Friday, October 30, 2009

October 30, 2009
Went to Tonto Bar & Grill for lunch with Paul Hutton. Had a club sandwich. He bought. Jammed on finishing Mickey Free. Paul came up with a possible breakthrough for telling the story in a more succinct way. Very encouraging. Both of us have been diverted with health issues and we are finally able to clear the decks and talk about bringing this project to fruition.

Mole Man's Top Ten
Based on his homecoming tour of Mexican food restaurants in our area, Tomas Bell has completed his top ten favorite mole list and here it is:

10. Mucho Gusto, Tempe

9. Parilla Suiza, Paradise Valley

8. El Encanto, Cave Creek

7 Adrian's, Phoenix

6. Santiago's, Bisbee

5. Taco Villa, Phoenix

4. El Indio, Tucson

3. La Barquita, Phoenix

2. La Roca, Nogales, Sonora

1. El Conquistador, Phoenix

News From The Front Lines
"Hi Bob, I was looking though my latest issue of True West and I saw someone that I remembered watching on TV in the 50's, Guy Madison who starred in The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickock (side kick was Andy Devine). Seems like you have him labeled as Jock Mahoney, the Range Rider."
—David Minton, Lovington NM

No, you are correct and we blew it. Oh, how we blew it. You are the 367th person to point this out to me—so far! Ha. I'm not complaining, it shows you guys are reading the magazine!

I Can't Believe I Drew It
A page from my sketchbook on the mountains of Peru (we had just returned):

Listening To Criticism
Polyclitus, a famous sculptor in ancient Greece, once sculpted two statues at the same time: one in his living room, in public view, and one in his bedroom, that he worked on privately and kept wrapped in a tarpaulin. When visitors came by, they would comment on the public work, saying "The
eyes aren't quite right" or "That thigh is too long" and Polyclitus would incorporate their suggestions. All the while, however, he kept the other statue a secret. Both works were completed at about the same time and were mounted in the city square in Athens. The statue that had been designed by committee was openly mocked and ridiculed. The statue he'd done by himself was immediately proclaimed a transcendental work of art. People asked Polyclitus "How can one statue be so good and the other so bad?" and Polyclitus answered "Because I did this one and you did that one."

"True friends stab you in the front."
—Oscar Wilde
October 30, 2009
Really chilly this morning, but it's supposed to get up to 80 today. The Top Secret Writer is coming out for lunch today to go over our wayward half-breed, Mickey Free.

We got attacked by five beefy javelinas last night (our gates are off, being fixed and we piled chairs and wooden barricades in the gaps but the Bastards blew right by that). Peaches was going crazy. I finally took a mop and, while making a modified version of my coyote disperser voice, herded them out the gate. But not before they knocked over the chicken feed barrels and ate all the chicken food. They came back twice more in the night because they are pigs after all, so we didn't get a great night's sleep.

100 Covers: Dead Man Tells A Tall Tale
As we moved into 2004 we utilized one of our strongest weapons, Phil Spangenberger, and turned him loose to do a major feature on Six-guns of the gunfighters:

In March, we tackled a growing problem in the Western field and that is fake stuff being sold for outrageous prices. Dan The Man created a spectacular cover, one of my all-time favorites of any we have done:

In fact, I would put this cover in the top five faves of all we have done. This type of cover entered our lexicon, as in, "I think it's time for another Big Face cover."

In April we introduced our very popular True West Maniac Club and within a few months sold 1,000 plus memberships:

For May we tackled the transcontinental railroad and David Crockett:

With the failure of The Alamo and The Missing (Ron Howard's Western with Tommy Lee Jones), and the moderate box office success of Hidalgo we didn't have much faith in a new HBO series to be called Deadwood. Lo and behold, it was a roaring success and we rushed to make hay with it:

In July we went back to the Old West icons and played with the cover magic of numbers:

Yes, for some reason people buy covers with numbers on them. Sales prove it. Unfortunately, when everyone starts using numbers then the effectiveness is diluted.

In August I rolled the dice and put a dead man on the cover:

Several business types cautioned me against doing this, but I was determined to get some attention for our little ol' magazine. I can't say it was a total success, but I did get a phone call from a pretty hip guy in Boulder, Colorado (he's a film producer) and he told me he saw it on the newsstand and went, "Now, there's a cover with attitude!" Ha. Totally anecdotal, but it made the gamble worth it to me.

