I’ve been meandering through my own thoughts about the comic Fight Club 2 and haven’t really taken a stab at writing about it, partly for the same reason I find it hard to write about Mind MGMT (a comic that’s concluding this week after 1000 pages), in that there are just so many alternative ways of looking at the comic that it’s hard to choose just one to talk about.
But it’s a comic that very much deserves to be talked about, if nothing else to form a conversation among the wide array of fans who are no doubt feeling connected to the comic and affected by it. When the comic was just getting started, the panel room at San Diego Comic Con this summer was standing room only even then. So, if I’m going to talk about Fight Club, I’d like to start with the airplane instructions.
Each of the issues of the comic so far kicks off with an interior cover page that’s doubling as a credits page which is laid out like the laminated card placed in the back of airplane seat pockets to “familiarize” you with the plane’s layout and what to do in case of emergencies. The data bullets here are used to catch you up on the story so far, but also do something very interesting, I think, aside from being fun, functional, and attention catching. They speak directly to you, the reader, in the way that the only occasional extra narrator does in the comic. And the airplane instructions do that repeatedly, issue after issue. It’s time to assume our crash positions and acquaint ourselves with the story again. I think this is important because it speaks to why Fight Club 2 is a comic and not a novel or a film at this point.
Chuck Palahniuk has had nearly 20 years since the novel was published to witness the rise of fan culture around Fight Club, to see the internet discussions, the memes, to meet fans and hear the ways in which the book has affected their lives. It’s possible that one of the reasons comics seemed like a natural medium for Fight Club 2 is because comics can create reader interaction in a pronounced way and more boldly include readers in the construction of the narrative. After all, hasn’t the public been constructing the narrative ever since the book came out? Haven’t they imagined what came before, or what comes next for the characters?
So, what are some ways that readers actually “participate” in constructing the narrative in this comic? We start with the plane instructions where you’re encouraged to surround yourself with the story and see yourself as part of the same vehicle carrying the rest of the characters, tied to their fate, where crashes are even promised. That’s our initiation. One of the most memorable artistic feats of Cameron Stewart in the comic also seems like a gateway to reader interaction—the overlay of hyper-real 3D style pills, bloodspatter, and rose petals on the pages we are reading, often obscuring the faces and speech of the characters, an illusion that is no doubt made possible by Dave Stewart on colors as well. Many of David Mack’s covers for the series equally support this aesthetic. We could have lengthy discussions just about this feature of the comic. But in basic terms, doing this makes the reader feel the comic is more “real” than panels on a page, but also forces them to interpret around these obstacles to decide how characters are thinking, feeling, and speaking. It kicks the reader into a mode where they have to focus. Rather than breaking us out of the story, it challenges us to help create the story.
In Issue #3 much of that real world/reader interaction comes to a crescendo when Palahniuk himself appears as a character in the story, hosting a “Write Club” of aspiring authors at his home, flanked by two barking dogs. The episode is incredibly funny, but if we’re looking for multiple functions and meanings we can also say that it feels like “you”, the reader, enter with Marla, and watch Chuck, the author talking to her, saying things that the author seemingly cannot predict, and then both the reader and Marla are thrown out. We just “met” Chuck, but instead of feeling like he represents our world and Marla is alien, we are much more likely to feel that we are part of Marla’s world and she just met some alien being. It’s an interesting transformation of reader perspective. Regardless, the reader has to participate in the joke and see the different worlds colliding for full affect.
In Issue #4, out today, both Sebastian and Marla seem to take new paths in personal development, both of which make them “pop” and become even more three dimensional for the reader. Sebastian has to become his own disciple, which at first glance sounds like some kind of complicated Buddhist sermon, but in a more basic sense is about him stepping outside one narrative to perceive its structure and try to find its points of vulnerability. Though his “is” Tyler, he needs to see Project Mayhem as Sebastian, just a guy with a messed up suburban life who probably is actually raising his son into slavery, as accused. And in that sense, the reader can also be Sebastian once more. We can follow his path as a disciple to see where it leads and weigh for ourselves what he’s seeing and hearing.
Marla’s transformation is just getting started in this issue, but is fairly extreme. She’s actually taking a step toward the chaos and violence she finds extremely attractive in Tyler, but she’s encountering it directly and proactively. She’s definitely on her own kind of strange journey, and as she reminds Sebastian, she’ll do things her own way. You can follow Sebastian, or you can follow Marla (better yet, both as the text enables us to do), or heck, you can follow Tyler, but all of that means multiple points of access to the narrative for the reader. It’s a highly permeable story for us. It waves the flag of inclusion in ways that would be harder to do in prose or even in film.
Readers are definitely the third dimension when it comes to comics. They are the last missing piece that can set the story in motion properly and create change and development in a narrative. They even choose among multiple interpretations. They are the dimension in which Tyler Durden lives, and it’s inspiring to see a comic address its own community so directly in so many varied ways.
Fight Club 2 is written by Chuck Palahniuk, illustrated by Cameron Stewart, colored by Dave Stewart, with cover art by David Mack, and published by Dark Horse Comics. Issue #4 is out today, August 26th.