Looking for Bill Barker (UPDATE: Found!)


Bill, where are you?

UPDATE: If you know where Bill is, please don't post his contact info here or anywhere publicly. But I would appreciate it if you could ask Bill to get in touch with me.

UPDATE: Gareth Branwyn says:

I talked to Bill! He actually goes by the name William now. He sounds really good. It was a little awkward at first, not having talked in over tens years, but we warmed up pretty quickly. He said he needed to take the time off, step out of the limelight for awhile. He doesn't have Internet on his ranch, so he's been somewhat out of touch with the online world. But the awesome news is that he's back doing art and he's working on a new book and website! He hopes to launch the site in September. He'll send Boing Boing more info as it's available. It was so great to hear his voice, I almost choked up. It's been way too long. (BTW: His friend David read Mark's post and the comments to Bill over the phone. He was touched by all of the memories of Schwa that people shared and the kind words about his art).


  1. Mark, you just brought my teenage driving years flooding back. I had a Schwa alien head sticker just like the cover of that paperback book on the back window of my 64 VW Bug. I haven’t heard anything about Bill in years.

    Every picture tells a lie!

  2. “According to its instructions, Schwa is a line of products designed to defend against intergalactic invaders”

    Aliens are afraid of the upside down letter e?

    (On a side note, how come there’s no schwa in ascii? I wanted to type one and I can’t.)

    (On another side note, you can trademark pronunciation symbols? I hereby claim e with a line over it!)

  3. What in the sam hell? So now that I’ve looked up any info I can find about this i am completely confused. Is Bill barker more missing than he was already?

  4. I just went through both of my Schwa books the other day. I second the motion.

    – anonymous stickperson

  5. Wow. Now I am completely overcome with schwastalagia. Thanks!

    Seriously, Schwa and alt.chrome.the.moon were pretty much the first time that the internet blew my mind. Bring that back please.

  6. I had schwa stickers all over my art school toolboxes. I think I wrote away for them from an address in Boing Boing the print zine. Sigh.

  7. It’s really strange that you posted this today. I thought of Schwa last night for the first time in years, for no apparent reason. Weird.

  8. I’d love to know too! I still have my Schwa Credit Card (#0076) which you could mail to him with a SASE to get free stuff (and the card back)! Sadly all my other Schwa stuff is long gone.

  9. I can type alt + 0399 for upper case schwa and alt + 0601 for lower case schwa in Word and it works. But here, I get  and Y.

  10. Crap in a hat. I can’t believe there were that many people out there that remember this. I stole an ex’s schwa stuff in a bad break up, she kept the band tees. I loved it, more than she loved me.

  11. I saw a Schwa standard sticker out in the world somewhere (don’t remember where exactly) for the first time in years just the other day… so it has been on my mind as well lately, was wondering whatever became of that.

  12. I still have the January page from the 1999 Countdown Calendar up on my wall. “Gravity is what makes work possible.”

    Maybe publisher Chronicle Books (SF, chronbooks.com) is still paying royalties and might be able to forward your message?

  13. Hope you find him.

    Schwa and Counter-Schwa helped make the final decade of the millennium interesting for my close friends and I.

    — MrJM

  14. ha ha, schwa. what a blast from the past. i might have to put on an altern8 record to celebrate.

  15. Schwa is an incredibly wonderful thing.

    Still use the keychain and have a travel box I can’t give up because it has some of my schwa stickers on it.

  16. Odd, just like many other commenters, I just suddenly had a flash of Schwa nostalgia last week and was wonder what Bill was up to now. Wonder why we’re all having Schwa flashbacks.

  17. As of 1995, he was in Reno, Nevada. I’m curious too. He’s really cool guy in an unassuming laid back, taking it all in kind of way. I had a “Assume This Phone Is Tapped” sticker on my landline until I ditched it. Bill? Where you at, cat?

  18. Oh, this really takes me back. I have the keychain, and the filing cabinet over in the corner, festooned in all sorts of stickers, has an Alien Detector on it.

    It has not gone off.


    I used Schwa stickers on holiday cards, that was a big hit. Sadly, some thought it was an X-Files reference.

  19. I haven’t touched my World Operations Manual in years, but the other day I happened to notice it was on the TOP of a pile of old stuff, some of which I know I’ve looked at recently.

    And how did the W.O.M. rise to the top of the pile?

    I suspect shenanigans.

  20. Heh. I still have a bunch of unused schwa stickers from one of the sticker packs.

    Often wonder what became of the people from the schwa email listserv I used to frequent.