Sticking with the death kick, I did a blood soaked cover to draw attention to a big feature on The Wild Bunch:

While visiting the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming I saw a great rodeo poster of African-American rodeo legend Bill Pickett. Thanks to our friends there, we got a good scan of it and utilized it for a cover story in October:

We ended the year with a great cheesecake shot of Dale Evans in all her cowgirl glory:

As we approached our fifth year with True West we expanded travel, did another stunt cover (this one with Jesus! Yikes!) and had the audacity to ask the question: Is The Wyatt Earp Era Over?

Got some interesting feedback on that one. Ha.

“Yes, it is well known that all Texas Rangers have Mexican blood. On their boots.”
—Annie Proulx, Accordion Crimes

Thursday, October 29, 2009

October 29, 2009
Just had a young man in the offices who loves Doc Holliday. I met Marshall Tanner, 12, last week in Bisbee. Actually, it was at the Breakfast Club in Lowell, as Deena and Tommy and I came in for a late breakfast after the walking tour in Tombstone. Tanner came over to our table and asked for an autograph on his Doc Holliday book which he had just purchased. I told Marshall he should come visit our offices in Cave Creek sometime and today I gave Marshall and his dad the tour of the offices and he asked if he could come back some time and bring a friend. I assured him that would great.

100 Covers: Stop The Presses!
As we worked our way into 2003 we began to utilize the wonderful photo collection of Robert McCubbin:

Sticking with the fifty theme (as mentioned 2003 was our 50 year anniversary), we did the 50 Guns That Won The West:

The actual birthday of the magazine was the April issue and so we not only celebrated our birth, but the birth of John Wayne:

We had been doing only eight issues a year, but our new partner, Bob Brink, felt it was time to expand and add a special issue, or two, and here is the first special we came up with:

Our newsstand consultant told us we needed a different name for the issue so we came up with Renegade Roads, but it caused us a ton of confusion with the newsstand rackers and we didn't make that mistake again. Back to Custer for May-June:

And back to our old stand by Wyatt and Doc for July:

As we were going to press with our August-September issue we got the word that an effort to dig up Billy the Kid was underway, and the story landed on the front page of the New York Times. For the first time in my career, I got to say the line, "Stop the presses!" even though our printers are in Kansas City and we are in Cave Creek, Arizona and the issue had all of seven days before it actually went on press. Anyway, close enough for an itinerant typo, as we tore up the cover story on Pancho Villa and replaced it with this one:

I had the honor of sitting in a Barnes & Noble in New York City (we flew to New York to pitch Classic Gunfights to the History Channel) and watch several New Yorkers pick up this issue off a very crowded rack and buy it. I had to restrain myself from running up and hugging them. I was a very happy boy.

After a speech in Wickenburg at the Desert Caballeros Museum, a woman came up to me and asked if I'd be interested in her family collection of rodeo photos. She said her mama was an early day rodeo performer I asked her mother's name and the woman said, Vera McGinnis, the Rodeo Queen. Was I interested? Oh, I think so:

Back to Billy the Kid for our second special issue of the year:

And then for November-December we went with Billy Bob Thorton and the new Alamo, which we hoped was going to be a blockbuster:

It was not and the movie and the issue was a disappointment to everyone. Still, all in all, a very strong year. We were adding back issues and learning a ton as we went alonng. The year 2004 would include one of the best covers we have ever done and certainly the grossest. Was I walking on water? Not quite, but even if I could, I instinctively knew miracles have their limitations.

"If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: 'President Can't Swim.'"
—Lyndon Baines Johnson
October 29, 2009
I received a batch of the long-awaited DVDs of The Perfect Exit and it is damn near perfect:

Starting with Dan The Man Harshberger's excellent graphics (turn the DVD over and you will see that the Exit logo is backwards and the drum sticks are in front of it, as it would be if you were looking at the front from the back. Ha. Too clever.

Tom and Nicole Erickson did a fine job on the production of the DVD and there are a whole slew of extra bonus materials inside, including behind-the-scenes video of the fateful rehearsal (right up to the last second before a certain heart attack) and great photos of Kingman in the sixties. It really is going to be a historic document because of all the old pics, film and coverage.

