Black Hole and Bad Houses

Bad Houses, like any creative work, has multiple inspirations.
One of them is two panels from Black Hole by Charles Burns.

Here we have two characters approaching an innocuous house.


I say ‘innocuous’, but when you look more closely there seems to be some trash on the lawn and street, and lumpy shapes on the front porch that might be garbage bags. But on my first read, I didn’t take in those foreshadowing details.

Here’s what we see when the characters go in:

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Haze of smoke. Full ashtrays. Beer cans on the table, floor, and in bags that reduce the space in an already crowded room. Psychedelic Family Dog Commune and Jimi Hendrix posters, underscoring the Here Be Drugs vibe. Remnant of another poster to which the floor lamp with its snake-like cord seems to be pointing. We don’t know what that poster might have been, but we can see it was thumbtacked or nailed up; no one here is worrying about the condition of the walls. The jaggedness of the remnant also suggests that the poster was ripped down — in anger or to mess with someone or in a simple moment of casual destructiveness.

Display cabinet that instead of china or Hummel figurines or high school trophies is full of mugs and goblets and bottles. Not the collectible kind.

Armchair where the torn vinyl has been duct taped. When you sit in that chair it’ll make an embarrassing noise. You’ll sink farther down than you thought you would. It’ll be hard to get out. If you’re wearing shorts or a short skirt, your legs will stick.

And what is that thing on the coffee table? A polished slice of tree stump with condensation rings from the beer?

Not everything is battered. The couches are sturdy and stiff. The non-duct-taped armchairs also appear to have some structural integrity. No one has ripped up or graffitied the curtains or deployed them as garments.

But the room as a whole tells the reader what we’re already learning from the story. Things are falling apart, or changing, or both.

Those two panels made me think about all the times I’ve entered a house or apartment for the first time and my understanding of the people who live there subtly recalibrated or lurched violently in a new direction.

What you see from the street; what’s inside.

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