The Creation of the NormHead Avatar


This is one of those stories that may bore you to tears but I do get asked about this from time to time.

My avatar. The “norm head” drawing, cartoon, silhouette, of the hat, beard feather and glasses that I post just about everywhere. “Avatar” is defined thusly:

“In computing, an avatar is the graphical representation of the user or the user’s alter ego or character.”

Mine came about in this way…

I was reading a book by the cartoonist Bill Mauldin. He achieved fame, actually won a Pulitzer Prize by drawing black and white cartoons for the military “Stars and Stripes newspaper during WWII. His works were usually about two war weary GI’s “Willie and Joe,” tired, unshaven and irreverent.

In any case, as Bill described his venture into cartooning he made specific reference to a certain brush he used. It was a Winsor-Newton Series 7 #2. He said it was a standard tool used by all the cartoonists of the day.

At the time I read the book I was making my own forays into art. Water colors. I eventually did a lot of paintings of women and called them “Paper Dolls” after that old Mills Brothers song.

What was so special about those brushes? Well, what it was that they would “point” when you loaded them with ink or color and gave a snap of the wrist or a tap on your rinse tank. This tendency to come to a point allowed the artist to control the shape of his line from straight and thin to a taper or swelling in the line. If you look closely at some of the lines drawn by the great pre-computer cartoonists you’ll see what I mean.

So I went and bought one. Relatively expensive for a brush that almost looks like the one you got in your tin watercolor kit as a kid.

I took the thing home, opened my black ink bottle and tried to think of a way to test my new brush. So I just did a quick self portrait. It couldn’t have taken more than thirty seconds. It covers and area about six inches square. This was in December of ’85.

I liked it. It was a lucky shot that came out well.

Just about that time I had decided to change banks. I asked the check lady if I could put my own logo on my personal check. She actually sort of sidestepped it. “It will cost you extra.”
“How much?”
“Twenty five dollars.” And you have to have camera ready artwork.

A piece of cake! Off I went to the Xerox machine with my self-portrait and made a copy and brought it to her.
“Oh!” she said, “It looks just Like you!”

So, there it was! I had it on my checks! Heeee…! It looked Great! I have since changed banks three times and oddly, they always made a fuss about having the checks done that way but when I told them I would take my money elsewhere if they didn’t allow it the barricades fell.

Some time later I spent a bit of money and had stickers made of it about the size of a five cent piece. I used those as property markers and around 2010 had “norm head” pins made to pass out. Those have been Great Fun and it is a warm feeling to know that people actually asked for them.

Of course I used the avatar, as it was defined earlier, in just about any application computer-wise. Any chat boards I belong to that allow avatars has the now nearly trade-mark like norm head avatar. I figured out how to make my computer include it in a return address form on the left end of my envelopes too. I even had one put on a coffee mug! Fun!

My beard is a lot whiter now but it still looks like me in profile. That little quick test sketch with the Winsor-Newton Series 7 #2 brush in 1985 has stood me in good stead over the years.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it…