Here's the pitch from the Jamie:

October 27, 2009

Dear Friends of KRMC:

As you may recall, on Saturday March 28th the KRMC Foundation hosted “Music is the Doctor: A Lifesaving Opportunity”. This event was a combination auction and dance—with live, classic rock ‘n roll music from the ‘60s and ‘70s presented by The Exits Family—a group of nine musicians who grew up or lived in Kingman as teenagers, and five of their talented friends. (In addition to playing for free, the musicians provided auction items and other donations including proceeds from the sale of a vintage Fender guitar, donated to the event.) The funds raised were used to purchase 15 automated external defibrillators (AED) for communities served by Kingman Regional Medical Center.

Over seven hundred people attended “Music is the Doctor” and it was a blast. In fact, it was so much fun, that we decided a commemorate DVD of the event was needed which is now available for purchase at a cost of just $25 (you will also receive a poster from the evening.) The DVD includes great photos from the early days of Kingman and the Exits Family. You might even see pictures of yourself!

To purchase your DVD, you can fill out the attached form and send back to me, call (928)757-0664 or email me at These will make great holiday gifts. The monies will help to provide additional defibrillators in our community.

Best regards,

Jamie Taylor
Director of Development & Public Relations

"Any one can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out."
October 29, 2009
Here at True West we are still debating the Cross vs. Mowry gunfight. Here is Mark Boardman's response:

"You may be overthinking this Cross-Mowry gunfight thing.

"I mean, there's no evidence that the duel was fixed, with both intending to miss every shot. I've been through a bunch of accounts, some including witness statements, and none indicates suspicion over the fight. And neither combatant, so far as I can tell, ever said that the fix was in.

"Sure, they were shooting the daylights out of targets the day before. They were both good shots. But a strong crosswind would have hurt their aims. And the tension of actually facing a guy who was firing back could very well thrown off their shots. That was a common occurrence in the Old West, as we both know. Look at how many shots missed everyone at the Tombstone Street Fight--and those guys were practically able to touch their opponents.

"And while both Cross and Mowry had military experience, and may have been in battle before, a duel is a different animal--no chance to take cover (without looking like a wuss) or surprise the opponent.

"This is one of those cases where I fall back on Occam's Razor, which says, "when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is the better." In this case, the simpler theory is that they both intended to shoot the other guy--but they both missed.

"That's my two cents worth..."
—Mark Boardman

And here's Marshall Trimble's take on the fight:

"I think Mowry fired over Cross’s head on purpose as a gallant gesture. That was typical of his Southern personality he’d acquired.

"Cross was born in 1832 in Lancaster, NH and received and education at a local common school and academy. At age 15 he went to work as a printer and a few years later he became editor for the Cincinnati Times. It was through these connections that he met the Wrightson brothers of Cincinnati who were the financiers for the Sonora Mining and Exploring Company of Tubac. He was a member of the Know Nothing Party and when it collapsed he joined the new Republican Party, read that Northerners. He was pretty outspoken and Mowry had Southern sympathies and a West Point grad. I believe he could have killed Cross if he chose but chose not to. Earlier they’d had enough editorial disagreements and exchange of insults to fight a duel.

"According to witnesses both men practiced on the day before the duel. Cross 'picked the cactus leaves from the top of the Tubac church at almost every shot.' Mowry was 'Playing havoc with a small cottonwood tree.'

"This could all been a show of bravado for both. Both men were good shots.

"They were using Burnside Rifles at 40 paces. Four shots, actually three were fired without effect said the July 14th issue of the Arizonian. Mowry’s second shot was a misfire.

"During the duel there was a strong cross wind blowing preventing an accurate aim. they exchanged shots but on the second time around, Mowry’s weapon misfired. His second, a man named George Mercer, demanded another shot. Cross agreed to let him have another.

"Mowry’s friend Wm. S. Oury stepped up to Mowry and asked if he intended to shoot his adversary and Mowry replied, “Do you think I would try to kill a defenseless man?”

"Cross faced him unarmed and Mowry fired into the air saying he was satisfied.

