Yes, the rumors are true. I invented the (in)famous Nobozos image you see above. Over the years, people have asked me for the story behind how this came about. As an exercise in blogging, I thought I’d write it all down here, once and for all.
If you were around in the 1960s, you might have heard (of) the Firesign Theater. They were a group of performers who recorded several albums of stream of consciousness-like ramblings and rants. One of their sayings was “We’re all Bozos on this bus”. Very funny. For some reason, this saying stuck in my mind.
In the 1970s, I made several trips to Europe. One of the first things I noticed was the preponderance of signs containing an image surrounded by a circle with a line through it. The idea was that such things were trying to explain that whatever the image was, it wasn’t allowed. Cars, cigarettes, and swimsuit tops often appeared in these images. For some reason, these images also stuck in my head. At some point, I connected the “Bozos” saying with the image style I had seen in Europe, and the Nobozos image was born. Unfortunately, since I can’t draw, this image was held prisoner in my brain.
In fact, it was still in my brain in the early 1980s when a fortuitous sequence of events happened. I had a friend, Ed, who worked at a place where a graphics person, Kristi, also worked. One day I mentioned the Nobozos idea to Ed who thought it was pretty darn clever. He, in turn, mentioned it to Kristi, who also recognized its brilliance. Unlike me, Kristi was a good artist. So good that she was able to quickly draw the world’s first Nobozos image. Then, another person where Ed worked, Howard, saw the Nobozos image and instantly recognized its tremendous commercial potential. Howard was the kind of guy who liked to put together companies and promote them so he contacted me and proposed that we try to make some money from the image. How could I say no?
The main obstacle was in getting clearance from the holder of the “Bozo” clown image, which was Larry Harmon. Howard did all the negotiating and managed to work something out. As I remember, Larry Harmon got more out of the deal than Howard, Kristi, and I did all together. Howard and Kristi found a printing company to produce a Nobozos sticker in several sizes and shapes. I’ll always remember when I got my first box of stickers. I was at UC Santa Barbara at the time and I did a good job handing them out. There was even a Nobozos Hall in one of the dormitories on campus. (I had nothing to do with creating it and I was very surprised when I saw it).
As a good promoter, Howard was able to generate lots of publicity for Nobozos. There was a time when I was interviewed regularly by radio stations and newspapers. It seemed like each one asked the same question, which was “what’s a Bozo?”. The highlight was a big mention in Playboy Magazine.
Again, I don’t remember all the details, but the stickers sold fairly well. Being young, lazy, and naive, I didn’t want to wait very long to start seeing my share of the money. So, I made Howard and Kristie a deal – in exchange for an amount of money I no longer recall, I’d give up my share in the partnership. They agreed and paid me a lump sum. I used this money to buy a hot tub. I was planning on getting the Nobozos image silk screened in the hot tub but I never did. I should have.
That’s most of the story. After a while the Nobozos image lost its popularity. Maybe this was because a whole bunch of other emblems with similar designs started appearing. I don’t know. I do know that they had a resurgence when Eddie Van Halen and Steve Wozniak were photographed wearing Nobozos tee shirts.
As far as I know, any Nobozos products you see now are bootlegs. I’ve seen the stickers for sale in various places but they aren’t the official ones. (There’s an easy way to recognize the real ones but I’m going to keep that a secret for now). I don’t really mind seeing them. In fact, in makes me feel good. About 10 years after starting the company with Howard and Kristi, I contacted Howard to see if he had any interest in re-releasing them but he was onto bigger and better things. I haven’t talked to either of them in probably 30 years. Plus, now that Larry Harmon is dead, I don’t know what would be required to do it again.
Every now and then somebody asks me about the story behind Nobozos. Now you know.
Microsoft’s Channel9 tempts me by telling me that if I only click on that little “Watch” button I’ll be rewarded by hearing a few intelligent well chosen words. Well, maybe the people being interviewed are intelligent, but the interviewers, whether Scoble or the new guy, are barely coherent. Do they ever listen to themselves? It’s gotten beyond painful to listen to most of the interviews. Just try the one with Mark Russinovich and see how long you last. Whatever happened to asking a single question and waiting for the answer? Plus, if you don’t understand something, don’t pretend like you do. And if I hear someone say “very cool” again I think I’m going to hurl.
I don’t like to listen to people talking about the Internet, but not for the usual reasons. What bothers me is that it all starts to sound the same. “blog”, “www”, … over and over again, like a big echo chamber. So, I’ve chosen not to pronounce these words like everybody else. For me, “blog” is “b log”, “www” is “wa wa wa”, and so on. You get the idea. I’m sure there are other, maybe better, examples. So, like they say in Rap concerts, “let’s make some noise out there” but let’s do it a little differently.