"Someone is calling the police declaring that there is a bomb ticking in his room the police is replying there is nothing to fear as long as the bomb is ticking." A roughly hewn translation of a classic German joke, Richard prince pairs both the original and “appropriated” translation to English on his large scale painting from 1989. A seductive cartoon that satirizes the marital morals of the 1950s and '60s, culled from the pages of a vintage Playboy magazine is coupled with the comic one-panel gag creating deliberate confusion. The Bomb is Ticking, 1989 is a classic example of the attraction, deceit, and failure found in Prince's iconic Joke and Cartoon paintings, which he uses to play upon the hostility, fear, and shame that fuels American humor.
Master miner of mass media imagery, Prince has famously appropriated a wealth of images from Marlboro ads to the covers of pulp romance novels. In 1987, he began appropriating jokes and cartoons in his work. Noting, "No, I'm not so funny. I like it when other people are funny. It's hard being funny. Being funny is a way to survive," he sought out to amass a generous collection of one-line jokes and single frame cartoons (R. Prince quoted in "Like a Beautiful Scar on Your Head," Modern Painters, Autumn 2002). Struck by the cartoons of Whitney Darrow, which appeared in the New Yorker in the 1950s and '60s, Prince became entranced by the comic illustrators ability to align his work with the tenor of the time. The cartoons, like the advertising images, reflected a certain concealed knowledge of cultural tastes, cravings, and prejudices. Furthermore, they reflect the notion that humor captures the tragedy of everyday life and makes it pleasurable-if even just for a moment.
Initially interested in the cartoon for its lowbrow form of expression, The Bomb is Ticking simultaneously balances the antiheroic methods behind Prince's Photographs, Cowboys, and Girlfriends; the content and minimalist aesthetic of his Monochrome Jokes; as well as the clean lines in his Hoods series. Citing that comics are more than part of the whole, Prince states, "Jokes and cartoons are part of any mainstream magazine. Especially magazines like the New Yorker or Playboy. They're right up there with the editorial and advertisements and table of contents and letters to the editors. They're part of the layout, part of the 'sights' and 'gags.' Sometimes they're political, sometimes they just make fun of everyday life. Once in a while they drive people to protest and storm foreign embassies and kill people" (R. Prince quoted in B. Ruf (ed.) Jokes and Cartoons, n.p.).