"They did shake hands but according to the article, they weren’t any friendlier afterwards, despite the 42-gallon barrel of whiskey. The two men issued public apologies for their remarks about the integrity and reputation of the other."
—Marshall Trimble

By the way, the Know Nothing Party (1854) advocated the exclusion of Catholics and foreigners from public office and called for a 21-year residency before immigrants could become citizens. The party collapsed after the 1856 election and many joined the Republican Party.

"Glenn Beck is still a member of The Know Nothing Party."
—Dan Harshberger

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

October 28, 2009
Got a sneak preview (from Alan Huffines) of a new film on the Donner Party. Check it out.

I Can't Believe I Drew It
Another page from my quest to do 10,000 bad drawings:

I'm doing research on a Classic Gunfight that took place in Tubac, Arizona in 1859. One of the fighters was a newspaper editor, of the Weekly Arizonian. As I researched today I found the description of a printer tradesman styled as an "itinerant typo." Ha. That's too funny (typo is short for typographical error). A print shop helper was called a "printer's devil." I love stuff like this!

We are having quite a debate here at True West about this fight. Two guys with military training (one graduated from West Point) faced off with Burnside rifles at forty paces and missed, not once, but twice. An eye-witness at the fight claimed that the day before the duel, one of them was picking leaves off the top of cactus on the top of the Tubac church while the other guy was destroying a small cottonwood.

My B.S. Flag Is Flying
Newspaper editor, Edward Cross ridiculed Sylvester Mowry in print for claiming in a speech given back east, that all of Arizona’s rivers teemed with fish good for eating. Cross countered, in print, that the fish in Arizona were no bigger than fingernail-size and these should be called Mowry trout.

Using dueling rules, Mowry’s second (the person who will take over if the first cannot continue) is George Mercer, while Capt. J.W. Donaldson is acting for Cross. The coin toss is won by Cross and Mowry is positioned with the sun shining in his face.

A large crowd of almost 1,000 bystanders has gathered for the affair, with one of the assembled men bringing a 42 gallon barrel of whiskey.

Both men miss on the first fire. After the second fire, Cross misses and “Mowry’s rifle failed to explode.”

Mercer demands another shot for Mowry. Cross and most of the crowd become, well, quite cross.

Mowry reprimes his weapon and raising it to his shoulder aims at his opponent for about thirty seconds. Cross folds his arms, awaiting inevitable death.

Finally, unable to shoot an unarmed man (and also, no doubt, aware that the well armed crowd is itching to take him down), Mowry raises the muzzle of his rifle and fires into the air.

Of all the gunfights we have done, this is one of the most suspicious to me. Marshall Trimble believes they were actually trying to kill each other, but I just find it a little too precious. Thirteen days later Mowry bought the newspaper.

Anything seem slightly suspicious to you? First of all anytime you have an itinerant typo in the story, my B.S. flag starts flying. Lookout, hip boot territory ahead!

"My mother told me if you can't say anything nice about anyone, become a journalist."
—Bob Boze Bell
October 28, 2009
Very cool out and windy today. Wore a jacket for the first time in a long time.

100 Covers: From Jesse James to Jay Leno
After 9•11 we slowly got back on our feet, but it took a couple issues. We continued our very successful Collector's Editions starting with the Alamo:

Notice the flag draped in the top corner. This was a continuation of the mourning for those who died in the World Trade Center attack. We followed up with another flag-draped cover, featuring scouts and, once again, The Duke:

In the spring of 2002 we caught a lucky break, and thanks to DeAnne Giago, a beautiful Native American woman who worked for us, we landed Jennifer Tilly for the cover, which we shot in the Birdcage Theater in Tombstone. Jennifer posed as Kaloma, the infamous naughty postcard image that has been attributed to Josie Earp:

After the issue hit the newsstands, Jennifer appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and much to our delight he asked her about the photo shoot because she was convinced the Birdcage was haunted. She grabbed the magazine out of Jay's hands and held it up to the camera and gave us a two minute ad in prime time. You could have knocked us all over with a feather. Incredibly, newsstand sales did not spike. We're not sure why, because we had sex, we had celebrity and we had a national audience (Jay quipped he had never heard of True West before this) but it didn't translate into more sales. Perhaps the Tonight Show plug had a staggered effect as these things often do. The issue is very popular as a back issue and sells briskly whenever we offer it.

