may have never met Tyler Durden. Or, at least, not in the way we thought we did.
what happens when a character slips out of an author’s grasp? why is palahniuk related to the jungle author upton sinclair? how is tyler durden like a child star? These questions and more are answered in the following interview.
penguin random house: how did this come about? why a graphic novel instead of a traditional novel?
chuck palahniuk: they got together on a blind date of sorts. Thriller writer Chelsea Kane, who later became one of the characters in the graphic novel, hosted a dinner party and invited Brian Michael Bendis and his wife, and Matt Fraction, and Kelly Sue Deconnick, and then the group of them. He proceeded to beat me up and give me the impression that I should write a graphic novel. They promised to show me the entire form and support me, and I couldn’t say no at the time. They promised to make it very easy for you and that’s how it happened.
prh: have you considered that this could have been an intervention and not just a dinner? an ambush, perhaps?
cp: I hadn’t thought of that! at least, maybe they were trying to intervene in my compulsive novel writing: get me out of a rut!
prh: it sounds to me like you’re ready to put tyler durden to bed, but now it’s impossible, right? I got that impression while reading the book, but I could be wrong.
cp: oh no. There is a saying that the student only succeeds when he kills the teacher, when you surpass your teacher. while i could claim i want to solve tyler, i really wanted tyler to get over me.
prh: that’s really part of the book. I don’t want to give anything away, but tyler has slipped out of your grasp and turned into something else entirely.
cp: well, looks like we’re ready for the next one.
prh: oh, will there be one next?
cp: well, there’s a baby on the way…
prh: there’s a repeated line in the book about a kid wanting to take on his old man. do you sometimes feel that way with tyler? that you have a father-son relationship that will never be resolved?
cp: yeah, but at the same time, that relationship is my meal ticket, so I can’t complain too much!
prh: It’s like having a child who turns out to be a movie star, a child star.
cp: yeah! I could whine and moan, but…
prh: sebastian and marla are married parents living in the suburbs. It struck me that many of the people who originally picked up the book and then saw the movie are now middle-aged people living in the suburbs. to what extent is fight club 2 a reply to that original audience or message?
cp: I never think about the audience, because it’s not my job to fix anyone. the last thing I want in my books is some kind of social engineering or lecture. it was kind of my way of acknowledging that I was getting older and that my life had become really suburban and that I needed to face the situation from the older side, from my father’s side, that I couldn’t just be the whiny kid. for the rest of my life. at some point I had to approach the situation from the father’s side and how easy it is to fail at being a father.
prh: you don’t like social engineering and messaging people, but tyler does: tyler does exactly that.
cp: correct. well, not the most politically correct messages, but put them in tyler’s mouth and he’s fine.
prh: the original fight club was published in the era before social media. how do you think it would be received if it were published now?
cp: You know, it’s hard to think if it would do better because it could grow its audience faster, or if it would do worse because it could attract criticism faster. it’s hard to say.
prh: what is it like when you see people co-opt the book or graphic novel in ways that are antithetical to its message? I know there’s a scene in the graphic novel where you mention a “writing club” and all these other clubs that have popped up, and people getting tattoos and stuff.
cp: makes me feel like upton sinclair when he set out to write the jungle and wanted to point out the plight of immigrant workers. This was supposed to be the American Communist Manifesto, but when people read it, all they took away was that their meat and cheese was caked with dirt. he was just furious. I don’t feel angry, but I do identify with upton sinclair.
prh: I met people who thought it would be cool to have a fight club after seeing the movie. It seemed to me that they would never have been punched in the mouth a couple of times.
cp: I don’t care about the fact that it created sort of a model where people could come together and have a consensual experience, because a lot of people nowadays are so conflict-avoidant that they don’t really he has some freedom around him. they have never experienced it. at least this provides a way to experience the conflict. otherwise they don’t make any kind of direct sense of it in the world. there are so few stories that have a social model for men. I think women’s writing is very, very good at presenting social role models, so you have things like the luck and joy club and the divine secrets of the ya-ya sorority, and the sorority of the traveling pants , and how to make an American. quilt. all are presenting models in which women come together and talk about their experiences. With men, those social model narratives are indeed rare, and few and far between. the only ones i can think of are the “dead poets society” where a bunch of kids go into a cave and read poetry and fight club. I think they’re both very similar, but I think fight club is a little more honest and realistic than going to a cave and reading poetry and finding enlightenment.
prh: you mentioned consensual violence. that is mentioned in the graphic novel with “rize or die”: that there is violence in these war zones that can become a gaming sensation. could you elaborate on that?
cp: was a bit over the top. I wouldn’t say that violence that takes place in a war zone is consensual, but the way the media handles it as additional content is what I was trying to point out. the media flattens all this conflict and these dramatic events and just turns it into content to put between commercials and sell stuff. for the media, the conflict does not have any kind of special importance other than something to put between things. I think that was more the point he was trying to make. however, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of conflicts weren’t handled by people we don’t know, people pitting people against each other and it’s more of a game than genuine fighting. that wouldn’t surprise me.
prh: what did you find liberating about the graphic novel? Was there anything that you found restrictive?
cp: the most liberating thing is the fact that the pacing, the transitions, are so easily managed through panels. you have a panel, a panel, a panel, and they drive like a sequence in the movie, and you can go from one thing to a totally different thing and not lose your reader. in long-form prose, many verbal transitions are needed to get from one thing to the next. many of my novels and short stories are about creating a device, like a chorus, and using it as a touchstone that allows me to instantly move on to a very different topic. in fight club it was the rules: you enter a rule, and on the other side of the rule is a completely different scene, so I was able to write fight club as if I were editing a movie. panels in comics made presenting information very easy, but the hard part in comics was suggesting movement with still images and also setting up a page break every other page. every other page had to have a really strong setup and then a really strong payoff as soon as that page was turned, and that requires such intense plotting that I don’t think many novelists can do it: in each issue, have 12 to 15 scenarios and really strong rewards would be too much for most people and most writers.
more information about fight club 2:
Some imaginary friends never leave. .
Ten years after starting the chaos project, he lives a mundane life. a son, a wife. pills to keep her fate at bay. but it won’t last long, the wife has taken care of it. she’s back to where she started, but in this round she has more at stake than her own life. the time has come . .grow or die.
New York Times bestselling novelist Chuck Palahniuk and acclaimed artist Cameron Stewart have collaborated on one of the most anticipated comic and literary events of 2015: the return of Tyler Durden. The first rule of Fight Club 2 might be not to talk about it, but Fight Club 2 is generating international headlines and will introduce a new generation of readers to project mayhem.