- The Unconscious Closed Captioned
128 Pages; Print, $14.00
Ticket Stub is one of the most interesting combinations of word and image that one may ever hope to read. It is a strange creature, a Chimera of equal parts comic book, prose poem, and drawings: ultimately, it is a hugely imaginative critique of the entertainment industry.
Tim Hensley is a cartoonist and musician best known for his graphic novel Wally Gropius (2010) and his recordings under the aliases “Victor Banana” and “Neil Smythe.” The manner in which this book was created explains its content. As the author explains, “at the turn of the century, when a torrent was mere inclemency and no one cared about phones,” Hensley was employed to write closed-captioning for videos: adding text to image. One imagines him in an office in an industrial park in Los Angeles not far from the studios in which these movies were produced, performing his inglorious task, a part of the hidden labor that supports the massive mythmaking machine that confounds us all: pounding on the keyboard and following the action from one predictable scene to the next—its causality iron-clad, ritualistic, and undeviating, the stories conceived as if by focus-group mass mind.
Confronted with the endless river of clichés, Hensley began his quietly subversive project—making a comic zine based on the videos he was obligated to watch. The eight issues of Ticket Stub are collected in this book, which is beautiful. It has a cover like a thick sheet of watercolor paper and is printed entirely in purple ink. The purple gives it an unreal quality like an afterimage. The color also seems to connect it to pulp comics such as the Mexican sensacionales, pocket sized horror, and western comics printed in monochromes. It also brings to mind “purple prose,” which Hensley’s writing in the zines is not: instead, it is excruciatingly dry and hilarious—but more on this writing later.
The author would note down the time code of images that struck him and later pause the videos and make drawings from these moments, writing text around them, at the end of the work day. The drawings capture powerful moments or stupid ones or sometimes just pictures of extras or details that are unimportant to the film as a whole, but that have some merit as still images.
In an interview in The Comics Journal, Hensley discussed the experience:
You don’t have any control over what you’re gonna be working on and a lot of times you’ll be working on something that’s unbearable...or you try to be like, wow I really enjoyed, you know, the set design in this movie or something...The thing that’s weird about [closed-captioning] is, it’s just a different perception of time when you watch something, because if you watch something that’s just half an hour, just try to imagine instead of watching it for half an hour, you’re watching it over eight hours.
Drawings and paintings are still. The stillness invites contemplation. Video fools the eye into thinking it sees life. Video does not allow any real time for contemplation of images: they pour over the viewer in hi-def, in 3D, in Technicolor, or whatever while viewer sits overwhelmed, floored, passive. Tim Hensley was compelled to extract still pictures from the parade passing before his eyes, which included Pokemon (1999), Candyman 2 (1995), Natural Born Killers (1994), and The Care Bears Movie (1985). He allowed the images to become unmoored from their original context.
Though the drawings are excellent, it is the way the writing interacts with the images that makes Ticket Stub such a compelling work. The text provides “captions”—but ones that are disjunctive, surrealist. As in Raymond Pettibon or Gary Panter’s artwork, the writing has an internal logic that rewards mulling over. S. J. Perelman’s early cartoons, with captions like insane telegrams of 1920s jive, are a close cousin.
Tim Hensley’s language style is often terse and punchy. In this way, it recalls the mid-century pulp...