I’d like to be able to say that my propensity toward rampant, unquestioning consumerism has died down over the years; That impulse to buy an item on description alone, before properly examining whether or not it’s something I need. No such luck, as I recently realised when I made an online purchase so automatically as to not realise I’d done so until after the grim act was through. I take comfort, then, that at the very least the driving force behind this impulse is a touch more discerning than it once was. Whereas the me of 2004 would need little more prodding than “It’s a DVD of a film I already own, but with an extra 10 minutes of bonus content”, the me of 2014 is a touch more evolved. When presented with the words “A new graphic novel from Don Hertzfeldt, not sold in stores”, the decision makes itself and the book gets bought. In much the same way a sensible person reaches for a glass of water when they’re thirsty, rather than a glass of sand; It just seems like the logical action to take.
The fact of the matter is, Hertzfeldt doesn’t just have a proven track record, he has a flawless one. When someone’s hit every ball out of the park since day one, as he has, it’s probably a safe bet that a new venture into the graphic novel medium will translate remarkably well. As it turns out, this is exactly the case. It was a wise purchase. I am happy consumer. Pat self on back, me.
To get the superficial side of things out of the way first, it’s presented beautifully. The book cover, simple hardback binding with embossed gold lettering, makes a good case for ignoring old idioms and judging the rest of it automatically. Inside it doesn’t disappoint, from the wit of the text that litters the copyright information and Hertzfeldt’s ‘bibliography’, through to the story itself where typically minimal artwork, seemingly drawn on Post-its or some similarly-sized drawing pad is scaled up to fill each glossy 8”x8” page with heightened contrast to reveal the full detail of each pencil stroke and torn edge.
The story itself is not any kind of typical dystopian vision, made up largely of one-panel glimpses into a society of typically Hertzfeldtian stickpeople which occasionally interweave. Though the first section seems to be an entirely disconnected selection of Callahan/Shrigley-esque random, amusing and outright genius musings in equal measure, when whatever apocalyptic disaster hits (the circumstances behind it are hinted at but never elaborated on) it is the ways in which this established society crumbles and attempts, with patchy success, to pull together that sees the book truly comes into its own.
A great deal of the action is open to all manner of interpretation, so those who like themselves some hallucinatory symbolism to analyse have much to feast on. Most importantly, in its simplicity and disjointedness it still possesses all the tenets of great storytelling, simple sentences phrased so expertly and naturally as to weave between being extremely funny, macabre and touching from page to page. It’s disquieting in places, although in the satisfying way an unusual or disturbing dream lingers with you throughout the day. In this respect it feels almost like a tonal companion piece to It’s Such A Beautiful Day, albeit without the focus on a central character.
Ultimately any fan of Hertzfeldt’s humour and unique filmmaking style will find much to like, though the uninitiated may take a bit longer to acclimate. Reminiscent of the barbed, surreal wit of Rejected and Wisdom Teeth alongside the more abstract, metaphysical atmosphere of The Meaning of Life, The End of the World is, one suspects, the beginning of something great.