Audacious novelist Chuck Palahniuk has painted strange and fascinating worlds in such feverishly loved novels as “Fight Club,” “Invisible Monsters” and “Lullaby.” Then he made the leap to comics with the dedicatedly daring “Fight Club 2.” Now, the master of blending horror, satire and jaw-dropping fun facts has turned his talents for shock and awesome to the blossoming medium of adult coloring books with “Bait.”
Palahniuk teamed with Dark Horse Comics to round-up artists like Duncan Fegredo, Kirbi Fagan, Steve Morris, Lee Bermejo and David Mack, to collaborate on a coloring book truly for adults, as if NSFW and NSFC(hildren). Within eight salacious short stories, “Bait” presents problematic parents, taboo-centric sex clubs, scatalogical celebrity satire, and a Titanically-twisted “Pygmalion” variant, all with that Palahniuk edge fans have come to anticipate, with equal measures of excitement and anxiety.
Giddy over its lushly detailed drawings and deliciously deranged stories, we interviewed the treasured trangressive author about how “Bait” came together, what he has coming up next, and why Reese Witherspoon should be thanking him.
CBR: How did writing short stories for a coloring book impact your approach?
Chuck Palahniuk: At first, it was easy to write. I loathe writing description so I could leave the appearance of everything to the artists. No sweat. Then I set one story in a snow-covered landscape and my editor, Scott Allie, told me: “Dude, snow is white. The entire scene is white. Keep in mind, this is for coloring.” After that, I kept adding colors. Walls got wallpapered. Clothing got patterns. It was paramount to include what we came to call “coloring opportunities.”
You’ve called this book a collaboration between you, the artists who drew its pictures, and the fans who’ll color them. Tell me how the beginnings of this collaboration took shape.
This might’ve been the fastest concept-to-book in history. In April, I’d finished the stories and took the pitch to Dark Horse. Scott Allie and I matched each story to an artist, most of whom had done variant covers for “Fight Club 2.” Some artists backed out, fearing this project might get them banned from future work on children’s books, To each artist who accepted we submitted a list of possible images to depict, and the artists typically responded with edgier ideas that impressed us with their gall. In June and July, as I toured to promote FC2, Scott emailed me the rough images for review. The process continued by email as I traveled, and by the time I got home the book was already complete and sent to press.
Did you look to other adult coloring books for research or inspiration?
No. Okay, I gave them a cursory glance. None seemed durable, and most seemed frivolous. This confirmed that no one was doing the kind of book I had in mind.
In the book’s intro, you lament the frailty of paper. How does “Bait” overcome that to become legacy art?
Bless the print designers! They coached Scott and I on using the best paper stock, and splurging for a heavy binding and a spine that would lie flat for ease of coloring. It’s an over-sized hardcover that won’t look out of place displayed on a table.
The story “Dad All Over” taught me about the unusual deaths of Isadora Duncan and Tennessee Williams. Do you have a notebook full of stranger-than-fiction facts that you keep handy for inspiration?
A notebook? No, I have a head filled with that grim stuff.
“Conspiracy” touches on internet trolls, backlash, and doxxing. Which made me wonder, what do you make of the double-edged sword of web culture?
You forgot memes. I only mention this social media stuff in passing because it isn’t physical. There are no active verbs involved, except some rabid keyboarding. That said, it makes for weak fiction. There’s no real, mortal threat. Just feelings.
Without tipping the ending, how would you describe the titular short story, “Bait”?
It’s a noir thriller in the same vein as “The Bodyguard” and “The Transporter” with the biggest difference being that it involves protecting a goldfish.
In preview images of “Bait,” there was a different name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (pictured above). What was the original moniker of the actress in “Mud Slinger”? And are you worried about a response from Reese Witherspoon?
Ooops. Nobody wanted to scotch the reveal, so we used Jennifer Lopez’s name on the Hollywood Walk of Stars star. Ain’t that Chihuahua the cutest?! And, since she roughed up that traffic cop in Atlanta, yes, everyone is afraid of Reese. However, a thorough reading of the “Mud Slinger” story proves that she’s crafty and brilliant, a student of Lewis Hyde and contemporary art, and a gifted manipulator of public opinion. I’d say Reese owes me one for this story. Reese, honey, you owe me.
In a culture rampant with think pieces, do you ever worry about putting out provocative stories?
Not to be a downer… but we only live so long. Too much of our culture is safe, social engineering, providing only comfort. Everyone remembers the first time they read “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. I strive for that kind of impact with every story. Brava, Shirley!
If one of the “Bait” stories were to be made into a film, which would you prefer it be?
The film should be “Nonsense” because it depicts a consensual, short-term society where people can vent their negative feelings. “Fight Club” depicts a cathartic experience of structured, safe violence. “Nonsense” does the same for racism. Mutually agreed upon race play is fascinating.
The last time we spoke, you said you’d like to create a collaborative short story collection like “Bait” every year. Are you in the works on a sequel?
I already have a list of future stories, some written, some only outlined. Maybe the manuscript will be done by June, and we can go through another whirlwind production process and produce another off-color coloring book in time for next Christmas. Rest assured, if this one is successful, there will be another. Such is publishing.
Alas, those are not my beans to spill. I could tell you, but then the producers involved in those projects would have to kill me.
“Bait” is now on sale.
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