Interview with Chris Hartelius, Creator of True American Dog

What do dogs, eagles, soda, horses, inventions, rescue and the internet all have in common?

One word = AMERICA

New Jersey native Chris Hartelius is a 29 year old graphic designer for Harmonix (Guitar Hero). Six years ago he moved to Boston, and started a blog in the format of fake newspaper. It had a big image, a story, and three side images. Updating it every day for three months, he quickly got burned out. Cut to June of last year. He discovers Blogger and its super easy formatting. He started doing the single frame photoshop with headline that we know as True American Dog (which you might have seen on Huffington Post and Gizmoto). He's been keeping it simple and updating regularly every since.

I asked him about the main jist of True American Dog from his standpoint...

I honestly don’t know what compelled me to do it like this. Seeing news stories of how dogs save women from drowning from time to time, those are real news stories! The concept of dogs doing ridiculous things to help man-kind, that was the original push behind it. A couple friends and I would spit out some headlines, and if the headline is funny enough, we’ll put it into an image.

As I’ve been doing this, I’ve been spending more and more time doing like a "Where’s Waldo" element... just throwing absurd things into the picture. I put funny ideas in the image, and hide things in there for people to stare at for a while.

The one from last week with the eagles attacking the cars... that was a happy accident. I was gonna have a yellow line for road crossing, and I just pasted an eagle in there and it looked like it was looming over the car.

TAD has a particularly strong soda motif. I asked him where that came from.

I don’t know, it’s just things America loves. The soda thing started to take on a life of its own. I have to thank the commentors for that. When I made the "True Soda" brand, it sorta became an evil corporation. But the origin is taking a jab at American lifestyle.

Naturally, I was curious as to where he got his photos.

It’s primarily Google search, but there is a link for people to send in their pictures of dogs. It’s cool to have people send in the pictures of their dogs and come back to look for them.

Ownership of pictures...?

That’s a big question mark right now. I’ve had one person from the Thanksgiving post saying, "I don’t understand why this baby is in this picture, his mother’s not very happy about it!" The picture I used was 6 or 7 years old. It was a comment on the post, but they really didn’t pursue it further. They’re not entirely mine, but this is a hobby for me, at worst it’s "take the image down!" and then I continue doing what I do. I have replaced people's faces to the point where you can just change their eyes a bit so they look like a different human. I do that when someone’s face is totally clear. When I change parts of their face I feel like I’m pretty protected. Ya got a different human being.

But I do have a list of questions for lawyers.

I asked him about my favorite, "Horse-shaped Bullets Plant Trees Instantly".

I collaborated with a college friend. He and I have a very long document of headlines that we would brainstorm. It’s stream of consciousness. Ninety percent of them are complete nonsense, not that funny.

In the original photo, neither guy was holding a gun. The guy on the left had a shovel and the guy on the right was just standing there. They were posing like they were planting a tree. I had to find a picture of some marines and use their guns.

I wondered how much of TAD's popularity Hartelius owes to Photoshop?

Basically, all of it. Like, when you said earlier, "why would anyone spend time working on this??" ...there are a lot of bad photoshops on the internet. When I spend a lot of time on this stuff it makes me happy because things have reflections, shadows, etc. They’re very colorful images, you can boost the contrast to make things pop off the screen more. It’s not that it doesn’t look fake but it looks pretty stylish.

Can we look forward to any new motifs, or will it be more of the same from this point out?

I bought Back when I did "Man Bribes Dog With Internet On a Stick", I needed something on the screen to show that someone was visiting a website. I was surfing the internet and I found a tiger and I sorta just put it on a surfboard. I liked that image enough that I made a couple images. Now Tigers on Surfboards has a life of it's own. Pee-wee Herman tweeted about it two days after I put it up. I was pretty pumped because I love Pee-wee Herman and I grew up watching Pee-wee’s big adventure and Pee-wee’s playhouse. I wasn’t planning on doing much more for that. But I found that if you don’t keep reminding people that it exists, it sorta starts to go away. I’ll probably do a tiger of the month... $$

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