“Kabuki” creator David Mack will add another impressive series to his resume when Dark Horse Comics publishes the long-anticipated sequel to Chuck Palahniuk‘s “Fight Club.” Mack will provide covers for the series written by Palahniuk with interiors by Cameron Stewart — and the connection Mack has to Palahniuk is actually quite incredible, dating back to the artist’s first viewing of “Fight Club” in 1999.
CBR News spoke with Mack about his work designing covers for the upcoming series, as well as his longstanding friendship with Palahniuk, how it began, the origins of the “Fight Club” sequel (which may have originated from a dinner at Brian Bendis’ home), the unique nature of Palahniuk’s “Fight Club” sequel comic script and more. Plus, his hopeful plans for a “My Lunch With Chuck” comic detailing their many conversations over a meal.
CBR News: David, how did you get involved in doing covers for the “Fight Club” sequel?
David Mack: Wow, I guess from a couple of different angles.
I had known Chuck for a few years anyway. Every time I would go to Portland, I would meet up with him and have lunch or dinner and just talk about things in general. I had told him if he ever needed to talk to me about anything, if he ever wanted to do comics or something, or collaborate in any kind of way, that would be great. I was talking with Chuck on that level, and I was talking with Scott [Allie], too. I had done some “Willow” covers for Scott at Dark Horse about two years ago, and they just solicited a new art book of mine called “Dream Logic.” We were working out some things to do some other projects together, starting with those art books that Dark Horse is publishing.
[Scott] was telling me about the Chuck situation, and that he was working on this idea. I think the last time I saw Chuck, he was at Brian Bendis’ house. There was a dinner with a whole bunch of people there. I think there was another dinner before that where Chuck thought he’d already done “Fight Club” as a book and there’s a movie — he’s basically done a book a year, I think — and people said, “Why don’t you try a comic?” He said, “If I were to do a comic, what do you think the best way to start that would be?”
I think it was Bendis that said, “People know you from ‘Fight Club’ and it’d be amazing to see the sequel to ‘Fight Club’ as a comic.” I think Chuck really liked that idea, that even though it was a sequel, he’d be approaching it in a different medium — so it inherently has different challenges and makes it exciting for him.
So, you’ve known Chuck Palahniuk for a while now — were you familiar with his work before you met up with him?
Yeah, I saw “Fight Club” the night it came out and it blew my mind. I went back to the theater and I saw it again the next night, which I’d never done before. This might sound ridiculous now, but this was in 1999 — there were a couple of lines in the “Fight Club” movie that were very similar to a couple of lines that I had written in first person in “Kabuki” — just that they were simpatico ways of storytelling, and I remember turning to my girlfriend at the time and saying, “Wow, the dialogue in this movie is like how I’m trying to write in my books! I’ve got to find out who this writer is!”
So, as soon as I saw the movie twice, I went out and I found all the books that he had, which at the time were “Fight Club,” “Survivor” and “Invisible Monsters.” I started reading his work, and I was fascinated with it. Especially in “Invisible Monsters,” he was working with a lot of themes that I was working with in “Kabuki” at the time, but in very different ways and in a different medium. But I could see that he was playing with and trying to have a fresh approach to the medium of books the same way I was trying to do with comics with “Kabuki.”
I was really fascinated with it and I wrote him a letter. I expressed this in the letter, and he wrote me back! He said, “Oh yeah, send me some of your stuff and show me what kind of stuff you do.” I sent him a package of “Kabuki” books and other things, and he wrote back with a letter that said he really liked it. He sent his number in the mail and said the next time I was in Portland, I should give him a call. At the time — I think this was in 2006 or 2007 — there was a documentary that came out on my work called “Alchemy of Art” and I had sent that [to Chuck] as well. He expressed in the letter that he really liked it, and he said, “You’re really doing in that book what I’m trying to do by engaging other people and getting people interacted in their own kind of work. I’d love to do some sort of Ken Kesey tour bus of different people in different mediums, travel around and show that culture isn’t just what you see on TV or something that you buy, but that you’re very much an active participant. You’re creating your own culture, and I’d like to get different people from different mediums to represent that. When that happens, I’d like you to be a part of it.” I thought, “Wow.” It was just a great letter.
The next time I was in Portland, I called Chuck and we met up for lunch. I would usually meet him every time I was in Portland. A lot of times I would stay at Brian [Bendis]’ place before I got a place in Portland, and I’d be like, “Brian, I’ve got to head out! I’ve got a lunch with Chuck Palahniuk, and I’ll come back.” And I think he once said to me, “I think Chuck Palahniuk is your Tyler Durden. I don’t think he really exists. I think you always go out and say you’re going to have meetings with him!” It was cool, though — eventually, Chuck came out to Brian’s place a couple of times.
I guess it just came about through a couple of different angles — discussing things with Chuck that way and working with Scott on a couple other things. Scott knew that I knew Chuck, and Chuck was kind enough to write the introduction to “Kabuki: The Alchemy.” He wrote a really cool, generous introduction to it, and there’s even a character in the book called Akemi that references Chuck in the book, because there’s a line that he wrote in his first letter to me where he said that he thinks a teacher or a mentor or a class — that gives someone a license to create. No matter what they learn from it, just having a teacher that says they can do it gives them some kind of validation. He just called it a license. There was an interesting quote he said that just crystalized it. So, I had one of my characters reference that quote of his from the letter that he wrote me, and I made an actual card called an artistic license that she gives another character in the story. It’s a funny subculture mythology in the “Kabuki” book, too, because after that, I always include a copy of the artistic license in the back of each and every book that I do. It’s an actual three-dimensional world symbolism of this Chuck Palahniuk quote, and I keep an actual copy of his letter in the back of the book so people can see where it came from.
