Wednesday, May 17, 2006

May 17, 2006
We got a freak thunderstorm which blew through last night at about five PM. Big, black sky and a brief, heavy downpour. Desert looks quite gorgeous this morning.

Lots of buzz here about The New York Times Magazine piece on “What Will Happen to Books? (Publisher, be very, very afraid)”. The essence of the thought provoking “manifesto” by Kevin Kelly is that we are rapidly approaching the point where every book, (and every article), regardless of copyright, will be online, scanned by Chinese robots and every book will become one book, with links and active footnotes and—authors and publishers be damned—zero copyright protection.

Dan Buck sent me the link, but Trish Brink brought me in the actual NYT magazine yesterday and I sat out by the pool at lunchtime and read the whole thing (and, I must say, I prefer the tactile experience of reading the mag as opposed to perusing the online version). Mark Boardman read it this morning and weighed in, warning that this is where it’s all going and as a publication printed on dead trees, we also, should be very, very afraid. You can check out the piece @:

I personally feel it is an opportunity for both True West magazine and my books. I think the online accessibility will far outweigh the negatives, and I think it’s going to be major cool when you can click on a footnote while reading an online book, and the link will take you to that book, or periodical and you can read it for yourself. This will apply to art and photos as well and will really enhance the reading experience.

We had a good meeting this morning to talk about all of this and how it applies to us. I feel like it’s a tiny peek at the road ahead, and I like what I see (so said James Dean just before the fatal accident in his Porsche nicknamed the “Little Bastard”).

British Illustration Magazine Article Also Printed On Dead Trees
I was interviewed via the web by an English writer about my artwork and love of the West. Nice piece. Notice the quaint Brit spellings, like watercolour. Here’s the piece:

The Wild West, Warts and All
by David Ashford

“I was lucky to have some cowgirls for a mother, aunts and grandma, but it meant that it soon pricked the balloon of reality. I quickly saw that there were two distinct Wests, the one we fantasise about and the one that's rougher, more practical and not very glamorous. I think I've been wrestling with this dichotomy for my whole life.”

Bob Boze Bell believes he was probably around ten years old when he began this 'wrestling match'. He was watching a TV show, “The Life and Legends of Wyatt Earp”, with his grandmother when she remarked that the real Wyatt Earp was “the biggest jerk who ever walked the West”. As his grandmother had actually lived on a ranch near Tombstone, Arizona, at the turn of the century, young Bob sat up and took notice and made a vow to search out the truth. The result of this vow is that Bob Boze Bell has become the most accomplished and acclaimed contemporary illustrator of the reality behind the myth of the American 'Wild West'.

Robert Allen Bell was born in Forest City, Iowa, in 1946 (his nickname 'Boze', a shortened version of 'Bozo', was given him at High School) and studied commercial art at the University of Arizona. His work in magazines began with his own publication, the Razz Review, a humour magazine that, although it lasted four years, was none too successful financially. In 1977, Boze Bell created “Honkytonk Sue” for National Lampoon magazine. This marvellously evocative comic strip was based on reality: at the time he was playing in a honkytonk band and was therefore steeped in the lifestyle and the main character - 'the prettiest cowgirl the western cartooning world has ever known' - was based on his aunt who was a rodeo queen. Boze Bell says about his Aunt Jean that he “grew up being in awe of her and her four cowgirl sisters (one of whom was my mama)”. His admiration for his aunt is further attested by the fact that a photo of her on her favourite horse adorns his office wall.

It was, however, the tremendous success of an assignment for the prestigious Arizona Highways magazine in 1985 that was to put Bob Boze Bell on the path to becoming one of the most visually authentic Western illustrators of all time. He was asked to execute 14 small black and white wash drawings to help illustrate an article on the town of Prescott, Arizona. He went, as he says, “hogwild” and drove to Prescott, sketching everything he saw. He ended up with 30 pieces, none of them small and many in colour. The editor was so taken with the pictures that he demanded even more and the resulting issue was jam-packed with his illustrations.

Encouraged by this success, Boze Bell decided to put together an illustrated book on the famous Western outlaw known as Billy the Kid. As no publishers were interested in the material, he decided to publish it himself. The result was phenomenal. “The Illustrated Life and Times of Billy the Kid” was a sell out (he later spent a year and a half rewriting and redrawing this first edition, resulting in a second edition that is 70 pages and 400 images larger!). A second book, “The Illustrated Life and Times of Wyatt Earp” was even more successful (it is now in its fourth edition) and this was followed up with the third in the trilogy, “The Illustrated Life and Times of Doc Holliday”. Nothing like these books had ever appeared before. These pictorial biographies are written as well as illustrated by Boze Bell, his drawings and paintings, cleverly combined with contemporary photographs, bringing the characters and their milieu to life in an intensely vivid and totally authentic way.

