What ever happened to Schwa? And Bill Barker?

Schwa – the underground artwork hit in the 1990’s, consisted of simple black and white stick figurish alien drawings. Invented by Bill Barker , the aliens rather symbolized a metaphor for unknown and strange ideas than extraterrestrial lifeforms.

schwa_world_operations_manual.jpg
In linguistics, a schwa is an unstressed and toneless neutral vowel sound in any language, often but not necessarily a mid-central vowel (rounded or unrounded). Such vowels are often transcribed with the symbol ə, regardless of their actual phonetic value. An example in English is the i in levitate.
Barker however, used Schwa as a psyeudonym, a fictitious omnipresent corporation, a religion, or if you want a resistance movement against corporate conspiracies and aliens. Often it’s a combination of all four at once.
It all began in 1992. Barker, a former advertising art director, was looking for a simple yet powerful and remarkable way to express himself.
He was given a copy of ‘The Secret Government’ , a conspiracy book that tells of aliens controlling the government.
Barker started selling stickers, necklaces and his first book, ə, directly to consumers by mail order. Schwa cartoons also appeared in various magazines and newspapers.
Although Barker might not have been the first person to conceive of the ovoid alien face, his version quickly became the best-known. His book was an underground hit, and received praise from Terry Gilliam, Ivan Stang, and Noam Chomsky. He bundled the book along with several trinkets as the Complete Schwa Kit, put out another book with trinkets as Complete Counter-Schwa Kit. Eventually his popularity led to a book deal with Chronicle Books, and in 1997 he published Schwa: World Operations Manual  a reference manual for world control that included postcards, stickers, warranties, contracts, and charts.
Barker also created and ran a (now defunct) labyrinthine website early in the days of the browser-based internet. He described it as “an experiment in building an online science fiction environment in HTML.” Instead of simply showcasing his printed artwork, the website became another medium for Schwa fans to explore.
Barker teamed up with AOL to create an odd online game exclusively for AOL members. He worked with the now defunct Orbital Studios to create a game about conspiracies, corporations, and aliens. The initial instructions set the tone of the game:
“Don’t follow instructions. Suspect instructions. They are something to be wary of.”
The player was a stick figure right in the middle of the darkened and conspiratorial world of Schwa. The player worked their way up the pyramid by collecting power through media, corporations, government, and labor, to eventually dominate the world.
The game launched on March 9, 1998. A follow-up game called Schwa Conspiracy was announced for later that year, but was never finished.
Although a growing hit, Bill Barker disappeared from the public (and underground) eye sometime in late September of 2001. His long-running website is dead and the post office box he had used for years now returns his mail unread.
The website appears to have come back online around April 2005, but in a severely limited capacity.
The game’s rules: “Don’t follow instructions. Suspect instructions. They are something to be wary of.”
The spirit of Schwa lives on. Schwa Fan websites can still be found online, his books can still be bought and conspiracy theories are never out of date.

8 Responses to “What ever happened to Schwa? And Bill Barker?”

  1. I bought the Schwa Corp. ‘World Operations Manual’ many years ago. Weird stuff and i loved it!

  2. I bought the Schwa Corp. ‘World Operations Manual’ over 30 years ago and I still can’t get the damn shrink wrap off it!

  3. My formative years were SCREWED UP because of Schwa, and I loved every second of it.

  4. 9-11_notacoincidence on March 7th, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    http://www.t0.or.at/scl/scl2/msg00939.html

    “The Schwa Corperation, Global Media and Infomation Services is proud
    to present “Intrude”, the search engine for the next century. Intrude
    is working 24 hours a day, sucking infomation and carefully indexing
    data from all four corners of the global infosphere. Sure, other
    search engines scan Usenet and mailing list archeives… but Intrude
    goes even further. Using the powerful parallel-processing supercomputer,
    “Pal 4000″ (courtesy of Schwa Microsystems Computer Corperation), Intrude
    reads credit ratings, cable TV viewing habits, mail-order products received,
    videos rented, parking tickets received, and of course, every single
    peice of email transmitted over the Internet. Tired of those pesky
    PGP messages? They are no match for Pal’s Reverse Escrow Orthoganal
    decryption software.”

    - another one that is now commonplace, though of course under different names than SCHWA and not actually a search engine.

  5. What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.

  6. Hello, I was with Bill Barker a few days ago! I spent 3 long days with him !He is selling off a lot of his old vintage art work! If you had one you like have ! send me and e mail I will give it to Bill

  7. I met him a few months ago, I could at least tell you where he was then. Didn’t know of him before but I can tell you with certainty this dude was him, no doubt in my mind!

  8. I have a fan page now on facebook under schwa…

    bill barker

Leave a Reply