Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.
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BAKER'S DOZEN for 04/18/2007
Paint it Black
Carl Wyckaert on Barron Storey's Life After Black
If you spend any time at all in this business talking with the practitioners of the field as I do, and especially if you tend to discuss influences and those lesser-known artists whose work deserves wider recognition, inevitably you will encounter the name Barron Storey. And with good reason.
As a teacher, he's proven to be a primary--if not primal--influence upon a diverse group of noteworthy creators, including the likes of Dave McKean and Bill Sienkiewicz. As an artist, his work proves to be both mesmerizing and visceral, evidencing a command of technique and clarity of purpose that is simply stunning in its execution and scope. Without a doubt, he is one of the most gifted, even visionary artists of his generation. And yet, with the exception of his collaboration with Neil Gaiman on a tale of Despair in Endless Nights, much of his work is hard to find. True, there's always The Marat/Sade Journals, a nearly impossible-to-find [or afford!] art book which was issued by Kevin Eastman's glorious and long-defunct Tundra imprint, and a handful of publications issued by Vanguard, many of which are also becoming increasingly rare. Beyond that, there is a real and woeful lack of Storey's work which is readily available in print.
Happily, that situation is about to change.
A small imprint based in Belgium recently announced that it would be issuing the first "new" Barron Storey book in nearly a decade. And now the man behind this new enterprise, and a concerted effort to bring Barron Storey's work to a wider audience, the art aficionado turned publisher Carl Wyckaert, is here to tell us all about it.
Bill Baker: Why don't we start by making sure we're all on the same page? Who is Barron Storey, and what makes both the man and his art so special?
Carl Wyckaert: The well known side of Barron is the illustrator for Time and National Geographic magazines, as well as [illustrations of] the Space Shuttle and his rainforest mural. Also, within the art community, he's recognized as a very inspirational teacher and coach. Less known are his theater plays with a [what they've called] "pagan" theater group, his passion for creating music together with Osseus Labyrint, and musical instruments.
His art is honest and the raw expression of his feelings; there's no "effect" or "trying to impress". It's his way to voice his frustrations, anger, passion. It's not meant to please.
I once asked Barron whether he could also make "nice" drawings--his answer, "I'm afraid it's my fate"
BB: I've got to ask why--if Storey's been such a big influence, as well as an important source of inspiration, for so many comic creators--why do you think that he isn't better known among the general comic buying public?
CW: I think there are several reasons. The most important one being that he is very seldom published in mainstream comics, with the exception of works like The Marat/Sade Journals and Tales from the Edge, and also because Barron is extremely dark and direct, making it hard to digest for the average comic reader. In his prime time, the market was not really ready for this direct peek into the brain of an artist.
Barron's journals are his way to cope with his emotions. They are his daily, continuous confrontation with himself and the world he encounters. Some of his journal entries are very confrontational, [they're] where you really see him shout to himself.
Barron is also way too modest. He does not think himself or his art is special; he always gives the credit to his students when they become famous and does not seem to realize his contribution [to that success]. He is also pretty chaotic from an organizational point of view, and that, combined with his lack to push other people to do something for him, resulted in too few publications and shows.
Also, Barron can not be put in a box. He's too raw, too complex for comics and too realistic straight in your face for modern art.
BB: How did you find out about his work, and what about it interests and excites you?
CW: Via my passion for original painted comic art, I stumbled over some common points when studying the background of artists such as Kent Williams, George Pratt, Bill Koeb, John V. Fleet...who all referred to Barron as their inspiration.
I'm a big fan of all these people's art, and happy they are able to build a career out of their art, but Barron is the real, raw stuff. The uncensored, uncleaned message.
I also like the concept of his journals, which should not be confused with sketchbooks. Barron's 140 journals are really journals [in the traditional sense], giving a day by day reflection of his experiences. Reading it is a bit voyeuristic, but I believe it's also Barron's way to keep himself under control. Barron has no issue having people read his emotions... Maybe he sees it as way to keep them under control?
BB: So, aside from the reasons given above, why are you publishing his work? What are some of the various reasons, obvious and otherwise, that lead to your decision to pursue this project?
CW: When Barron was here last year, he had these journals with him. I was madly in love with this fully painted one, "Life After Black," but knew it was impossible to ask him to sell it to me, so I choose the next best thing--publish it in a format which is as close as possible to the original.
And as a reflection of my personal philosophy. I believe very strongly in art's ability to convey a message, and I find such a wealth of raw beauty and emotion in Barron's work that I found it a shame that so few people could see this.
Also, there's the fact that Barron himself does not believe that this can be a commercially viable project, which only made it an extra challenge to do it. And I think only someone passionate about his art can do it justice, compared to any publication house.
BB: How did you set this all up? If memory serves, this is your first publication. Who's been involved in the process of getting Barron's sketchbooks into print, and what has that whole process been like for you and your fellows?
CW: It's mainly a question of not being afraid to ask around and find out what's possible. First I tried to find a regular publisher, but it's close to impossible to find someone in Europe to publish an English language book of a US artist. So I finally decided to publish it myself. I then contacted several printers and finally decided to work with a very small graphic design/printing bureau where the owner is very passionate about comic art and very focused on quality. He's for sure not the cheapest, but the work and the input of his team [ScaGraphic, at www.scagraphic.com] was just superb and what I needed. You felt the love for the product while they were busy putting it together. So it has been quite a pleasant experience...although very intense!