By the mid 1990s, Boze Bell's work was fast gaining nation wide recognition and he was commissioned to do paintings for the covers of three magazines: Arizona Highways (he also did internal colour paintings to illustrate his own article on Tombstone), Wild West and True West magazine. Television then began to take notice of his work and he was asked to contribute 40 illustrations for a four-part documentary series, “Outlaws and Lawmen”, for the Discovery Channel and yet another 40 pictures for Northport Pictures' documentary on Billy the Kid entitled “The War in Lincoln County”. His artwork has also featured in the Disney documentary, “AKA Billy the Kid”, in the “Gunfighter Series” produced by the Learning Channel and “True West Moments” for the Westerns Channel.

At the end of the century, Boze Bell brought out his fourth book: “Bad Men: Outlaws and Gunfighters of the Wild West”. Unlike its predecessors, all the illustrations are in black and white, many of them utilising the scraperboard technique. As the illustrations are, as always in his books, combined with Old West photographs, the result has a particularly compelling historical authenticity. When I asked him about his use of scraperboard (or 'scratchboard' as it is called in the U.S.), he gave me an interesting insight into his art:

“Early on in my career, people would accuse me of working in 'scratchboard'. I would sheepishly tell them no, it's just pen and ink, with white ink or paint brought back in to create a crosshatching effect. I was embarrassed that I didn't even know how to do scratchboard, or where even to buy the materials. Then, in April of 1995, I attended a big cowboy festival called “End of the Trail” in Corona, California, selling my books and artwork from a vendor's tent. It was here I met a man, an art teacher, who told me that if I ever wanted to try scratchboard I should buy Essdee Scraperboard, made in England, and that I should accept no substitutes. Now, when people accuse me of using scratchboard, I plead guilty with enthusiasm! I love scratchboard. I was born to use it.”

Boze Bell uses scraperboard, as he uses pen and ink and watercolour, with dash and élan. There is always movement and action in his work. His portraits of real-life Westerners are never static or stiff and, although the physical likeness is always there to see, they never have the appearance of being slavishly copied from nineteenth century photographs.

Bob Boze Bell's work is a manifestation of his personality: it is rugged and often violent as are his themes but, at the same time, it is highly sophisticated, sparkling with humour and a sheer love for his subject matter. His passion for complete historical accuracy is shown by the fact that he insists on using models who resemble physically the characters he portrays, always ensuring that they are dressed in the authentic clothes of the period (and are using the correct firearms!). All his illustrations are imbued with a determination to get it right, to picture the truth, palatable or not, about the historical West. In his work there is, as he has said, ”no glorifying the 'good guys' or vilifying the 'bad guys'. Just the truth, warts and all.”

In 1999, together with two other “Old West friends”, Bell bought up True West magazine. First published in the mid 1950s, True West was the most widely read of all the U.S. Western history magazines but, by the end of the century, it was looking its age. Bell completely transformed the magazine, giving it new life thanks to his passion for the subject combined with his distinctive and remarkable creative vision.

One of his innovations for the magazine was the creation of a new feature entitled, “Classic Gunfights”. His concept was to tell the stories based on the most up-to-date research and combine contemporary photographs with his own illustrations. It was his colourful, action-packed pictures, which are so authentic to the times in which the events happened, that made this series quickly become the most popular feature in the magazine. As a consequence of this success, Boze Bell decided to bring out a series of books using the same material. “Classic Gunfights Volume One” was published in 2003 and was followed two years later by Volume Two, subtitled “Blaze Away! The 25 Gunfights Behind the O.K. Corral”. The latter tells the story of Tombstone and, most particularly, of Wyatt Earp's contribution to its history and contains, he believes, some of his best work. He says, “no matter how many times I revisit this incredible story, I always find something new and intriguing. I imagine I always will”. The book is much more than an excitingly detailed roundup of all the Tombstone gunfights: Boze Bell's graphic illustrations imaginatively convey the every day social life of the boomtown, putting all the gunfighting violence into context. Incidentally, although not emerging as a hero in the TV Western mode, the reader of this book realises that Boze Bell does not agree with his grandmother that Wyatt Earp was “a jerk”!

Bob Boze Bell has a number of new projects on the way that will doubtless illuminate more areas of the historical American West. He has found his goal in life. As he said in answer to someone who alluded to his work load: “Work is only work if you'd rather be somewhere else. And I'm right where I want to be.”

End of article. Now back to the usual snide comments.

Favorite Onion Headline de Jour
Internet Collapses Under Sheer Weight Of Baby Pictures

"He has Van Gogh's ear for music."
—Billy Wilder

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