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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 4 of 7

As Spurlock says of the man he regards as mentor and friend: "Barron's stuff is all extremely personal, revealing. I mean, he says things publicly about himself that most people would be scared to think in their own mind."

"Mother, you believed in me ... You wanted me to be heroic -- to 'seek the truth' ... THEN ONE DAY YOU KILLED YOURSELF."

-- from the third installment of "Slidehouse"

"My friend Ronny knew an older guy who liked to show off his gun. The guy had a custom '49 Mercury with a pistol holster built into it. He said he didn't really 'shoot niggers.' He just liked to drive to the 'colored section' and 'put a bullet into a house or two.' Ronny dared me to go with them, but I wouldn't do it."

-- from "The Adjustment of Sidney Deepscorn"
"Barron speaks to Assassinada: 'You want out of my paintings and drawings. Out of my stories and comic strips and you want out of my mind.' She answers: 'Yes.' He responds: 'No fucking way.' 'BASTARD!' "

-- from "Refried Eyes," Journal 42, 1992

"I am a FAILURE."
-- from The Marat/Sade Journals, quoting e.e. cummings

Storey's life is an open comic book, there to be examined and dissected by anyone who cares to read the small print.

"I consider my whole life a source," Storey says. "I designed a rocket ship when I was 10 years old, and later I did the space shuttle, you know. I had a conscious awareness on my part that I could do that because I had this deep investment going back to childhood. I did sci-fi because I got off on the Flash Gordon series. Everything that ever impressed me, I consciously try to use as a writer."

That his years in Dallas, beyond the assassination and his mother's suicide, influence his work is evident in an "autobiography" he dashes off on his computer:

"Dallas. Dallas was the Maple Theater where I saw Flash Gordon serials and bought wax pan pipe candies that made music. The Emperor Ming and Stratosleds -- I like sci-fi. Dallas was the 'riverbottoms' where we cranked our motorcycles and flew across the bumps hitting only the tops of 'em -- I like fast. It was all things home. Family stuff, with aunts and uncles and grandparent feasts on holidays with a zillion kids running around. So happy to see you."

Storey was born on April 6, 1940, in Dallas. His father, Lewis Barron Storey, was an architect who often sketched in his own notebooks, and Barron's earliest recollections are of imitating his old man by picking up his pens and drawing. Barron's mother was an elegant woman who wanted her son to be the smartest child on the block.

"She not only culturized me," Barron says of Juanita, "she made up for the one big deficiency about my dad, which was he would never tell me anything about human feeling. It was just the facts, ma'am. 'How do you feel about that, Dad?' No answer.

"My mom went over the top in the other direction. She had emotional reactions to everything, and they weren't just gushing. They were informed, meaningful, passionate feelings. She read voraciously. She was cultural, and she had strong opinions about everything in the world.

"I thought I was the luckiest kid on the planet because of it. Until things went ugly."

A good son of good middle-class parents, Barron made A's in elementary school but he preferred the company of the "tough kids who knew more about sex," he says. The late '40s and early '50s were days of motorcycles and James Dean and black music on Dallas radio, and Barron wanted to run with the rebels. With his tough pals he met in junior high, he was discovering booze and girls and R&B. When his parents moved the family -- which then included two more sons, Robert and Steve -- to the more upscale White Rock Lake area when he was 13, it was partially to get him away from the bad element.

Barron felt ever more the loner in high school, withdrawing further into a world of motorcycles, hot rods, and jazz. He was too naive to know he was surrounded by violence and too afraid to take part in the violence when he discovered its existence.

He writes in his "autobiography":
"But now that I was getting 'arty,' the buzz was about other places. Woodrow Wilson [High] Wildcats? Forget it. Gerry Mulligan on the West Coast. Jackson Pollack in New York. Stockhausen in Europe. Tennessee Williams and Elia Kazan. Leonard Bernstein and Phineas Newborn. 'On the Waterfront,' 'Omnibus,' Edward R. Murrow, Sartre -- what did Texas have to do with them?"

At home, things were starting to get weird. In the late '50s, as Barron was finishing high school and his brothers were getting a little older, Juanita ("supermom," as Barron calls her) wanted to become an "independent person." She began taking trips to New Mexico to visit Native American artists and writers she had long admired, driving out in a brand-new '55 Chevy convertible her husband bought her. She would often take Barron with her, leaving the rest of the family behind. "It was really clear she was defiantly independent for some reason that I couldn't quite understand," Storey says.

"And then she got pregnant. It was way late in life, and she blamed my dad for it," he remembers. "It was horrific. She now had no chance to be an independent person. She had to go back and be mother [to my brother Scott], and she was furious. She hated the world, and then she went into menopause.

"She just started going nuts, and she drank. She got excessive, became a mental case, and basically went off the deep end. And my dad denied it all: 'Oh, Nita, she'll be all right.' She tried to commit suicide several times. Mom had gone insane."

About The Author

Robert Wilonsky


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