Bob Boze Bell

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His artwork has appeared in comic books and history books; on beer cans, in newspapers, and even on TV. He’s painted the west with his colorful commentary and striking illustrations of history’s most notorious outlaws and legendary lawmen. We’ll take a look at the art and career of Bob Boze Bell, Executive Editor of True West Magazine.

Ted Simons: On tonight's "Arizona Artbeat," we enter the wild west world of Bob Boze Bell. Born in Iowa, raised in kingman, he's now the executive editor of "True West Magazine." Along the way he's been a radio personality, a cartoonist, an author, a painter, historian. His artwork has appeared in comic books and history books, on beer cans, in newspapers, even on TV. He's depicted the west with colorful commentary and striking illustrations of history's most notorious outlaw and legendary lawmen. Fresh now from his home base in Cave Creek, Arizona, here he is, Mr. Bob Boze Bell. Good to see you Bob, thanks for joining us.

Bob Boze Bell: It's great to be here. Thank you.

Ted Simons: What do you -- we've mentioned all the things you've done. I don't even want to say dabbled, because you've done all these things --

Bob Boze Bell: I think dabbled is good. There's an old saying, he who sips from many cups drinks of none. And I think I'm guilty of that. But I really think I'm a cartoonist. That's where I started, and I was at "New Times" for 10 years, and I really everything that I do is an outgrowth of that. Even my stint on radio was cartoon's audio.

Ted Simons: What -- I want to ask you first of all, go back to as a kid, what inspired to you draw? Were you the kid, first and second grade, we're all drawing stick men and they can draw a cat really well. Was that you?

Bob Boze Bell: Yes. And I was the kid whose mother would do anything for me and my father was Norwegian and Stowick and wouldn't smile. But if I give him a drawing that was god enough and he always told the story that I -- by the time I was 3 I was drawing trains better than him and correcting it, he tells me that, I don't remember this, but they said I was always drawing and trying to get his attention.

Ted Simons: That's a key factor. But when did you know that you didn't just draw well, you drew really well, and could you make a life out of this?

Bob Boze Bell: It was about two days ago. Drawing is such an arduous master. You're always trying to get better, and it's relentless. And I woke up today, I was sending my stuff down here for you, and I go, I can't send any of this. It's crap.

Ted Simons: Oh, boy. Still going through that?

Bob Boze Bell: Yeah. I'm 64, but you'd think you'd grow out of that at 12 or 13. But no, I never have.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about artistic influences, when you were first starting, artistic influences now, give us some names.

Bob Boze Bell: I've always - in cartooning I was a mad magazine nut. I graduated to national Lampoon. The editorial cartoonist Oliphant, guys like that I loved them. Then I graduated to Charlie Russell and went to Frederick Remington, and I have illustrators that I absolutely love, and that's pretty much the list.

Ted Simons: We're looking at your work right now, and obvious connection with the west, there's action, there's movement, again, were these things you developed, or were these things as a seventh grader you were noodling and doodling on your note pad.

Bob Boze Bell: I was drawing scenes just like this as early as third grade. And I would do these gun fights in the rain, and they were -- and it would take -- it was -- I was really obsessed with it, and it's kind of amazing to wake up, you know, 50 years later and, go I'm doing the same thing. But I still have the passion for it. That's the key. If it was boring me or somehow I had mastered it, I probably wouldn't be that --

Ted Simons: Are you OK with being considered a western artist?

Bob Boze Bell: Oh, absolutely. I'm proud of it.

Ted Simons: But -- some folks like to think there's a Monet in there somewhere for me. Are you along those lines?

Bob Boze Bell: I admire Monet, in fact I'm a huge fan of Toulouse Lautrec, and those French guys were fantastic. In fact I was just in France in October, I have a publisher who wants to publish my Wyatt Earp book in French. My wife and I made an excuse to go, and he took us up into the Mount Mart where there's the artist area, and he said Toulouse Lautrec studio is right there. And I go right there across the street? I had this hat on, and I got down on the street, that's his studio right there? So, yeah, I can go with the French guys. I like their sense of humor. When they were doing that, they were really considered immoral and ridiculous, and now you see their stuff in dentist offices.

Ted Simons: We're look at your true west covers, and obviously there is that western influence. Describe the process, the artistic process. Do you see a model, do you see an illustration, a photograph? Does it complete completely from your imagination mix of all three, what goes on here?

Bob Boze Bell: Well I do a serious clipping. I have a clipping morgue that I'll read the "Arizona Republic" every day. If I see a scene like last week there was a picture in one of the bowl games, of a guy jumping over a tackler, and his knee was back, and his arm was forward, I said, that's going to be great to put that in my character of Mickey free and make it 1880 and he's jumping over an Apache. So I keep that in my file. I also do six drawings a day no matter what, and I try to emulate inspirations. Yesterday I did a landscape from a picture I took at the Moab in 1984. Just found the picture and I said that's great.

