Don Hertzfeldt Documents "The End of the World"

Don Hertzfeldt is one of the most well-known and acclaimed animators and filmmakers in the world today, responsible for films like "Billy's Balloon," "Rejected," "Everything Will Be OK," "The Meaning of Life" and "It's Such a Beautiful Day." In 2003, along with Mike Judge, Hertzfeldt created The Animation Show, a touring festival of short animated films.

His latest project is the book "The End of the World." Released through Antibookclub, the story began as a short comic published more than a decade ago in Image Comics' acclaimed anthology, "Flight Volume 2." The story has changed a lot since then, thanks in large part to its expanded format, but it remains a strange and affecting look at how people respond to the end of the world.

CBR News: Where did the idea for "The End of the World" come from?   

Don Hertzfeldt: There wasn't one. Well, not in any traditional sense.

I guess that doesn't sound encouraging for everyone who hasn't read the book. The whole thing crawled out of an incredibly drawn-out and strange process that had never really happened to me before. I was asked, nine or ten years ago, to contribute something to my friend Kazu [Kibuishi]'s comic anthology series, "Flight." And being an animator, I knew next to nothing about how to come up with attractive comic panel layouts, so I thought it best to not even go down that road. I figured I could fit about six Post-it notes to an 8.5 x 11" page, and I liked the way the pale yellow looked, so I did a little two or three page story drawn entirely on sticky notes, reprinted at life size. I liked the way that looked but I wasn't really satisfied with it overall, it felt like a very thin draft.

So, in all the years since, as I worked on this film and that one, I'd return to this weird pile of unfinished sticky notes, and maybe once every several months I'd add a few more, still drawing everything in a sort of weird miniature size to fit the Post-it. Some of them were one-off panels like a "Far Side" cartoon, others told a little sequential story, but all centered around this same theme of the world ending. Soon, it became a place for all of the unused ideas and deleted scenes from the films I was working on to sort of migrate into. Sometimes years would go by without even looking at them, sometimes I would work on it for a full month before putting them back on the shelf.

Finally, I had no idea what to do with it all. I wanted to clear it all away so I went through and threw out about half of it, rearranged everything,  and added a few final bits of connective tissue to link it all up. At a certain point, while figuring out the best order of panels last year, the pile reminded me a bit of those magnetic phrases people put on their refrigerators. You can rearrange these panels and sentences any number of ways to get brand new meanings when they're put side by side. Anyway, so while it all doesn't represent ten years of work, not even close, it does sort of represent ten years of stuff. Like a lost writing time capsule.

Why did you decide that this idea was a book and not a film? 

It was something to work on, anything, when I needed a break from films. It's where I'd go to bury leftover ideas that weren't working elsewhere. If all the films were albums,  this would be their collection of B-sides.

It was nice to make something that felt immediate for a change. When you animate,  you spend ages in a cave working on tiny moments and there's no instant gratification in the process. You have to trade that in for the sense of immediacy people get when they finally watch it. A book obviously doesn't have that same big viewing experience in the end, but it was really refreshing to just put something on the page once and be done with it.

I know that some people dislike "simple" styles of drawing and animation, but what do you think is the appeal of this style? What do you think is possible that you couldn't with a different style or approach?

I don't know. If anything, I try to avoid thinking about those things or analyzing very much because I find it can become really creatively paralyzing. I often approach a new project with a very real sense of , "I have no idea what I'm doing." You throw yourself in and try and find the way out. I'm sure many of the discoveries you made in the book are probably identical to the ones I had while making it or reshaping it.  

I know that you're working on a film right now. Is there anything you want to say about it?

I'm actually now in full-time production on three things at once. I don't know how that happened. Unfortunately, I can't really say much about anything. One is very big, one is sort of medium big, and one is a big surprise.

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