Doing Things ‘Beautifully’ – Chuck Palahniuk Talks Legacy: An Off-Color Novella For You To Color
by Hannah Means Shannon
Writer Chuck Palahniuk first turned his attention to the hardback adult coloring book format with Bait: Off-Color Stories For You To Color, a selection of new short stories illustrated by by comic artists Lee Bermejo, Kirbi Fagan, Duncan Fegredo, Alise Gluškova, Joëlle Jones, Steve Morris, Tony Puryear and Marc Scheff, published by Dark Horse in 2016. Now, following on that highly successful mode of reader engagement and participation, Palahniuk is releasing his first new long-form prose work in several years with Legacy: An Off-Color Novella For You To Color, featuring the artwork of Mike Norton and Steve Morris and cover art by Duncan Fegredo.
Legacy follows one consistent narrative in chapter arrangements, and follows the aspirations of Vincent, an “amoral investment banker” who comes into an inheritance that seems to promise him immortality. Complicating matters, “a flame-retardant stripper, a ruthless stalker, and a horde of other aspiring immortals” pursue him to interfere with his goals. Illustrations ready to be colored are placed throughout the 144 page work, encouraging the reader to take part in the storytelling and create a beautiful artifact of their own.
Comicon.com is very pleased to have Mr. Palahniuk here on the site today to talk about his new book and challenge some of our narrative perceptions.
Hannah Means-Shannon: In the introduction to Legacy, you talk about the role of objects to establish memory in families, and I wondered if you think we bring fictions into our histories, too, when we retell them.
In my family, there was an ancient family Bible that was lost and supposedly contained a lot of interesting information. I never found it (yet) but I found a different one, and it contained one piece of information that blew my mind and changed my view of my family forever. Do you think the truth is preferable in preserving memory, no matter the impact?
Chuck Palahniuk: My guess is that group identity is created and reinforced by the telling of stories. As a Catholic I recognized that aspect of the Mass, and so often people don’t want something new. They want another iteration of what you’ve come to love through repetition. Pity any 80’s-era band that goes on tour. Pity any new writer who violates the long mythology of Superman. That said, I think most people want the comfort of tradition over the greater awareness of a new truth.
HMS: Related to the first question, how do you think objects serve as storytelling tools for us, in antiquity, and even today?
CP: If nothing else, objects function as memory cues. They trigger associations we’ve come to think were lost to us. Beyond that, look at how they identify the next Dalai Lama: Through the recognition of items from former lives. Also consider that psychometry is the belief that objects retain a supernatural history that can be read by touching them. There’s a long precedent of objects prompting stories: The music box at the beginning of “The Phantom of the Opera” or the snow globe containing a winter scene at the beginning of “Citizen Kane.” Also, the objects tagged as evidence in courtroom trials. Or religious relics. In all of these ways objects “testify” to the past.
HMS: In a statement about Legacy, you mention the book being a “right brain” exercise for readers/collaborators. How do your life experiences fit in with the idea the right brain is a connection to the unconscious and the left brain as the main avenue of consciousness? What do you think about the act of working with both words and pictures as a conversation between these aspects of mind in comics and coloring?
CP: Excellent question. In writing you need intuition to recognize the half-submerged, half-forgotten, hidden pattern or story. But you need skill to execute and communicate that story through language. Working with artists allows for a fuller depiction, similar to the way music enhances a film.
HMS: To get more mythological, this idea of attaining immortality is, indeed, a big cultural concern going back almost as far as we have any records, if not far further. What do you think that immortality meant in ancient times versus what it might mean to us today?
CP: Few young people can imagine having a power greater than their own youth and vitality. That’s why young people love stories about eternal youth. That’s also why the movie “Cocoon” gives me nightmares… who wants to be trapped inside a physical form for all time? Only someone of zero spirituality. Stephen King’s “Pet Semetary” or “The Green Mile” or any decent vampire movie shows us the greater horror of living forever. Arrested development for infinity.
HMS: What are some of your favorite mythological stories? Did any of them come into play when creating Legacy?
CP: I loved how Bambi assumed he was just the son of a single mom, whose dead-beat dad knocked her up and disappeared. But then… it turns out Bambi’s dad is The Stag of the Forest and has always watched over Bambi, his son, and bequeathed him a noble heritage. Sigh. We all want to think dad and God are doing the same for us.
HMS: For you, what seem to be the differences between a hero and an anti-hero? Do you think that changes at all depending on the form of media used for storytelling?
CP: To me, a hero does a good act for a noble reason. (yawn) While an antihero does a despicable act for a noble reason. But that’s just me, the guy who wrote “Choke.”
HMS: This idea of collaboration, both with Mike Norton and Steve Morris, and with readers who color the pages, contains a lot of different points in time. There’s the time period when you wrote the main narrative, the time periods where two different people illustrated the narrative, then there’s the time in which the book will reach someone’s hands and the will begin to work on it, too.
Actually, this idea of long processes of collaboration feels a little medieval, like the years-long processes of medieval manuscripts. Nevertheless, did the idea of writing this narrative and knowing the processes coming down the road still make you feel connected to your collaborators?
CP: You don’t know the half of it. The details of a single story can take decades to accrete. You might ponder the concept forever, then while you’re taking a shower the entire story takes shape in a flash. Working with the artists — and let’s not forget Duncan Fegredo — is a joy because they’re doing the heavy lifting by that point. May this long, arduous process be a comfort to the people who eventually finish the book by coloring it. Anything worth doing is worth the patience and faith to do beautifully.
Many thanks to Chuck Palahniuk for taking the time to do such a thought-provoking interview.
Legacy: An Off-Color Novella For You To Color arrives in shops today, Tuesday, the 7th of November, 2017.