Ted Simons: So it's not the situation where you sit down and it just comes flowing from a tablet -- or can that happen as well, do you do that as well?

Bob Boze Bell: I think what I'm trying to say is, you have a variety of attacks. You've got to have different ways to get off the starting block and I've probably got six or seven. And they don't always work. There will be times when I just fail miserably, and with every single thing, and I've got to start over.

Ted Simons: Are there times when you've sketched something, you can figure, I'm going to make a cartoon, a lining something along those lines and you go, oh, no, I got to get some color to this, this could be something really special.

Bob Boze Bell: Well, there's an old saying, every artists should have two artist, there should be two. One person to paint or draw and the second person to stand him them with a hammer and go, stop! Stop! Because I have ruined -- I have a failure pile.

Ted Simons: I wanted to ask you about that. You kind of subscribe to the idea that you have to go through a whole lot of bad before you can get to good.

Bob Boze Bell: I have a cartoonist friend from Canada, Dave Sim is his name, and he said -- he said laid down the challenge that every artist has 10,000 bad drawings in them. And that haunted me. And I thought, you know, I bet that's true, and one day I woke up about three years ago and I said, you know what? I want to get these drawings out of my system, and I'm going to do six drawings a day. Until I get to the 10,000.

Ted Simons: But what happens if number five out of six is fantastic, and you've got -- I guess you've good drawing.

Bob Boze Bell: One of the biggest lessons I got out of it, I call it loosey goosy. One of the first things that kills art is when somebody says this -- this is going to be the best drawing. And they kill it they strangle it. Like cutting the oxygen off. So one of the things doing six drawings a day does is you're just loose as a goose. And I didn't show this to you, but there's some pages that are pretty bad.

Ted Simons: We saw you going through pages, they look pretty good, I'm thinking where's the bad stuff?

Bob Boze Bell: I showed you the good ones.

Ted Simons: The guy with the hammer behind you? When you do six a day, you don't really care that much.

Bob Boze Bell: That's right. And there's many times that I've just done them loosely and come back to them in the next day, and said, I can't believe I did that. Not often.

Ted Simons: I -- your work at "New Times" back in the day was edgy, it was political, it had a social input to it. Did you ever consider being a full-time political cartoonist?

Bob Boze Bell: I often -- what I really wanted to do, I was trying to do "Saturday Night Live" on paper. That was my goal. And I had a chance to work for National Lampoon and did not -- I was not picked. They picked someone else. So I was -- had to work here, and I -- new times, they believed in me and gave me two pages when nobody else would even give me a page. And so I have a lot to thank.

Ted Simons: You mentioned Oliphant too. Had you that in mind, but still did--

Bob Boze Bell: My own thing.

Ted Simons: Yeah. A difference as opposed to a daily grind.

Bob Boze Bell: I'm all about stories of the west. I love the west.

Ted Simons: Talk to us about that because you're a kid in Iowa, you came out here, you were what 10 years old when you came out her?

Bob Boze Bell: I was nine-ish, yeah.

Ted Simons: Fascinated by the west and still are. Why the fascination, what's going on?

Bob Boze Bell: My grandmother was from a ranching family. My father's family was from Iowa and my mother's family was from Arizona. And they were ranchers. I grew up to stay at my grandmother's house and she would tell us how we were related to outlaws. And this drove my mother crazy. And so she lit the fire. My grandma was -- she is the one who made me just crazy about the west. I still am.

Ted Simons: Can you still be -- you are famous for calling Scottsdale the west's most Midwestern town, and that was 20 years ago. Things have changed everywhere. We're going through a rough time right now in Arizona. Talk to us about how Arizona has changed over the years.

Bob Boze Bell: You know, there's an old saying, for everything you gain you lose something. For everything you lose you gain something. And we've lost a sense of community that was small town community, and I heard that in the Tucson stories over and over again, I believe the sheriff says this is not the town we grew up in. And I can certainly relate to that. I feel that way all across Arizona. And you know, there's an urban core that goes all the way, it goes from Chino valley to Sierra Vista, and there's only 11 miles that's not slated for development. That's pretty scary. It is to me. It was wonderful when you used to be able to drive to Kingman and you'd get out beyond Wickenberg and there was nothing. Nothing. And I loved that. Some people hated that. But I loved that. And now you go five miles and there's a trailer house. And that's only going to get worse. So that's what we've lost. What we've gained is, some of the best Mexican food in the world, and I going down and see a French movie down at the Camelview 5 and go back out to Cave Creek and escape from the beast. But that's the good news. So there's many things we've gotten. We're much more sophisticated now than we were and that's a good thing.

Ted Simons: I would imagine, real quickly, you can't imagine living anywhere else.

Bob Boze Bell: I love Arizona and they say work is only work if you'd rather be somewhere else, and I'm right where I want to be.

Ted Simons: Well and you do great work Bob. Thank you so much for joining us we appreciate it.

Bob Boze Bell: My pleasure.

Bob Boze Bell

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