Last Friday I had an opportunity to see a screening of Who is Bozo Texino? a beautiful black and white film by Bill Daniels (watch the trailer). Made over 16 years during Daniels’ sporadic boxcar riding (or train hopping) adventures across North America, the film focuses on the men (vagabonds, hobos, nomads, pick a name) who live (or once lived) this increasingly difficult life. Most pointedly, the film focuses on the marks they leave on train cars in chalk or paint pen.
Its hard to sum up the experience of watching this film as a graphic designer, faux-outdoorsman and wannabe adventurer. It was a mix of jealousy, awe and inspiration to be sure. I wielded a spraypaint can in my youth and admittedly came to know train marking only through the great artists of the early 2000s like Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen.
To see these old-timers make coffee in a boxcar, leer our the door to watch the American horizon pass by and decide so definitively on a moniker they may tag for decades is a meditation on our modern design world. The film introduces us to legends of rail marking (Herby, Colossus of Roads, the Rambler and eventually Bozo Texino himself) and describes the hobo lifestyle, all while keeping that code of secrecy that is shared by the likes of modern graffiti artists, surfers and adventurers alike.
Enough adventure to inspire anyone who has hopped out of town without a destination in mind and enough images of mark making that will be immediately understood by anyone who’s written boldly on a wall. Daniels sells the DVD on his site and there’s also an incredible book that goes even deeper into hobo graffiti culture called Mostly True, designed by Fogelson Lubliner.