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“I Mean, Why Did I Like That?”: The Tim Hensley Interview (Part One)

So then you went to college?

I did, yeah. I didn’t go away to college. I always wondered what my life might have been like if I had gone away from home. I mean, I went to the nearby college, which was in Northridge and mainly because it was close. I started as an art major and then I became an English major. I think because as an English major you just get to read a lot, and it seemed like reading English stories or novels you could react to them in your own way. More so than you could if you’d read a textbook. I’m not sure why I switched out of art. I think I took maybe one lettering class and drew the letter S, I remember. [Laughs] A life-drawing class, maybe one, but it wasn’t serious.

Was it a commercial art program?

The art classes that I took, there wasn’t a sense of, you’ll take these classes and you’ll get a job doing artwork. You know, maybe some of the Art School Confidential stuff applies, that kind of seventies conceptual art inclusiveness that can also be kind of half-ass because you lose actual skills that you would actually maybe apply later. The life-drawing thing, so much of what I do now is like… Apparently Jaime Hernandez supposedly had a really good life drawing teacher. Though you couldn’t really explain him either way. [Laughs] But even if you’re drawing something that’s abstract, and it’s like some corny rubber-band person, a lot of times you’re still just facing the same dilemmas that are life-drawing dilemmas: like, you know, this person is wiping their forehead, how do you draw their hand from the fingertips down? You know, and there was no knowledge of that imparted in the life-drawing class; it was more like you’re looking at some weird nude person. Those experiences were odd because you’re just seeing a total stranger nude and you have to draw them, and you kind of depersonalize from that. But the sense of how to draw the human figure, I would say, maybe it was just a bad class because I didn’t pick it up. It’s something I wish I had. A lot of the things that I picked up from being a cartoonist were stuff I found in the library or stuff that I came across over years trying to figure out how to do something. It’s something I struggle with to this day [laughs].

So was it a semester, or a year or two in art before you switched?

Yeah, I was definitely the kind of person in college where I just kind of was taking, you know, Sociology of Nuclear Disarmament and History of Witchcraft. [Hodler laughs] And all these classes that sounded like they would be interesting, like sewing, but at a certain point I was just like, I got to get out of college. And then I just took whatever math and science classes I needed to get out. So I kind of floundered around, but I didn’t ever approach it like, “Oh, I need to take this major because I have this plan.” You know as an English major, maybe you’re supposed to be a teacher or a writer, but I didn’t really ever think of it in those terms unfortunately, because I didn’t figure out how to make a living from what I did from going to college. Which I guess you’re supposed to do [laughs].

Did you say what the name of the college was?

It was CSUN, it was California State University at Northridge. It’s kind like in the middle of nowhere; it’s a little north of the San Fernando Valley. They are known for their business department and their film program. I don’t know if they still are now though.

So were you a big reader?

Yeah, I mean, everything was focused more from a language basis more than art. I think maybe that’s also why I ended up in the English department, and maybe that’s something that’s still true about my comics to this day. I think [there was] also the proximity of having my disabled sister who has this mental impairment and the way that she would process language. It was something that was always a mystery to me and something that led me to be interested in language and just reading as much as I could. I mean, not really in the sense that I was reading stuff that was really deep and important, just that I was always fascinated by words.

That was a conscious reason you were reading when you were young?

Not at the time, no. I mean, a lot of times with things like that it seems like you figure it out later; oh, that’s why I was doing that. [Laughs] But at the time, they would say you should be in this gifted department and then I would just totally freak out and not be a part of it. It was only later I figured out why that was so intimidating, I guess [laughs].

Right. Yeah I had heard you say that before and I was wondering, I don’t know if you know Zippy the Pinhead, Bill Griffith’s comic strip. He has similar concepts for how Zippy is supposed to talk and think. I was wondering what you thought of his strip and how he does that.

I’ve always liked Zippy the Pinhead and Bill Griffith’s comics. I think I didn’t really connect it to, oh, like this main character is a disabled character. I didn’t see the movie Freaks until much later, which I think is a reference for the character, but I know I was into Devo a lot when I was in high school and the idea of the world being devolved definitely was something that resonated with me. Maybe not in a conscious way, but you know, all the things that I would see, all the seventies New Wave kind of things were about this kind of genetic panic, that view of the world, which kind of ended up becoming more like New Romantic and wearing linen suits or something. [Hodler laughs] But at that time that made a lot of sense to me, you know, it wasn’t consciously part of how I thought about it, but I could see that’s something that’s always gonna be interesting to me [laughs].

Right. So, I don’t know when your band Victor Banana started, was that after college or during college?

That was towards the end of college. We put out a record in 1989 and we were playing shows about a year before that maybe. It was like a live band and then we recorded that record in two days [laughs]. One day doing the tracks, and then one day I sang all the vocals [laughs] for, it was twenty songs or whatever.

Wow.

