This interview is reprinted in its entirety from MOME Vol. 6.
Tim Hensley was born in 1966 in Bloomington, Indiana. Besides a familiarity with his comics, this is everything I knew about him before I spoke to him on September 2. He filled in the details:
He moved to LA (where he still lives) at age 3. His father was a successful musician who had a psychedelic rock band in Indiana called Masters of Deceit. In LA he did session work for such unpromising acts as Pia Zadora and Pink Lady, but went on to become Neil Diamond’s piano player — which he still is. Since there was always recording equipment and keyboards lying around, young Tim taught himself how to use a 4-track recorder, play piano and guitar, and write songs, which, with the encouragement of his dad, he proceeded to do. He even had his own band with the Hensleyesque name Victor Banana, and wrote the “soundtrack” to Daniel Clowes‘ graphic novel Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron.
Tim was doubly blessed because his dad was also a comic book collector, so he read his dad’s EC collection, and took a weekly trip to the local comics store where he and his dad would load up on Marvel, DC, Warren magazines, underground comix, and Heavy Metal — a fine, catholic education for a youngster with an inclination to draw. He became less interested in comics in college, but by around 1989 he’d discovered alternative comics and it was all downhill from there.
Hensley’s approach to comics has to be among the most distinctive of any living cartoonist — more a throwback to the eccentric individuality of cartoonists from the ’20s and ’30s where madcap Dadaesque dialogue merrily coexisted with an anarchic drawing style, in this case, a purposefully flat, clean-line technique with faint echoes of the Harvey children’s comics circa 1960s. For those dim readers like myself who reveled in but don’t quite get terms like “sandbag googleplexes,” this short interview should be a revelation.
gary groth: Your work is so highly stylized, I’m curious as to how you arrived at it, what artists inspired you, or what you may have copied early on, and so forth.
tim hensley: I don’t know that I necessarily started copying different styles of artists. I kind of had my own style, and I think as I became more crushed by life, I started to rely on more of a crutch of associations — and also, just that I enjoyed reading comics and thinking about them. Like, when you end up working in a different style, you have to think differently. [Laughs.] I’m not being real articulate about it.
I can’t really think of any genesis of that.
gg: Maybe that’s why your work is so sui generis. You said that you started getting into what I guess we could call alternative comics in 1989? You discovered them, rediscovered them?
th: Yeah. I think the real thing that happened was that I had a band going at the time, and Daniel Clowes did the cover for the album I had done. I had just seen Lloyd Llewellyn, and I had ended up becoming friends with him through the mail. And as a result of that, I ended up discovering all the other comics that were around then too, like Love and Rockets, American Splendor, and everything, which I was sort of aware of already.
gg: What was the name of your band?
th: It was Victor Banana.
gg: Now, how did Dan come to do the jacket?
th: Well, I just sent him a tape of it, and it paid a little, but I think he liked it too.
gg: How did you come to correspond with Dan?
th: Well, I had the issues of Lloyd Llewellyn and I saw his address in there, and I thought there was a correspondence between the music I was making and his drawing, so we just corresponded back and forth for a while. I can’t remember exactly how I fell into doing the soundtrack for the Velvet Glove thing. It was pretty weird, because he was not finished with the story when I was writing songs for it, and I remember that he sent me this kind of top-secret letter, saying, “This is where I think the story is going.”
And right when he was doing the first album cover for the record I did, that was right when the first issue of Eightball came out. I remember going to the comic store and getting Eightball and being like, “Oh my God!” because it was just such a step forward from what he had done previously.