After Jennifer we went with the Texas Rangers:

Followed by another Collector's Edition featuring Jesse James:

This issue is still sold in the Northfield Museum in Northfield, Minnesota where the gang tried to rob the bank. After Jesse we went back to the Billy well one more time:

And ended the year with our last Collector's Edition on Butch & Sundance:

One of the guest editors was very difficult to work with (it wasn't this last one) and it soured us on doing these. We shifted gears again in 2003 and featured more photos. It was also our fiftieth anniversary (1953-2003) and we wanted to may hay with that milestone.

"In your decisions, your relationships, your plans and ambitions, keep in mind that the value you receive from anything is in direct proportion to the value you put into it."
- Ralph Marston

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

October 27, 2009
Lots of great comments from Sunday's Arizona Republic article on the O.K. Corral. Although the piece was only 600 words, it was a major challenge to make sure all the info was correct. For example, number of feet between buildings (18), number of shots fired (30, "approximate"), age of Doc Holliday (30), year of the first Helldorado (1929), the actual name of Walter Noble Burns' book (Tombstone: An Illiad of the Southwest) to name but a few of the facts that needed checking and double-checking. But, after all these years of doing this (40+), I instinctively knew no matter how much due diligence we did there would still be something I missed. Got this email this morning:

"I enjoyed your Arizona Republic article on 'Why the O.K. Corral still captivates.' One small point, Walter Noble Burns was not a sportswriter. He was a literary editor for the Inter-Ocean and a crime reporter in the main for the Trib, with occasional articles on different subjects, but not sports. He also covered the Pershing expedition to capture and punish Pancho Villa- see my article in the current Wild West History Association Journal.

"Imagine a sports writer trying to write about Wyatt Earp! Hah! It'll never happen!"
—Mark Dworkin

Mark is making a joke about Allen Barra and Casey Tefertiller, both sports writers who have done books on Wyatt Earp.

Speaking of mistakes, we've received a number of phone calls and emails, like the phone call I got yesterday from Brian Gardner, a subscriber from Grove, Oklahoma who told me the photo in the current issue on page 51 is not Jock Mahoney, but is Guy Madison. Both actors wore fringed leather pullovers and are somewhat similar in appearance, but Brian is correct:

100 Covers: The Collector's Editions
After the departure of our editor and the success of the Wyatt Earp issue (Feb. 2001) we knew we were onto something. We decided to march through the icons of the west, featuring them one at a time, like this cover on Geronimo:

We also decided to extend this concept by having guest editors who were the foremost experts in their field. We sent out faux Wanted Posters with a $1,000 Reward to all of the Old West organizations and within no time we had one of our first guest editors:

Paul Andrew Hutton was an excellent editor for Custer. Not only did he provide the great cover art (Hutton's collection of Western history materials is a literal treasure chest. He has filled an entire condo with his stuff), but Hutton also brought to the table some very big names in the history field which gave us some much needed credibility. This issue is the only issue on my watch that we went back to the printer and printed another 5,000 copies because the Little Bighorn Battlefield Museum requested more copies. The last time I was there they were still selling this issue (eight years later!).

Next up, Wild Bill:

Of course we knew Doc Holliday would sell, so we went to Dr. Gary Roberts as our guest editor:

And, by the way, the "Collector Edition" banner on the covers created a 10% to 15% increase in sales on the newsstand. Things were really clipping along, but on the morning of September 11th, as I sat at the dining room table with Jesse James-Northfield, Minnesota expert Jack Koblas going over the route of the James-Younger gang's escape, the phone rang.

"Turn on the TV. Someone flew a plane into the World Trade Center."

Everything came to a standstill. It took me four days to get home from Minnesota (all flights were canceled for several days). When I got back to the office, things were glum. Everyone was depressed, business was bleak. It shows in our January issue (which we were working on in September and October):

It would be a slow climb back to any kind of normalcy, but we were up to the challenge.

