A friend of mine complimented me on the backgrounds in the Black Dog and the Hole at the Heart of the World pt. 2 this week, which naturally swelled my heart. So I thought I’d talk about drawing on lived experience to create environments.
Most of which comes from my recent tenure in Austin, TX, a city at the center of my home state and heart.
As has been observed by countless vapid music and technology journalists, Austin has a pretty unique character: an island of liberalism in the middle of God’s Country, Austin boasts one of the liveliest music scenes in the US, a sizable visual art community, and reasonably functional public transit.
So the city in Black Dog and the Hole at the Heart of the World is basically Southeast Austin.
(Above: East Oltorf, more or less. I used to live in an apartment complex a little off the main street here with my brother. Shout out to Eric!)
I didn’t have a camera when I was living there, and I wasn’t really drawing as much as I should have been, so all I really have to go off of is my memory and Google, which serve nicely when I can remember what neighborhood on which I want to base the location.
I’m not using Google as much as I am my memory, though. I know that if I were to attempt to slavishly reproduce every neighborhood I want Caleb and Gabi to visit in this book I’d probably lose interest faster than your grandad diving into W.G. Sebald’s Austerlitz. So I’ve been trying to evoke an emotional likeness to Austin rather than a photographic likeness, which is, I think, more accurate.
(Do you remember what the bus stops looked like near your first apartment? Or do you remember what happened there?
Do you remember the logo of the pho place near Gordon’s house, or do you remember the first time he asked you out?
Do you remember the precise name of every business on South Congress Ave., or do you remember talking with Becca about how fitted jeans are a corporonormative fashion? Do you remember making up the word “corporonormative?” )
We don’t remember specific details about our environments until they’re made important to us by emotional involvement, I think. Which is why it’s so easy for cartoonists to draw only the barest suggestions of their characters’ surroundings, and why I can get away with only using one-point perspective most of the time.
I guess the Black Dog and the Hole at the Heart of the World could really be set anywhere; but because I lived in Austin for a while, it makes more sense to me to reference those spaces with which I am familiar.
Of course, some of my referenced locations aren’t actually in Austin; some are a bit closer to my current home in Vermont:
(They’re pretty similar, trust.)
There’ll be something new in the store tomorrow! Keep your eyes peeled.