  21. wow. i was thinking of schwa last week too! I didn’t have such a connection though – it was one of the first sites on the internet that made me go ‘wow!’ – Australia didn’t have a big schwa following to my knowledge.

  22. É™

    Thanks # 10, 11, 13, 18 and 27 :)

    I appear to have missed this Schwa(tm) phenomenon entirely, and it seems right down my ally.

    Time to do some research!

  23. I’m glad you put this call out, Mark.

    I loved Bill and really miss him. He’s an awesome guy and a great artist.

    The last I remember, he’d fallen in love and (if I recall correctly) was going to move from Reno with his girlfriend (to Arizona?). He was going to stop doing the Schwa business — I think he may even have sold it, or parts of it. My memory of it all is fuzzy. I do remember that he was happy.

    I’d like to think he’s off in the mountains someplace, happy, healthy, in love (and not looking over his shoulder anymore in fear of almond-eye aliens).

  24. @Nosehat

    Oh man, you’re in for a treat. Seriously psycho-active art and psycho-cultural commentary. Dosed with lots of clever, perverse humor.

    I still have some Schwa stickers around my house and I covet my Schwa collection. And I have a silver Schwa pin on my jeans jacket. One sticker I especially love:

    “In the future, everything will work”

    If that doesn’t sum up the mentality of 95% of futurism and techno-optimism, I don’t know what does.

  25. I only have one book, (W.O.M.), but I want him to return so the other books will come back in print at a reasonable price. I’ll give you money, Bill!

  26. I don’t know where he is, but I’m pretty sure I have an extensive set of Schwas, a binder full, around here somewhere.

    Hope you find him, good stuff.

  27. Wow, one of those things you think you’ll never run into again in your entire life.

    I picked up some of this stuff as a young lad when I visited some family in Oakland. I would always take a trip to Dr. Comics and Mr. Games when I was up there.

    I lost, or someone stole my alien detector card ages ago in 6th or 7th grade, and I think longingly of it whenever it crosses my mind.

    Never thought I’d figure out what the hell it was, thank you boingboing.

  28. another case of thinking of schwa in the last few days. i was drawing a black alien with white eyes and thought ‘oh it’s an inverted schwa..’

    hail eris she so fine

  29. Schwa flashback leads to searching the internet, followed two days later by this. Yup, me too. Spooky warnings from Central Coincidence Control, or just plain statistical randomness? You decide.

    I’ve had a Schwa “Stay Awake” sticker on the back of my M/Cs for over 10 years now and it’s getting worn out. So never mind the copyrights, can we please get some more Schwa merchandise made up?

  30. Schwa (30-second spec spots

    “These are ads Meinert Hansen directed and animated, based on Bill Barker’s ingenious Schwa Corporation, which had a small cult following in the mid-90’s. Between Bill Barker and myself, we were to create 50 of these spots for MTV, but the deal unfortunately fell through. This was animated pre-Flash days, using a D-1 editing suite at Buzz to move the levels around. Today it would be so quick to make this kind of animation.
    Where is Schwa or Bill Barker these days?”

    Schwa (30-second spec spots) from Meinert Hansen on Vimeo.


  31. Warm summer Friday night, top down sports car, smoking a stogie, blasting “Bat Out Of Hell” @ 200 watts on a serpentine hiway, lovely gal beside me… I ain’t a rich guy, but no amount of money could make that any better. Life is good.
    Didn’t see Bill Barker tho…

  32. Bill stopped making/selling it. (I was part of Fringeware, the impact was…. quite noticeable.)

  33. No surprise, another schwa fanatic. in fact, the only game i have ever written is WAKEUP, a text-adventure based on the flowchart which i use to test up-ness, access restriction, & other functionality on new website installs. it started out as plain html, moved to cgi(perl) and now exists in php. i actuall emailed barker a tarball of the original, he responded, saying he had no idea what to do with the thing, but thanks!

    discovered schwa when i was contemplating applying to the name-witheld University (where I worked as a lowly sysadmin) Master of Arts in Liberal Studies, course of study on Conspiracy Theory. This would have made me a Master of Conspiracy Studies.

    decided to work for an evil overlord on his remote island fortress instead, both for the adventure and the pay. damn, the parties he held on that yacht were legend.