"A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go but ought to go."
—Rosalynn Carter

Monday, October 26, 2009

October 26, 2009
Two great quotes I gleaned from yesterday's New York Times Book Reviews:

"There is no standard nowadays of elegant letter writing, as there used to be in our time. It is a sort of go as you please development, and the result is atrocious."
—An unnamed woman at the turn of the Twentieth Century criticizing the postcard craze

"Our desire to outstrip Time has been fatal to more things than love. We have minimized and condensed our emotions. . .We have destroyed the memory of yesterday with the worries of tomorrow. . .We do not feel and enjoy; we assimilate and appropriate."
—A 1901 British newspaper editorial bemoaning the telegraph, as quoted in "The Tyranny of E-Mail" by John Freeman

Continuing our march through our first 100 covers of True West, as the year 2000 ended with a tepid tone, I felt I needed to turn up the heat a bit to get some much needed attention for our efforts. The old stuff did not seem to be working. At the O.K. Cafe in Tombstone I told one of my partners that I intended to run a topless gunfighter on the cover of the next issue. Bob McCubbin was not pleased with this news, but I proceeded anyway:

The January 2001 cover raised some eyebrows, but not newsstand sales. To boot, it was at this time that Marcus Huff and I got crossways over the editing of Old West Journal and he stormed out of our offices. With my back to the wall, I made a bold decision: I tore up the half-finished February issue, and inserted in its place, a 32-page excerpt from my book on Wyatt Earp. I asked our art director Dan Harshberger to pull out the stops and give me an arresting cover that asked questions. Here is the cover Dan The Man came up with:

This cover is not only arresting, it broke all records for sell-thru and remains today the best selling issue in our 100 cover march. We have four copies left and they sell for $250 each. We have several times tried to recreate the elements of this cover to hopefully capture lightning in a bottle one more time, but none of the knockoffs (and you will recognize them as we go along) have come close to this home run. This cover and this issue put us back in the game. There would be more successes in 2001 but, as the year progressed, none of us knew then what we know now.

"A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera."
—Dorothea Lange
October 26, 2009
Did some serious reflection on Saturday. One of my heroes, Charlie Russell died on October 24 at the age of 62. Same age as I am now. Remington died even younger in his early forties (41?). Is it cheating to be blessed with extra time to catch up to them? In my Lutheran-guilt laden brain stem, that's the way it's stored.

Speaking of manic-ego-mania and today's date, I woke up Sunday to a huge spread in the Arizona Republic:

I knew they were expanding the story and layout because I got a couple frantic phone calls on Friday afternoon from my editor, Ken Western, asking me about certain stats and headline choices. When he told me they were running a photo of Wyatt and Doc and a photo of re-enactors in Tombstone, I blurted out, "How are you going to fit this on a page?" Ken laughed and said, "We're running it on the jump." Which means, in newspaper parlance, they continued the article on another page. This is not typical behavior on the Op-ed page. Opinion pieces are invariably short and usually run four or five on a page. The big scratchboard of the fight, which runs border to border, totally dwarfs the Benson cartoon on the other page. Eat that, Ex-Mormon Dog (not that I'm competitive with other cartoonists, or anything).

Got a quote from Jana Bommsersbach, too late to go into the article, but a wonderful postscript:

"All of Arizona politics can be seen through the prism of the OK Corral."
—Jana Bommersbach

Friday, October 23, 2009

October 23, 2009
Continuing our journey back through 100 covers, in the year 2000, my editor, Marcus Huff, and I had a bold vision for where the magazine should go in order to survive. Declining circulation and the declining health of the subscribers was quite worrisome for me and my two partners. Here's a photo of me and Marcus in front of our new offices in Cave Creek, dubbed Clantonville by McCubbin:

An almost daily phone call to our new offices went like this: "Would you take Ernie off your subscription rolls. He died two years ago." A reader's poll flushed out the frightening fact that the average age of a True West subscriber was 67. The average age! The magazine was still being printed on pulp paper. Keep in mind that pulp magazines, all the go during WWII, had begun to decline as everyone went to slick paper. True West and Old West (another title we inherited with the purchase) were the last of the old titles to print on pulp. To their credit, the Oklahoma owners had made a couple weak stabs at converting to slick paper but every time they tried it (running a sample section on gloss paper) the readers put up a fuss and they meekly went back to the pulp. Instinctively, I knew that if we stayed on this path we would be out of business within the year. In addition to the paper, I felt the covers needed serious attention. We came out of the chute in January with a decent cover (see October 22 post), then hit a few ups and downs, but the worst, and the best were still to come.

For the July issue we went with our old mainstay, Billy the Kid:

It did quite respectable business on the newsstand although it must be said we don't get the verdict on these until about four months later when all the returns have come in and the the final tally is posted.

