Speak the Truth but Ride a Fast Horse
An old saying goes, "Life is not about how fast you run or how high you climb, but how well you bounce." In the case of local artist, author, publisher, radio host, and one of our most beloved Arizona storytellers Bob Boze Bell (also known as Triple B or BBB) has done his fair share of bouncing.
Bob showed up in this life in December 1946 in Forest City, Iowa. Born with a solid drive to get attention, Bob began his performance career as a class clown during first-third grades in Sioux City, Iowa, where his father owned a Phillips 66 gas station and his mother practiced her patience with her "wild baby Bob." In 1956 the family moved to Kingman, Arizona, where his dad opened Al Bell's Flying A on Route 66. Bob occupied his free time playing right field for the Odd Fellow Yankees (Little League team) and earning tips icing jugs at his dad's gas station. About this time, young Bob discovered a television program about Wyatt Earp. To his surprise, his grandmother, Louise Guess Swafford, remarked, “The real Wyatt Earp was the biggest jerk that ever walked the West!" Bob knew his Grandma Swafford had credibility because she had lived on a ranch near Tombstone at the turn of the century. So, with a 'note to self,' Bob decided to get to the bottom of this discrepancy someday.
In Bob’s words, "I successfully graduated from Mohave County Union High School in 1965 with the class's valedictorian." About this time, the Boze in Bob Boze Bell became Triple B or BBB as he began a five-year career student path at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. The long game was to earn a degree in Commercial Art. Never to be one to allow schooling to interfere with his education, BBB left U of A in 1970, three units shy of a degree. By this time, BBB and his long-time friend, Daniel Harshberger, decided that Arizona needed a little humor, so they published the Razz Revue. Sixteen issues and four years later, the two were right where they started with no money; however, they had accumulated a bushel of experience in publishing. BBB then took his expertise in illustration and journalism to the New Times in Phoenix for the bargain salary of $110. a week. It wasn't long before Bob met and married his wife Kathy.
Mark Twain wrote, "All you need in life is ignorance and confidence, and success is sure." BBB, to this point, was doing quite well playing his chips on confidence; life was taking off. In 1980 Bob and Kathy welcomed daughter Deena, according to Bob, "A spitin' image of her mother." Not long after, Thomas came struttin' into the family to liven things up. In the meantime, BBB sold his cartoon creation Honkytonk Sue to Columbia Pictures.
He was on a roll, and shortly after, he won the Arizona Press Club's Cartoonist of the Year award, beating out the young upstart Steve Benson, a coup of astronomical proportions. Arizona Highways Editor, Don Dedera, took notice and scooped BBB for an assignment to create 14 small, black-and-white drawings to accompany an article on Prescott. Well, following the old cowboy saying, "We all got pieces of crazy in us; some have bigger pieces than others." BBB outdid himself by producing 30 illustrations, many in color and very large. The editor took them all, and BBB was on the illustration map. Following this success, BBB went to work for KSLX radio in Scottsdale on The Jones & Boze Show. "Speak your mind but ride a fast horse." is good advice for a Cowboy humorist; unfortunately, BBB's mount was not fast enough, and the radio career ended after eight years. At this point, BBB decided to focus on his publishing endeavors full-time.
"After all, it's about how you handle the ropes, the reins, the joy, the pain and manage to get back in the saddle."
BBB had been working on his first book, The Illustrated Life and Times of Billy the Kid, during the waning days of his radio career. Now self-published on borrowed time and money, BBB was on his way to fame and fortune! His second, self-published book, The Illustrated Life and Times of Wyatt Earp, sold out in 10 months resulting in second, third, and fourth revised editions selling out as well. While the hotcakes were flippin', BBB lassoed the opportunity to turn out The Illustrated Life and Times of Doc Holliday, the third hit in the trilogy. BBB continued his artistic success, his mantra, "Draw every day without hope, without despair."
He landed annual shows at Suzanne Brown’s Art Gallery in Scottsdale, two covers on Arizona Highways featuring paintings of Billy the Kid and Wyatt Earp, and several published articles on growing up on Route 66. Soon Hollywood was calling on BBB to create 40 illustrations for a Discovery Channel documentary, Outlaws & Lawmen. New York producers thought this was a great idea and ordered 40 illustrations for the TV documentary The War in Lincoln County with Billy the Kid. Two magazine covers followed: Wild West of Wild Bill Hickok and True West of Billy the Kid. BBB loves the process; he considers himself a student, not a master, always moving forward. The next, by no means final chapter in the saga of Bob Boze Bell, was the acquisition of "True West" magazine in November 1999. First published in 1953, "True West" is the oldest continuously published Western American magazine in the U.S. And a favorite read of the young BBB growing up. It's still published today with Bob Boze Bell as the Executive Editor. The magazine celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2023.
Since his last trilogy of books, BBB has published The Illustrated Life and Times of Wild Bill Hickok, 2017, The Illustrated Life and Times of Geronimo, 2018, and Hellraisers and Trailblazers: The Real Women of the Wild West, 2023. The last mentioned is co-authored with a well-known investigative reporter and Arizona author Jana Bommersbach. BBB describes it as "A total Pandemic Project done over text, email, and phone isolated in our respective adobes." At the end of this quarantine rodeo BBB thinks, "Through all the bucking, clashing, pacing, and yelling, he and Jana were able to wrangle out the best of the best women for profiles in this new book, and it wasn't easy!" "After all, it's about how you handle the ropes, the reins, the joy, the pain and manage to get back in the saddle."