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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
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Page 7 of 7

When they respond with silent, embarrassed "no"s -- or, worse yet, when they stare blankly at their teacher like children caught doing something wrong -- he becomes almost enraged. His usually calm, almost jovial facade drops away to reveal a man with little patience for casual ignorance.

"Will you take a trip to the museum sometime, ladies and gentlemen," he says, half begging and half scolding. "You don't know anybody! You call yourselves illustration students? Babies."

Another of the students' work is a tiny drawing by a young Latin student named Lenin. It's a slight, garish piece -- a drawing of the inside of a house, captured on a piece of blinding fluorescent yellow-green piece of paper. When asked about his choice of canvases, Lenin explains he wanted it to capture the sun coming through the window, but Storey doesn't buy it. He is visibly appalled by the piece, but to mask his contempt for it he tells Lenin and the class that while most of his colleagues would dismiss it and move on, "I'm more congenial with art like this."

"You could take this to other illustrators I know, and they'd just say, 'This looks like you did this in grade school,' and it does," Storey says. "But I'll take this seriously. It's a tacky choice because only an idiot would choose it. So, obviously, you mean it. I don't think this is you." Lenin only feigns a smile and nods, embarrassed by the obvious harsh words.

Throughout the morning, Storey teaches, even going to the chalkboard to illustrate certain points about dimension and depth. He offers advice, throws out the occasional homily ("Perspective always alters the reality"), and he recounts his own experiences. He takes them on the surprise field trip to a local photocopying place to show them how to use the color copier to alter their work, how one push of the button can turn black into blue or white into green or the mediocre into the magnificent. Yet he also stresses that his students not get caught up in technique alone because "nobody gives a damn about technique."

He encourages them, though, always: "I made a lot of mistakes when I started out. Still do, all the time." The only difference is, he says, "After years went by, I saw other people were imitating my mistakes."

After class, a young black student tells Storey he is trying to decide whether he should study painting or illustration. Storey tells him to stick with illustration because the art world is corrupt, a place where people are more concerned with the price tag on a piece instead of its artistic value. He prefers illustration because it can easily, quickly, and cheaply communicate something to an audience, whether it's in a magazine or a book or on a billboard.

Besides, he tells the student, "You're not as good as you think you are."

At home, Storey keeps three Assassinada dolls standing on his shelves, two of which were Catwoman dolls in another life, the other a former G.I. Joe. Storey had once envisioned a whole line of "Slidehouse" products, spinoffs from the sales of his sure-to-be-successful comic book. But no offers were forthcoming.

Hollywood producer Stephen J. Cannell of The Rockford Files fame once expressed some interest in filming The Marat/Sade Journals; for a while, Storey was so sure it was going to happen that he began considering who might play him.

"It could only be Tommy Lee Jones," Storey says. "He'd have to be me. And I had all these fantasies about Tommy Lee playing me in The Marat/Sade Journals. And I thought, 'Who's going to be the Kelly character?' That is a big one. But stuff like that goes through my mind all the time. I'd go off the deep end. I will work on something until I'm completely broke, with no chance of income from it, and then I get very, very ugly.

"My friend Marshall Arisman says if I don't do pictures I get mean. And I like that. Lots of things Marshall says are great. But it's true. I get really mean and ugly and nasty when these things fail to take off. The only thing that keeps me going is to note that all the artists that I admire have these same neuroses and doubts. Almost everyone who's been honest has doubted the work. It's uncontrolled in time. You're out there in space, and you don't know if you're ever gonna get back. Or whether it even matters.

About The Author

Robert Wilonsky

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