When I read this book, I kept coming back to a line from the song that rings eerily true today; “2010, watch it go to fire”. Do The Evolution meant nuclear apocalypse. But after months glued to our screens while the world falls apart around us, and literal forest fires ravage the country, this prediction amazes me. Pearl Jam was only ten years off.
Pearl Jam: Art of Do the Evolution is a graphic novel written by Joe Pearson based on the creation of the 90s music video of the same name. It acts as an intimate behind the scenes look and if this art book has a “plot”, it’s the formation of the video from start to finish. The book tracks which artists worked on which parts of the video, who designed which characters, and the conception of each part.
Threaded throughout Art of Do the Evolution is the influence of Eddie Vedder, the lead vocalist of the band Pearl Jam. He came up with the idea of an animated music video. Art of Do the Evolution depicts a dark take on humanity and what it means to be human. The themes are disturbing and saddening. Based around the lyrics of the song, the video takes viewers on a trip throughout history. In Vedder’s words, it’s meant to show the history of the world in “the ultimate stoner video”. Twenty two years later, the lyrics are still topical; everything from the split of the first atom, to a mechanical dystopian future.
Although the topic is dark, Art of Do the Evolution is visually stunning. The book is a combination of animation cels, text, and storyboard pages. The text walks the readers through the creation of the video and has first-hand accounts by people who worked on it. The memoir-like interludes humanize the content, raising the production crew above the technical. One interlude is an account from a production crew member about his experience meeting Vedder. Another is from the producer who traveled with Pearl Jam for months on the road.
There is not a lot of complexity to the content of the video that Art of Do the Evolution depicts. The video itself is beautiful and astonishing, but straight-forward. The real complexity arise from the rendering of the hand drawn images into animation. The process is staggering and ends in two Korean animation studios that did the actual animating. Layered on top of the process to design the video is the process to get it approved. It’s just as long and complex as the creation of the video itself.
Evident throughout Art of Do the Evolution is the heart of the video. Pearson is careful to show every person’s contributions and the ideological influences that went into the video. The message of humanity’s failings seem simplistic; it is anything but. The time and effort that went into the video’s creation – the brief snatches of history it covers in mere minutes – is all emblematic of the video’s (and now the book’s) purpose. We may have failed as humans to be responsible toward the environment and each other. But that doesn’t mean the world will end. As long as people keep creating, we have hope. Art has the capacity to inspire in a way that nothing else can.
On the level of music, the video is galvanizing. But with the addition of animation, it is also moving. Some of the characters such as Death Girl are so enduring they have not left the cultural psyche. Art of Do the Evolution adds a whole new dimension on top of music and animation. The video becomes more than a look at the horrors of our world; it is also the product of real human beings.
Have seen the video? Interested in finding out more about animation process that went into making the video? You can find Pearl Jam: Art of Do the Evolution at IDW Publishing. What part stood out to you the most? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter!