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Barron Storey:

Life After Black

His left hand spans the opening page in both of Barron Storey’s major published books, affirming his presence and his touch on every hand-drawn, hand-written page that follows. An award-winning American illustrator, notably of iconic covers for Time magazine and the 1980 paperback reissue of Lord of the Flies (shown above), Barron Storey teaches a sequential art class at the California College of Arts in San Francisco. He has inspired more than a generation of graphic novel innovators such as Bill Sienkiewicz, Kent Williams, David Mack and Dave McKean. Key to Storey’s influence on them have been the journals which he began keeping around 1976. Far from the usual sketchbook exercises or preparations for larger works, these are his work. For him they are a way to “break through habits of thought and perception with practice” and to find “a lens to something true”.

Never intended for public gaze, five or six of these journals were re-mixed in 1993 to form The Marat/Sade Journals, which returned to print re-mastered in 2009 from Graphic Novel Art in Belgium. Here he exposed a private outlet where he could vent his passion and pain while falling madly in and out of love, his autobiographical voice unaffected and raw: “They must be a therapy of some kind, but they cannot replace my missing life - and they cannot restore the joy she gave me.” His collisions and collusions between fractured, accumulated imagery and woven words result in an intense intimacy of innermost thoughts and feelings.

At the time, Storey was collaborating with San Francisco theatre troupe Elbows Akimbo and adopted their deconstructive approach. By snatching dialogue from Marat/Sade, Peter Weiss’s 1963 play-within-a-play staged by the Marquis de Sade in the Charenton asylum, and from much-loved movies, he found resonances with his own mental states and “that magic theatre of the self”. The woman he loved blurs with Marat’s murderer Charlotte Corday and by the end Storey draws himself as the “new inmate at the bars with stained hand.” The stormy end of this affair rumbles through the King Lear-inspired Journal No. 45, completed in November 1992 and published in 2007 as Life After Black. He reveals that it was the candour of his journals which first attracted his lover to him, and yet it was his sometimes explicit nudes of her, from memory and love - what she branded his “fuckin’ porno” - which helped drive her away.

No barren story, his heartfelt strip below recalls how he painted a giant rain forest scene for the American Museum of Natural History. Its theme grew out of a discussion with Dave McKean (whose portrait appears on the lower right hand page) about Richard Dawkins’ atheist bestseller, The God Delusion: “By that measure, I am deluded… and my trying to testify to my own faith may well be a delusion as well.” This compulsive (self-)documenter showed one hundred of his journals at the Society of Illustrators in New York last summer. By November, his restless hand was off again, starting Journal No. 155.

Click on the images above to enlarge.


Posted: February 28, 2010

This article first appeared in Art Review magazine.


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