  34. Still have my Schwa Xenon Alien Detector shirt (it glows in the dark). And my credit card. Mark, you could try the address on the card (I’d assume this info is public, since the card is “transferrable!”):

    Box 6064
    Reno NV 89513

    Just found my Alien Defense Pak containing: 1995 Lunar Calendar, “What is Schwa?” pamphlet/catalog. a couple stickers, a bookmark, Schwa envelope for orders or personal use, poster/catalog. Brings me back to the days of Archie, Veronica, whois, ftp, and trying to find *anything* about aliens, conspiracies, and (not too) Happy Mutants like Bill Cooper and (Happy Mutant) Glenn Campbell (not the C & W singer). By the way, there still seems to be a lot of Country Music (although it sounds a lot like 80s hair band ballads), but where the heck is the Western?

  35. ahhhh….i too had just thought of schwa the other day. back in the late 90’s i was a supplier at a german auto manufacturing plant and i had schwa stuff all over my office. it drove the higher-ups there nuts and that made my time there almost palatable…sigh…

  36. Bunny@39,

    According to Wikipedia, “the post office box he had used for years now returns his mail unread.”


    — MrJM

    his work was one of the more outstanding facets of the Church of the Subgenius psychopathologicontrarianism, partic. as exemplified in the C.of S. “revelation X” book

    – the Rev. Anonymous Squash

  38. To include special characters in an HTML page, you need to type their escape codes. The escape code for É™ is:

  39. Wow!!!

    I miss Schwa too…

    Hope you find him and he’s allright. It might be a “Wormy” thing, an awesome cartoon from Dragon Magazine that just died ’cause the artist lost interest completely.

  40. Wow, some people just can NOT fucking follow instructions. You’d think that I’d be used to this, working in tech support, but it always amazes me.

  41. OP 0: If you know where Bill is, please don’t post his contact info here or anywhere publicly.

    FreakCitySF 50: [Bill’s contact info, albeit old]


  42. Troof, male Witches (at least the Wiccan kind, like me) are called…Witches. ‘Warlock’ means “oathbreaker” and is a pretty serious accusation to make against a Wiccan. Since my oath is intact (despite that causing me some serious pain on more than one occasion), it doesn’t really apply to me.

    A word to the wise. I still like you and everything.

    (How a term that means “oathbreaker” came to be applied colloquially to men exclusively is left as an exercise for the reader.)

  43. xopher@50 – i had a friend who did some telephone support, and one day he could NOT get the complaining party to type an upcase ‘O’, but insisted on using a zed ‘0’. it was some sort of typing shortcut…

    xopher@51 – unless this is some sort of intelligence test then posting that old NV letter drop seems harmless, though it certainly does ignore MF’s request. are you worried that the schwa corporation agents will abduct barker?

    xopher@53 – so, i dont see what any of this has to do with wiki?

  44. There’s definitely an alien vibe in the air these days. Maybe it’s the moon landing anniversary or perhaps a return to the ’90s. I will dig up my alien detector lapel pin in honor of Schwa.

    Come to think of it, whatever happened to those lovely Heavens Gate people?

  45. Sorry Xoph- Who knew?. I hope you know I’m not knocking your beliefs, or anyones’. I believe that a person does not DESERVE a right- any right- until he grants that right to everyone else.
    But that’s just me.

  46. Mr Brown, MF’s request is what I was talking about, in both my current 50 and 51. Shouldn’t that be enough? As for 53, Troof used the word ‘warlock’ in reference to me, so I explained.

    Troof, no hard feelings at all, and I didn’t expect you to know. That’s why “a word to the wise.”

  47. Xopher, I think maybe it was that “Bell, Book And Candles” play/movie. That’s the first time I heard “warlock” used. I remember thinking That’s a really neat word. But since I firmly believe in calling a person what s/he wants to be called, I shall give up using it when referring to a male witch.

    Unless I have reason to believe he’s an oath-breaker

  48. Old address, what’s wrong with that, might help someone search :) and that new company Is public info? they might have some clues.

    1. We don’t allow contact info in comments unless I can verify that the contactee wants it published, which is pretty much a euphemism for never. For example, when commenters include their e-mail addresses, I have no way to know that it isn’t the e-mail for their ex-girlfriend who they’re pissed off at.

  49. Female oathbreakers are called warlocks too…in modern Wicca. By most people. There is nothing in Wicca that is universally agreed upon, because Wicca has no required beliefs.

  50. Freakcity, you were asked not to by one of the owners of this blog. That should have been enough.

  51. That link by Lizard Man up @57 was a very interesting blog. I’ve known people who called themselves warlocks, but I don’t recall any saying they were wiccan.
    So Xopher, is there a particular document or book that is most highly regarded by wiccan folk? Not as ‘gospel’ per se, but as a general guide of sorts?

  52. Troofseeker, there are many, many books, but we are very explicitly and deliberately NOT “people of the book.” When a religion is codified in writing, textual literalism can set in; in addition, it makes it harder for the religion to change with the times.

