While coloring books are en vogue right now, Chuck Palahniuk might not be the first name you’d associate with bringing one to life. Nevertheless, the author of such beloved cult classics as Fight ClubChoke, and Survivor has never been one to be confined by the boxes of other people’s expectations. However, that said, Bait: Off-Color Stories For You to Color, out today from Dark Horse Comics, feels less an exercise in defying assumptions and more a case of a writer wanting to experiment further with how art interplays with his prose, much as he did with Fight Club 2.

To that end, Mr. Palahniuk recruited a bevy of talented artists from across the comic book field to illustrate pages for Bait, which not only serves as his first coloring book but also just his second collection of short stories. Those artists’ linework invites readers to contribute their own visions to the pages, which will invariably be influenced by how the often haunting stories impact their reading experience.

Mr. Palahniuk spoke with me recently about the genesis of Bait, the process of making his first coloring book a reality, and why he hopes that Bait will strike a chord with his creative readers.

Cover of BAIT

Cover of BAIT

FreakSugar: The coloring book trend has been pushing forward for a couple years now. What made this the right time for you to dip your waters of coloring books?

Chuck Palahniuk: Frankly, I don’t know. The idea seized me this spring when a friend told me about the coloring craze. I had eight stories ready and wanted to work with many of the artists who’d done variant covers for Fight Club 2, and my editor at Dark Horse, Scott Allie, supported the project whole-heartedly. While I was book touring this spring, he was emailing me the art for approval.  It went to press before I was home from promoting the graphic novel, possibly the fastest book in history to move from concept to market.

FS: I know several adults who color and, flipping through their books, the selections are hit-and-miss. Bait seems to acknowledge that without overtly saying it. What was mission or concept when you decided what you wanted the composition of Bait to be?

CP: My highest priority was to produce a beautiful, lasting book. People spend so much time completing the illustrations that their work should be honored by an enduring vehicle. Beyond that I wanted to offer stories and illustrations that were at odds with the usual coloring book stereotype.

Portrait of Chuck Palahniuk by David Mack

Portrait of Chuck Palahniuk by David Mack

FS: Some of the best comic book artists in the industry have lent their talents to Bait? What was the process in deciding which artist would mesh best with which story?

CP: It helped when they said “yes.”  A couple artists wanted to participate but eventually declined because they worried this project might get them blacklisted from doing future work for children’s books. Our original plan was to approach people who’d done the Fight Club 2 variant covers, plus include one new name. Alise Gluskova is the rookie, but Scott wanted to showcase her work. Certain stories suggested certain writers, but I hesitated to enlist Cameron Stewart or David Mack because they’d worked so hard on Fight Club 2.  I didn’t want to stress them any further. David heard anyway, and our last-minute idea was to include his contribution as the author’s portrait.

FS: As you allude to in your preface, Bait is unlike other coloring books in that it’s not disposable in the way that other coloring books lining the shelves tend to be. The stories lend themselves to being re-read over and again—I’ve poured over “Let’s See What Happens” three times already. I appreciate the fact that the book seems to act in two ways: 1. as a counter to that throwaway notion of culture and 2. as a way to give the act of reading another level of interactivity. Were either of those ideas in your mind as you composed the book?

CP: Bullseye. So many of my readers are creative. This was a way for each of them to participate in the finished book. Instead of a flood of identical books, there will be a field of one-offs, each distinct. First I was thrilled to see what the artists would do with the stories. Now I’m excited to see what the readers will do with the illustrations.

FS: Bait is also unique that it’s just your second short story collection. When you put together a short story collection like this, what’s your process? Do you have a theme in your mind of stories that feel like they should fit together and go from there, or do you have write a story as the mood strikes until you have what you see as a robust compilation?

FS: My model was children’s books. I wanted stories that depicted people nurturing people. Mostly, these are parents with children, but there are also humans protecting animals, and employers seeking to save their employees. I wanted all these examples of well-meaning assistance – then I wanted to see every good deed go horribly wrong.

FS: Is there any story in the compilation that your mind keeps drifting to out of the blue? For me, “Dad All Over” is engrossing, funny at times, downright lyrical at others, and contained lines that stuck with me days later—the martyring of Dad at the end was particularly striking. And with “Nonsense,” well, I’m still processing that one. The intensity left a mark.

CP: I love when the director David Fincher says, “A good story should leave a scar.” After a lifetime of reading stories dictated by social engineering and “morality” I want to see some ambiguity and discomfort.  Especially in a coloring book. About “Dad All Over,” I wrote it to find closure after my mother’s funeral, where her best friend said, off-hand, “Her worst fear was that the pain medication would be so strong she’d slip and tell you children what she really thought of you…” Huh? I really hope the friend simply phrased that badly.

FS: Did you enjoy coloring as a kid? I did, and I was very serious about staying in the lines. I was also the problem child, though, as far as my teachers were concerned, because I didn’t like to use the colors that “fit” the picture—hence producing pictures with purple children and puke-green puppies.

CP: Coloring is a window into the psyche. I tried to color well, but I pressed so hard the crayons always broke and ruined the page.

FS: Is there any project you can tease that’s coming down the pike?

CP: After swearing I’d never write another novel, I’m spending the winter doing just that. A short novel, very dark – go figure – but fast and insightful. After that I’ll probably wrap up Fight Club 3 and then put together the stories for another coloring book. This might be the gimmick that convinces publishers that short stories aren’t always a losing venture. Fingers crossed!

Bait: Off-Color Stories For You to Color, written by Chuck Palahniuk with art by Joelle Jones, Lee Bermejo, Duncan Fegredo, Kirbi Fagan, Steve Morris, Marc Scheff, Tony Puryear, and Alise Gluskova, is out now from Dark Horse Comics.

From the official book description:

New York Times bestselling novelist Chuck Palahniuk presents Bait: Off-Color Stories for You to Color, his first ever coloring book for adults. Bait is both the coloring book debut and the second short story collection for Palahniuk, author of Lullaby and Fight Club.

Palahniuk invites readers to collaborate on this unprecedented hardcover edition: “Maybe between your colors, the artists’ designs, and my stories we can create something that endures. Something worth keeping. Let’s create a well-bound book that can sit on any shelf and be available for a new generation to discover and enjoy.”

* Contains eight bizarre tales, illustrated in detailed black and white by Joëlle Jones (Lady Killer), Lee Bermejo (The Suiciders), Duncan Fegredo (Hellboy), and more.

* Chuck Palahniuk’s first ever coloring book for adults.