Sunday, October 14, 2012

To The Gates of Hell

Yesterday, October 13th, I attended New York Comic Con for the second year in a row. Last year was a last minute surprise, offered a ticket by a friend who couldn't make it to Sunday. I went with a long, long-time friend of mine, Dave, and we enjoyed it so much that this year we pre-ordered tickets. Once again I enjoyed the costume-watching and the booth-browsing, buying some Doctor Who merch for the wife and a graphic novel bio of Hunter S. Thompson, which as a huge fan of that other Doctor, I'm really excited to read.

As it turned out we only had time and patience to wait for one panel, the first ever Comic Con appearance of author Chuck Palahniuk. He has a new book out by the name of Damned, which I was lucky enough to get a free copy of. I earned it, you could say, by sitting on the dirty, nerd-trampled floor just left of stage through the entire appearance. Palahniuk and his helpers also threw several bags of arms, legs and hands into the screaming crowd; all fake, all autographed.

In the past few years I've been fairly vocal about my disappointment with Palahniuk's output. Not that he's put out too little material, but in fact just the opposite. He's managed to publish a book a year, which, while I absolutely commend his work ethic, I felt it led to a mediocre bunch of books. Keep in mind, this criticism only stems from a single place, and it isn't hate. It's absolute awe and jealousy and devotion. You see, this is the man who wrote three books, back-to-back, that turned my world on its head. Those books: Fight Club. Invisible Monsters. Survivor. Three books I repeatedly had to slow myself down reading so I could taste every word, admire every sentence, enjoy every page, because I knew that when it was over, the only thing I would be reading anytime soon that could touch it would be the same book read all over. What followed those three books was what I would best describe as diminishing returns: still really good, but with progressively less kick.

Seeing Palahniuk at Comic Con this past Saturday, other than realizing he's beginning to resemble Jack Kerouac as he ages, I learned a few things about the man. To say he knows and enjoys his crowd is putting it lightly, and I was struck at how generous he was toward them, to the point where he actually began apologizing when his bags and bags of freebies ran out. There was also one thing he did during the Q & A portion which I can't get out of my head. That was, whenever a fan asked him a question, no matter how predictable, or bizarre, or entirely off-topic, he would stop. He would remain quiet for several seconds, and you could watch as he went over the question in his head and really, truly gave it thought. This would be suicide for a politician, who is trained to fill every moment of air-time with inane filler. "That's a good question," they'll say, "and my staff and I have been pondering that same dilemma, and what I would like to say about that, to you good people, is..." and all the while what they're actually doing is listening to the feed in their ear. Some man in a booth close by, getting paid a lot of money to tell him how he feels. I was deeply, thoroughly impressed to see Palahniuk answer a question this way. And it showed: his answers were intelligent, spot-on, and above all, honest. It impressed me, and it made me want to treat people the same way.

The major meat of the appearance was a reading of a new story, one he said was titled "Boogeyman", one that made heavy use of shock and horror to get its point across. While it's a tactic you could say Palahniuk over-uses, there's no arguing how effectively he uses it. His command of language is so strong that, even straining to hear its details echoed in the cavernous room, I felt nauseous at times, and had to remind myself they were only words, they weren't real, they didn't have to take form as images in my head. I came out the other side of it reminded why I fell in love with his work in the first place: because it's brave, and because it makes me laugh, and because it leaves scars. At least for now, I'm a follower again.