I spoke with Cameron Stewart about “Fight Club” as well, and he mentioned that Chuck was pretty hands off when it came to letting him lay out the sequential storytelling. In doing covers, what’s the collaborative process been like?
What I’ve done is we’ll start with a central idea, and I’ll send him different variations. I’ll send that to Scott Allie, get his feedback, get Chuck’s feedback, and Chuck will choose. He’ll say, “Oh, this is the one I like the best.” I’ll decide if that one is done already if I need to finesse it a little bit. It’s been a really organic process. You mentioned Cameron — did Cameron tell you about the way Chuck gave him the scripts?
Yes, Chuck didn’t break the script down into traditional pages or panels, right?
Yeah, it’s a really amazing script! I really felt like it was such a perfect and precise script because Chuck is never floundering at all as a writer. He completely knows and articulates and communicates with the artist. When you’re reading the character’s dialogue, you hear it in the movie characters’ voices. It’s exactly the same voices on those characters.
It’s fascinating that he did everything that he knew how to do — but my interpretation is that he knew he wasn’t as experienced at breaking things into pages, so each issue has 200 panels. Here’s panel one — he doesn’t break it into a page — here’s panel 186, and he’d leave little notes to say that it’s a reveal page, and then Cameron has to do all the math and figure that out. I think he respected that Cameron has years of history and practice doing that, and he didn’t. I think he just zeroed in on everything that he saw and left the rest to organically take shape with the people he’s working with.
That feels like a pretty unique creative process. Do you think working with Chuck in comics is a different process than working on any other book?
Yeah. First of all, I’ve never seen a script like this ever before. It’s such a cool script. It’s not that it’s a script that’s very Marvel style — it’s not vague or ambiguous, it’s very precise. It’s very precise in his vision, but ordered in such a way that gives complete freedom. When you read a screenplay from a movie, it’s not necessarily broken down into, “This is how long this takes” or, “This is how you shoot this.” None of that direction is in a film screenplay. I guess he did it in a way that’s similar to that, except each beat is denoted by the number of panels. I’ve never seen a script like it at all, but he still really plays with the medium. I can tell he’s really happy to be working in the comics medium where he’s very much taking advantage of the dynamics and vocabulary of pages and panels, and the push and pull will be between what’s on the page and what’s real and what happens between the panels.
As the book approaches publication, what are you most excited about in terms of this story coming to comics?
It’s exciting because — I speak for myself, but I imagine that a lot of people also feel a certain connection with “Fight Club,” whether they were introduced to it as a film or as a book. When you’re reading this, it really feels like, “Here’s all these characters ten years later in the story,” and it feels like it’s the next chapter. I couldn’t help imagining that while I’m reading it. As I said, every time I hear the dialogue and the people, it was the characters from the movie — you can totally hear them saying it. I couldn’t help but think that filmmakers wouldn’t be able to resist making this a film as well.
When I first met him, we met up now and then, but I wasn’t going to presume to brag that we were friends or something like that. The cool thing that Chuck would do — and he would never tell me — but I would find interviews of him where he’d just mention me, like, “Oh yeah, that’s my good friend David Mack, he does ‘Kabuki.'” People would ask him if he had ever done comics, and he would say, “No, but I talk about it with David.” I would find these interviews where he would name-drop me or he would talk about a conversation. There was something where — it was Barnes & Noble or something — said, “Pick your five favorite current books” and he picked my “Kabuki” book, he picked my children’s book and put it on the list. He didn’t even mention it to me, and I just found it by people sending it to me. I was like, “Oh, what an interesting guy, what a cool thing to do.”
So, all my interactions with him, he’s been really super cool like that, but having a conversation with him, was just so — [we talked about] everything: life, love, men, God, the nature of the universe, creating, turning reality into the page. He would sit down and say, “I’ve been writing all day, I feel like I’m in a trance, like I’m in a fugue state.” We would just talk about creative endeavors and it was fascinating. I was so inspired by it.
As soon as I would get back to Brian’s place, and he would say, “Why are you so quiet?” I would sit down at my computer for two hours and I was re-typing the exact conversation in playwright form of what happened because I was so excited and buzzed from the conversations we would have. I feel like that kind of electricity comes through in his scripts, too.
Wow. Since you typed up all those conversations, do you think we’ll ever see the David Mack/Chuck Palahniuk interviews book at any point?
Well, here’s what I wanted to do with it: I wanted to talk with him about doing a panel-by-panel — I made this joke with Brian. I said, “Hey, have you ever seen that movie ‘My Dinner With Andre’ where these two guys sit down at dinner and they have this talk over the dinner table? I should just call this ‘My Lunch with Chuck’ and just do a panel-form comic book.” You can start it out fairly realistic, and you’re sitting down talking, and as the story becomes more ethereal and heady and interesting, you can change the style. Almost like a “Waking Life” the film type of thing, but in comics, where you change the style based on the subject matter. I thought, “Oh, it’d be really fun to do a drawing of this conversation!” Maybe just use it as a template for doing — maybe that’s something I would do in the future, drawing different conversations with people, if the conversations warranted, how fascinating the drawings would be.
So, I do have a fantasy of discussing that with Chuck and doing that at some point. [Laughs]
“Fight Club 2” #1 goes on sale April 8, 2015.