How often do people think about the end of the world? A lot, it seems.
From the seemingly endless onslaught of apocalyptic-themed shows and films, such as The Last of Us, The Walking Dead, A Quiet Placeand many more, it seems people are obsessed with how the world may end.
Yet, this fixation is nothing new — something that is made abundantly clear throughout The End Is At Hand, the debut book by artist and author Darrel Perkins.
The illustrated book contains a collection of 60 real-life stories that span various timelines, geographies and cultures, detailing various times people have predicted the end of the world — usually in melodramatic fashion.
“I’ve always liked the story aspect of history,” Perkins, a professor of visual communications at the American University in Dubai, tells The National.
“The storytelling aspect is really interesting and when you can find real stories, history just becomes so much more impressive. We can also see our own follies, we’re able to look back and laugh at ourselves.”
Perkins delivers thoroughly researched tales with with a wry, humorous and slightly dark tone — striking an accessible balance between being informative and entertaining.
“There’s certainly dark humour and that’s intentional because I wouldn’t be able to write this if every story was just sad about how the world is going to end,” he says.
“So I wanted to keep it light with this idea that, ‘look, this didn’t happen or this was just a mistake, and we’re all kind of foolish, and it’s okay that we make these mistakes’. We’ve made them before and we’re going to keep making them, thinking that the world is going to end.”
Alongside each of the stories are Perkins’s original finely crafted linocut illustrations, which were inspired by particular characters or scenes from the stories. The illustrations add another entertaining layer to the apocalyptic stories.
“As I’m looking at the stories, reading, and thinking about them, I’m also sketching, I’m drawing different things,” he says.
“I was basically doing sketch research and visual research the same way I was doing written research. Those sketches then start to expand until I have a composition I like or can do a funny take on a story. Even with the illustrations, I tried to keep them a little bit funny and light.”
Perkins first conceived the idea during the Covid-19 pandemic, when he was reading the 1947 absurdist novel, The Plague by French novelist and playwright Albert Camus.
The book tells the story of a plague sweeping the French Algerian city of Oran in the 1940s. It was inspired by the cholera epidemic of 1849. The novel’s themes are eerily similar to the pandemic in 2020, a time when people were collectively thinking not only about their own mortality but about the future of humanity too.
“I think the end of the world was on everyone’s brain because of the pandemic,” Perkins says.
“I was reading these stories about our fears at the end of the world and I started finding stories that happened in real life and illustrating those originally as an exhibition. But I liked the written stories just as much, so it gradually fleshed out into a full book.”
From natural disasters, doomsday cults and plagues to famine, overpopulation and even AI, The End Is At Hand spans a diverse range of possible doomsday scenarios.
“It started with just things that come off the top of your head, and I would just write them down like zombies, volcanoes and global warming — the obvious ones,” he says.
“But once I got to a point where I exhausted my knowledge, I started to research and ended up doing a lot of reading and research into other cultures, and the end of the world in other languages.”
Perkins was fascinated by how different societies imagined the world coming to an end, based on their own cultural and religious beliefs. He says the stories reveal the allure and power of doomsday cults throughout history.
“Because there is such a formula to taking away all hope from people. And once you’ve done that, once you’ve convinced them that the world is going to end, they’re putty in your hands and you can get them to do anything you want.”
Reflecting on why people have always embraced the mythology of extinction events, he says: “Some people are entertained by dark things.
“We also just feel more significant by thinking that we’re going to be the last of our people, that we’re the people at the end, and something important is coming. And that we’ll either live through it or go out in a blaze of glory. It’s an entertaining thought, albeit a dark one.”