For August we went with John Wayne:

So so sales. This cover may have been too cute for its own good (or, as we like to say in production "too hip for the room.") I did a border painting for the September issue:

The sales for this issue were flat, but a new low, at least in taste, was reached with the next issue:

Our editor, Marcus Huff, had been doing an annual Halloween issue in Oklahoma and he was lobbying hard to do it again, assuring me that the readers loved it. I wasn't so sure, but thought if maybe we found a good photo it might work. This image came from an auction house and was a curiosity. Someone had obviously been goofing for the photo, probably got ashamed of being recognized and put a postage stamp over their head. That's just a guess, but whatever the reason, this cover tanked badly. I am still ribbed about it (see Gus Walker's snipe in yesterday's post), although Minnesota Mike Melrose thought it was a hoot. It's certainly a classic True West cover, although probably not for the reasons I would like. Ha.

For the November, 2000 issue I borrowed an original Maynard Dixon Apache Scout image from Greg and Abe Hays at their Western Art Gallery in Scottsdale:

One of my all-time favorite covers we have done, although I don't remember it doing great sales. Monday morning quarterbacks wondered if it was too murky and dark for effective newsstand sales. For the December issue we utitilized another painting of a Mountain Man:

Another decent effort, but the worst was yet to come. Much to the chagrine of one of my partners, I decided we needed to do a topless gunfighter. That scandalous image tomorrow.

"Laugh at yourself, but don't ever aim your doubt at yourself. Be bold. When you embark for strange places, don't leave any of yourself safely on shore. Have the nerve to go into unexplored territory."
—Alan Alda

Thursday, October 22, 2009

October 22, 2009
Ten years ago this month, Carole Glenn and I flew to Stillwater, Oklahoma to finish negotiations and preparations to move True West magazine to Arizona. And, we wanted to graft on our newly designed logo and cover art onto their January, 2000 issue. As I've stated before we wanted to own the new century and even though the sale wasn't quite finalized, the then owners of True West, the two Steves, agreed to allow us to graft on our cover to the issue they were putting to bed.

100 Covers: The Beginning

For the image, one of my partners, Robert McCubbin, offered up a never-before-published photograph of Buffalo Bill Cody. Dan Harshberger designed the new logo and created the cover design:

By November, the transition was complete and we were in our offices behind the Goatsucker Saloon in Cave Creek, Arizona and we were hard at work redesigning the entire magazine. For our second cover, I went to one of my neighbors, Cowboy Artist Roy Anderson, and picked out a striking Native American painting:

Our editor at that time, Marcus Huff, then suggested a cover featuring the actor Richard Farnsworth who had a movie coming out and he lived in Lincoln, New Mexico. It had been many years since True West had run an actor on the cover (many oldtimers were incensed with this cover and began to tell me that Joe Small, the founder, would be "spinning in his grave," but I went back and looked at old issues and found more than one. Selective memory is a problem we all face):

Really striking cover. Unfortunately, I told Marcus early on we needed to get an edge in True West and so Marcus insisted on asking as one of the questions we posed to Farnsworth: "What is the worst fart a horse has ever laid on you?" We didn't hear from Farnsworth for a week, so I called and apologized profusely. We still almost lost the interview. (Yes, I know, it's amazing we survived any of these stupid mistakes.)

For our next cover, I pulled out a small photo I had purchased in San Francisco from the Argonaut Bookstore for $200. It's of Lotta Crabtree, the famous actress, and she is smoking a cigar:

By this time we were finding our sea legs, and at the same time getting ready to publish another title we owned, which we renamed Old West Journal. That cover later.

In the meantime, for the May issue I illustrated an image of the original Walker, Texas Ranger:

We were losing money at this time to the tune of almost $30,000 a month. If only we could come up with a cover that would hit a home run and save us. What would that be? I know, how about a gang banger cover? Bob McCubbin had a photograph of a half-breed with gang designs that was shockingly contemporary:

It sank like a stone on the newsstand. We were starting to lose even more every month but it hadn't hit yet, because in the magazine business all of the decisions you make have consequences that come back to you in three to six months. This is a very scary place to be.

It would get even worse before it got better. We would lose our editor and have to start over. Those covers tomorrow.

"What a wonderful life I've had! 
I only wish I'd realized it sooner."