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Barron Storey's Life is an Open Comic Book 

The demons -- personal andfantastical and pop cultural -- that have shaped the art of a San Francisco illustrator

Wednesday, Jan 17 1996

Page 3 of 7

"When I began drawing in the journals, I was so liberated by this that it just started being a daily activity," he says. "I drew everything and everybody. That was a realm. I could relive my life from that point on through these journals. But back then, my life was really interesting, and at a certain point it stopped being interesting."

His first foray into the comics world came when Tundra Publishing (which was then owned by Kevin Eastman, creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and a very wealthy man looking to get into "serious" comics) published The Marat/Sade Journals, one of the more than 80 journals that sit on his shelves. Written in 1989 and actually culled from several of Storey's journals, it "samples" (with credit) dialogue from several disparate sources: Equus, Hamlet, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Marat/Sade, The Shining, Network, No Exit, and Bob Dylan songs, among other not-so-random borrowings.

Based loosely on Peter Weiss' 1964 play Marat/Sade, which used the assassination of the leader of the French Revolution to parallel John Kennedy's murder, Storey's version is actually a metaphor for the death of a relationship with an ex-lover named Kelly. Actually, it's a metaphor for all the failed relationships in Storey's life.

Married three times (first when he was 19, to his high school sweetheart) with three sons -- one of whom he never sees, one of whom despises Storey, the oldest being the only one who has any regular contact with his father -- the artist uses every failure as inspiration.

Storey does not know where two of his ex-wives live, and he does not have any contact with much of his family -- including his father. He is friends with one former wife, Petra, who often calls Storey to check up on him and has the occasional meal with him. But if all his years of therapy had worked, Barron Storey likely would have nothing left to draw.

"I've spent a huge chunk of years trying to find a partner for my life," Storey says. "I thought that was in place until my second marriage flopped, and my family was over. I was married since I was a teen-ager. I didn't know what to be except be married.

"So I went desperately out looking for another partner, and spent years doing that. And I finally found the person that I thought was going to be it and did this frustrating dance for years around that, and it couldn't be consummated. And when I finally got it that nothing was going to happen, I put all that energy into the journals.

"The action in Marat/Sade is a woman killing a man, and that's what I thought was happening to me. I was a victim. Students of mine have said about these pieces, 'They're all victims, Barron.' And to be fair, I recognize that. And I'm sorry."

Marat/Sade was met with an enthusiastic shrug from the comics world, and then Eastman sold Tundra to another publishing house, Kitchen Sink Press. That publisher told Storey they would not publish the proposed sequel to Marat/Sade because it was "too out there."

In June 1993, Dallas illustrator David Spurlock launched Vanguard Comics and debuted his new comics anthology, Tales From the Edge, which has recently released its seventh issue. Featuring the likes of Marshall Arisman (whose work is also on display in the Smithsonian, and who is a regular contributor to Rolling Stone and Esquire, among many other magazines), George Pratt, Quigmans creator Buddy Hickerson, Sandman contributors Paul Lee and Bonnie To, and Spurlock himself, the books are a provocative peek into the world of the modern-day comic -- where drawings give way to paintings, and the tales read like short stories.

But the highlights of each issue are Storey's contributions -- the short "Refried Eyes" pages taken from the journals and the "Slidehouse" series, which Storey could not get published anywhere else. Spurlock has also taken to reissuing the best of Storey's revered Watch magazine, a self-published arts magazine assembled by Storey and his art students.

Storey made his debut in Tales From the Edge No. 1 with "The Adjustment of Sidney Deepscorn," a sort of precursor to the "Slidehouse" series that would conclude in the newly released Tales From the Edge No. 7. In "Deepscorn," Storey is the central character; hence, the subtitle of "A Paranoid Delusion in the Form of a Graphic Short Story."

Sidney Deepscorn is a poor disguise, hiding nothing -- his anger with a comic book industry interested only in two-dimensional superheroes; repressed memories of a childhood spent running with "gun-toting idiots" who liked to shoot at the "niggers" in South Dallas; his conflicting feelings about his mother. Reading "Sidney Deepscorn," or most any of Storey's works, is voyeurism.

Storey fills the final page of "Sidney Deepscorn" with thousands of nearly unreadable words that actually divulge much about his past. He recounts the guilt he experienced when one of his friends bragged about shooting a black man in Dallas and Storey did nothing about it. He recounts his three bad marriages, how he talked the true love of his life out of getting an abortion, how the love of his life walked out on him.

In "Slidehouse," Storey would become even more revelatory, using the anti-superhero character called Assassinada -- an amalgam of his mother, his old lover Kelly, and the artist himself -- through which to tell his life's story. The "Slidehouse" itself is something of a pornographic fun house that provides the greatest pain and pleasures, if only the patron is willing to be subjected to traumatic memories and ultimate death.

About The Author

Robert Wilonsky


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