gg: Did discovering, or rediscovering comics, inspire you to start doing your own more seriously at that point?
th: A bit of both, I guess. A bit of neither. I was still drawing comics on the side, and I think that was another thing that was a connection with Dan, he was doing those Duplex Planet one-pagers. David Greenberger asked me, again as a songwriting assignment, he was doing these albums that were Ernest Noyes Brookings, one of the poets from Duplex Planet, with people setting his words to music. So I ended up doing those albums, and from that, I did the comics in the Duplex Planet Illustrated [No More Shaves] that Fantagraphics put out. That was the first real thing I had published.
gg: I see. Now, in 1989, you were 23? What did you do immediately after college, how did you start earning a living?
th: I was working temp jobs, but I was still living at home. I didn’t move out of my parents’ house till I was like, 29 and 7/8. And that was the main thing that helped making the records, because I was putting them out myself. So I was working these temp jobs. I remember working in a bank and putting bank statements in envelopes all day to send out. Just really boring.
gg: [Laughs.] Wondering why you went to college?
th: Yeah. No. Eventually I needed to move out. That happened later [laughs]. The job that I ended up getting was that I worked as a closed-captioning editor for 10 years.
gg: Closed-captioning editor? In videos?
th: This was for broadcast television, though I eventually ended up in the home video department.
gg: What does a closed-captioning editor exactly do?
th: Well, you’d go into work and get a tape — well, back then you’d get a tape — and you basically play it and play it, and sort of type along with it. And, all the tapes are striped with time code, and then you assign time codes to the captions that appear. You listen to people. When I found out I was being interviewed, the first thing I was thinking was, “Who’s going to transcribe this?” [Groth laughs.] “How does it work with these interviews?” [Groth laughs.] Because it’s not too far from what I was doing.
gg: Tim, you could transcribe it!
th: Oh, boy. Yeah, no, I mean, I’d have to put on my wrist braces and everything. [Laughs.]
gg: So you literally transcribed the tapes, and then synchronized them with…
th: Yeah. If you’ve ever watched the news, you see all kinds of weird mistakes, that’s more like being a court reporter. This is stuff that’s done in advance, pretty much. Sometimes the turnaround is pretty short. I remember one time Citizen Kane came in as a rush job, it was going to be on television or something.
gg: Well, if it’s any movie you want to rush, it’s Citizen Kane.
th: Yeah, yeah. It was weird. It was a cool job, because you’d get totally different things from day to day, you’d never be able to predict. You’d do a week of Blaxploitation movies then you’d be working on Strawberry Shortcake or Walker, Texas Ranger.
gg: How long did you do this?
th: I did that up until January of this year .
gg: Jesus. [Laughs.] And you were you drawing on the side, basically.
th: Yeah. And I had started keeping a sketchbook while I was there, because in the closed captioning job, you’re locked into this cubicle, not locked, actually, it’s not locked, but it’s a cubicle with a door. And the thing that I used to do, at the end of the day or as I was working, I would notate the time code of a particular image that I liked on what I was working on, then I would draw it. So, I was doing that for a while and ended up putting together a ‘zine called Ticket Stub. I did about eight or nine issues of that. Towards the end, I got even more complicated, where I would make it into comics by choosing frames from different things.
gg: So that’s where Ticket Stub comes from.
th: Yeah. Ticket Stub was drawn entirely on the job. [Laughs.] I would finish my assignment and have maybe an hour or two left because I was pretty fast, so I would just draw the image and write my impressions of whatever it was I had worked on that day.
gg: I see. Well, Ticket Stub does seem to be the first indication of your evolving approach to comics.
th: Yeah. I think in a way the experience of that job really improved my comics, because it’s almost like captioning is comics but they’re upside down, because you’re sort of taking an image and you’re putting a balloon underneath, and you have to position it. So you’re constantly, over the course of 10 years, making these immediate decisions like, you find a shot change in a movie, and you have to say, OK, this person’s on the left, or this person’s walking through a crowd of people, how do I make sure that you can assign the words to the person.
I think it intuitively made me think more about how the eye moves through an image in time and space.