Bob Boze Bell wears many hats, most of them cowboy.
The longtime Arizona resident has worked as an artist and author, contributing work for big screen productions as well as publications including National Lampoon, Playboy, Arizona Highways, and New Times. This is in addition to serving as a publisher and co-owner of True West Magazine.
Despite being called everything from author to historian, Bell considers himself only one thing. "I'm just a cartoonist with a passion for the Wild West."
Even before moving to Kingman, Arizona, from Swea City, Iowa, in 1956, Bell, like many children of the Atomic Age, was obsessed with all things western.
"Ever since my grandma said Wyatt Earp was the biggest jerk whoever walked the Wild West and Wyatt Earp was my favorite TV show. . . That really kind of launched me on a journey to find out the truth about the Wild West that's portrayed in television and movies."
In his 60-plus years of living in Arizona, Bell has witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly of what he describes as "a crazy damn state." He jokes, "The middle two letters of crazy are 'AZ.'"
But the Grand Canyon State's wacky ways have worked in this cartoonist's favor, and coming this November, the Tempe Historical Society will host an exhibition of Bell's portfolio. "201 Zany Zonies: The Irreverent Works of Bob Boze Bell" will be on view Sunday, November 23, through Sunday, March 1, at the Arizona Historical Society (AHS) Museum at Papago Park depicting Arizona's most colorful personalities and politicians, from Goldwater to Geronimo.
The solo show will focus primarily on original works from the 1970s and '80s, or what Bell describes as his "younger, edgier days," and will include a small selection of some of his most controversial illustrations, such as a cartoon depicting Terry Goddard and Margaret Hance choking each other.
The cartoon, which ran as part of a New Times' Best Of edition in the 80s, enraged local protesters who then kidnapped hundreds of copes of that issue Times copies and requested that Bell be terminated as a result (he wasn't).
"I never dreamed that would be the controversial one and that's sort of the story of my career," he says. "I'm always pushing the envelope and the ones that get me are the ones that I thought were kind of medium."
But it's not just the politicians who have kept Bell busy. He's also witnessed the evolution of cowboy culture and Southwest Americana, which he says is ironically thriving. "People talking about the dying of the West, the disappearing of the West. . . It's too big, it's multifaceted. It's too simplistic of a concept and it's not true."
Bell explores this topic in his new book, The 66 Kid, which he'll be signing at 7 p.m. on Sunday, November 1, at Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix. Admission to the book signing is free. General admission to the AHS museum including "201 Zany Zonies" is $5. For more information about Bell's book signing visit www.changinghandsbookstore.com, and for details on his upcoming show, visit www.arizonahistoricalsociety.org.
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