Yeah, it started when I would use my father’s equipment and make recordings. I think because I could be as young as 16 years old working on these things, I didn’t realize you were supposed to mix down your final recordings to a quarter inch tape and have a master tape. I would just make a cassette of it. So some of the things I put on my Tumblr were things where it was like a dub plate in reggae where there’s no other record of it, just this cassette. I didn’t know what I was doing. But then after that, I think because my dad had all the electronic equipment and I’d used it and done stuff with it, I think I sort of gravitated in this other way to actually having musicians play and trying to capture a live environment in a recording, rather than building it up. I was reacting against my dad’s kind of seventies session musician kind of thing where you do millions of overdubs. Though I did see him do lots of live tracking and it seemed fun.

Did you play out in concerts?

The Daniel Clowes cover for the Victor Banana Velvet Glove soundtrack.

The Daniel Clowes cover for Victor Banana Velvet Glove soundtrack.

Yeah, we were actually fairly popular. There was this one club in the valley we used to play at called Bebop Records. We would pretty consistently have a crowd and I even got a certain amount of, you know, people saying, oh, I work for this record company. We ended going with this record company run by some guys in San Pedro and they were enthusiastic about the group, but I remember Dan Clowes, when he did the record cover, had a real hard time getting them to cough up the $200 dollars [laughs] he got for the artwork or whatever.

What did your dad think about your music?

My parents would go to the shows. They liked it. The process was that at first I did these recordings, they were like electronic music, and then I did these live concert things where I had a band, and then I started to do things where it was hard to have a band, where I felt like it was easier to make recordings, like recording sessions where I teach musicians the parts and then record it live and then we wouldn’t do concerts and it would be less of a hassle. It’s a difficult situation with personalities and everything. Recording can be low-stress because you don’t have to deal with all the things that happen when you try to play with people in different locations consistently. You just make a recording, you know at a recording session, then make a record of it. But its expensive.

I think you said this before, but you were living at home all through college?

Yeah, you know, like I was saying, I always wondered what would have happened if I had gone away to college ‘cause… I mean, it was also because my sister had such a turbulent… She involuntarily moved out when she was 18 and was living in a series of group homes and was always getting kicked out of somewhere and I think just the dynamic of the family at that time just had me stuck at home and I couldn’t really figure out how to live on my own. So, yeah, I was just kind of like… I moved out of my parents’ house, God, I can’t even remember now, but it was late. I mean everything I did was a lot later than other people do that stuff [laughs].

That’s a big part of college for a lot of people, being away from their parents and not have to go home at night.

Yeah, I mean, you know, finding out sort of your own identity, not really based on how the other people in your family are feeling at that moment or something.

I imagine that socially it would have been difficult too.

Well, the similar thing you maybe have is in high school where you end up stuck with a group of people that you forge into something that lasts longer than the situation. A commuter campus was all I went to, though. You know, I met some people there, but I was never much of a people person [laughs] in terms of a socializing kind of person.

Was Victor Banana your first real group?

I was in a band in high school. Like, you know, a lot of that stuff in Wally Gropius with The Dropouts. I was into The Monkees when I was a kid, the television show, and also we had that situation of having a band in high school where I had friends and we’d come home after school and practice and just be terrible. Playing in a garage and, you know, someone would hammer on the door and say like, “You’re giving my husband a heart attack.” [Hodler laughs] We played Devo’s “Snowball” at a 9th grade graduation dance [laughs] or something like that. We would play at these parties in the San Fernando Valley, you know, these rich people’s houses, and a keg would leak all over the wood grain floor and there would be somebody weeping over the damage under the police helicopters. I think I played a show with a paper bag on my head at one of those. We’d always show up and we’d have amplifiers and the parents would be like, You guys have amplifiers? And they would constantly not realize we were gonna be super loud, you know, expecting the Kingston Trio. I didn’t think we were that good. I mean, I sang “I Will Follow” which was ludicrous. [Laughs.]

You were the lead singer?

We pretty much traded off, me and the bass player.

And you were playing keyboard?

I was playing a fake organ, yeah. That was more like a band where we were playing covers and being like, oh, we’re gonna play at this party at someone’s house and we have to fill three hours with material. So we were doing “Ain’t That A Shame” because it’s really easy to play. [Hodler laughs] It was just like why would you want to play that song? [Hodler laughs]

What was the band called?

We were The Inside Out, but before that we were The Aberrant Four. I think that’s how you pronounce it. I don’t even know to this day. Is it “aberrant” or “aberrent”?

Honestly, I don’t know either. That’s how I would guess.

I think we used to call it Aberrent Four and then we were like no it’s Aberrant and so that’s why I just said it now that way [Hodler laughs]. All the time during the time we had the band we were like, yeah, we’re The Aberrant Four and then we would play at some nightclub on Wednesday night at 3 in the morning and now when I think back, that any of our friends or people we knew would come to that just amazes me, because I would never stay up till 3 a.m. now. [Hodler laughs] I wake up at 3 a.m. now [laughs].


(continued)

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5 Responses to “I Mean, Why Did I Like That?”: The Tim Hensley Interview (Part One)

  1. Brian Moore says:

    This is great. Looking forward to Part 2.

  2. patrick ford says:

    Bring it on.

  3. Bill says:

    Thanks for introducing me to a new artist. So many talented creators to learn about, damn my finite life span!!!

  4. Pingback: Comics A.M. | Artists rally in support of jailed Tunisian cartoonist | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

  5. ant says:

    I love this man’s comics and his interviews are always pretty entertaining and revealing. More, please!

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