    There are very few sacred scriptures in Wicca, and they’re all of relatively recent origin, and more poetic than anything. And again, whether any of them is to be considered sacred scripture is up to each Wiccan to decide. Whether a text is a “sacred scripture of Wicca” depends on how widely it’s accepted.

    But while this may be interesting (up to each person reading to decide!), it’s way off-topic for this thread.

  53. Xopher – where is it written that you are ‘very explicitly and deliberately NOT “people of the book.”‘?

  54. Moderator: Yah, OK, but the pobox is published, i have it in books, stickers, etc. i see your principled point, no contacts in comments. but the link MF included in his posting ends with:


    which puts the contact in the article, so how can he beg no contacts? whats the difference in a link and the text of the link?

    nobody (well, me) would defend putting “his” current contact info, a guy who obviously wants no more part of the schwa thingy. wiki has it and more published, so thats it for the wikians.

    –you are what you see.

  55. What a nostalgia trip!… back when Wired was 400 pages every month and kids wore those cat-in-the-hat hats.

  56. SCHWA: is there any meaning to the word? Does it stand for something, like SETI does, or just something else that Barker made up?
    Anybody know?
    I certainly remember seeing this alien face, mostly in the rear window of Volkswagon vans. I just assumed they were aliens in human disguises, hoping to hook up with life forms with similar interests (and maybe hoping to get the frick out of here!)

  57. By the time schwa came along I was already an apostate subgenius and therefore immune. Gotta love the art, tho…

  58. I hope you find him! I remember Schwa (and abducted) very fondly. Truly brilliant stuff.

  59. Bought the T-shirts out of Fortean Times, the Books from dusty old second hand bookshops. I lost my beanie. The website freaked me out.

    I even wrote to the guy, never received a reply.

    Like many of you I get excited when I see Schwa about, like affirmation of secret knowledge.

    Like a vaguely remembered dream (or, if you are a stickman, nightmare) come true.

  60. I clicked through to the story expecting crickets chirping in the comments section. Nice to see so many other people with fond memories of the schwa corporation.

    I would say it influenced me as a teenager quite a bit.

  61. we have had the slogan “every picture tells a lie!” taped to the top of our various TV screens for a decade or more. it’s a nice reminder sometimes.

    ps, hello to bill from reno, wherever you are.

  62. In case anyone is interested, a splinter of the original mailing list from the mid-nineties still exists. I’ve been maintaining it for the ten years or so.

    You can find it now at abducted@googlegroups.com, though I’ve created an alias for it at “abducted@dumb.org.”

    Anyone interested in rejoining the fold is more than welcome.


    I’m glad you guys found the artist without bugging him out. BoingBoing just got bonus points in my book.

  64. Wow, synchronicity. I am today wearing my schwa “unused brain power is being used for testing” t-shirt.


  65. Troofseeker,

    Church of
    Wishes and

    Society for

  66. Well if Dave reads him the comments over the phone again, tell him I’d love to see reprints of his books, stickers and shirts. Especially the stickers, I’d buy them by the gross.

    I just bought both books through amazon, unfortunately only one came as advertised albeit with “AMAZON” stamped inside on the coverpage illustration. Idiots.

    Any loved this stuff when I was in Reno and about fell out of my chair when I saw it here on boingboing.

    I can’t wait to see what he’s done lately.

  67. Greetings SCHWA fans!

    Great news, William’s new website is currently in beta testing (teams of experts are working day and night to bring you the finest quality schwa this side of the galaxy)!!!

    There will be new drawings, new products and a fresh new slogan:
    It will drive you sane. (sm)

    Don’t tell anyone, but a preview of the original Schwa, Schwatown Midway and Scanwave sites can be seen at: http://www.totalmediablackout.com/schwa

    TotalMediaBlackout has also started auctioning vintage Schwa merchandise on eBay. Check out: http://myworld.ebay.com/totalmediablackout

    You may also contact William at: william@totalmediablackout.com or me at: david@totalmediablackout.com

    Just don’t tell anyone…


  68. i asked Bill to sponsor my alien themed rock band from texas called The Caserol. He sent Me a ton of cool stuff. looking forward to the new website. thanks for the update, cheers. ~Vlern

  69. While filming the first 5 seasons of X-Files the tv series, here in Vancouver BC we had three 8×10 sized SCHWA head sticker affixed to one of our film unit vehicles.

    oh the memories.

  70. In all sincerity I met him this week and know where he is, I thought he was a crazy homeless dude until I started looking in it.

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