Finally, I got some great help and advice from Kent Williams, who also did a last minute check on text and lay-out.
BB: Was it difficult persuading Barron to agree to this endeavor, and what's it been like working with him?
CW: Every show Barron does, he brings along a couple of his journals. And every time people are absorbed completely by these treasures. For many it really hurts to have to give them back to Barron after the show; he even had one stolen at a show. Barron realizes that he had to be more "in print" in order to satisfy the demand of those who have been exposed to his journals. Also, the constant stream of questions about Marat/Sade made him realize that, although it was a slow seller, many people are still looking for his art.
So, no, it was pretty easy to convince him, despite the fact that I only knew him from emails, phone calls and the week he was with us during the 2006 show, and working with him was just perfect. It's been great to work with Barron, and there's been a lot of support from him on this project from the beginning until the end. The main pressure came mainly from me not wanting to disappoint him.
BB: How does the final product differ from your original vision? Did it turn out exactly as you'd hoped, or have some unforeseen factors altered it from your ideal? And what surprises, pleasant or otherwise, did you encounter during the process of publication?
CW: The objective was to get as close as possible to the original. So really all pages--except the one with Barron's private address--are in the book, exactly in the same format as his journal. Barron only re-painted the cover--the real cover is also depicted inside the book--as some of the words were unclear after almost 15 years. I'm pretty happy with the color representation, which is very close to the original. We only had a struggle with the paper thickness, as at a certain stage we switched from a heavy mat paper to a lighter satin covered paper stock, but when we got the mock-up back the book was less then half the thickness. So we had to significantly increase the weight of the paper to get back to the original thickness of the book, which is again very close to the original journal. The only real pity is that you can not add the paint-smell of the original journal and the slight creasing and movement of the paper due to the thickness of the paint.
Another point is that, as might be expected, the costs are pretty high. Mainly because it's pretty intensive scanning and correcting a 15 year old painted journal, and the fact that I wanted to have good quality print work which I could control directly in Belgium, instead of shipping everything to Hong Kong or Korea, resulted in a premium cost. With the current pricing set below $50, we just break even on those books sold via the normal distribution channels. I would have loved to get the pricing lower, but with the approach taken it's really the lowest I could go.
BB: What's next? Do you have any plans for signings, or perhaps a tour, with or without Barron's involvement?
CW: We'll be at APE in San Francisco [the weekend of April 21-22, 2007] and in San Diego Comic Con [July 26-29, 2007]. That's all for the moment. Normally we'll be found at Allen Spiegel's booth, who has also proven to be a great supporter of Barron's work.
BB: So how can people get a copy of this book if they can't make it to the show? Is it going to be offered by Diamond in the future, or is there any way for them to order it directly from you?
CW: Diamond will offer it to the shops in the May Previews catalogue, for purchase June 2007. And for sure they can always order via my blog at graphicnovelart.blogspot.com . Please note that Diamond will only offer the normal hardcover version. There is a limited numbered and signed slipcase edition, with a special cover and a limited signed print, available only from Barron and me directly for $129. There's only 250 of those being done. We've also printed a set of 6 luxury prints, limited to 70 sets, which are all signed and numbered by Barron, that are available for $39.
BB: Any future plans, perhaps for more collections of Barron's sketchbooks, that you can talk about at this point?
CW: If things go well, we hope to reprint Marat/Sade for 2008--we got great help from Denis Kitchen for this one--and with more than 140 journals on Barron's shelves...a lot is possible. I'm also working on a project with one of Barron's current students named Koak. It's a real biographical graphic novel named Sickbed Blues which is rendered in very strong black and white art. I can already tell you now that it will be an experience that's hard to forget.
BB: What do you get, professionally or even personally, from doing all of this?
CW: It's mainly the satisfaction of "creating" something. I'm not an artist myself, and I envy them their being able to create something which will remain after they have left this planet. With the publication of Barron's book, I feel I'm contributing to that process.
On a more mundane plane, it allows me to get to know Barron better as a person, and it allowed me to really call him a friend. It also opened doors to other artists, which, as a comic art collector, is like an invitation to heaven.
BB: What do you hope this book does for Barron Storey, whether in the short term or in the future?
CW: I firstly hope that Barron feels good about being more "in print", being accessible again to more people. We're not counting on national blitz success, but we mainly hope that we can satisfy the request of so many fans of Barron's work who have been waiting to see more of his stuff. With a bit of luck, this audience will spread and grow, and with a bit more constant stream of books (Anno Domini is planning to publish an art book based on the 2006 Black Iraq Expo later this year), I hope we can generate a larger audience for Barron and get him the publicity and respect he deserves. I believe it's time that more people get to know the genius who inspired a lot of modern comic artists and painters. It's time to meet the source.
BB: What do you hope it does for those who buy, or even just encounter, this book? Is it just about turning people on to Barron's work, and providing them some intriguing entertainment, or is there perhaps more to it than that?
CW: That's a difficult question. You can buy the book only for the pictures, each page is a discovery of colors, layout, text--most of them are very dense, with some nice, some very raw art. But buying Life After Black is buying a part of Barron, and getting a very personal insight in the man's emotions and feelings. His passion, his love, his disappointments, his anger, his frustrations. I'm not aware of many real, uncensored journals being published as such. It's sometimes also a confrontation with yourself, a recognizing of your own emotions. Again the fact that it's a true journal, created day by day as time goes by, not put together with a purpose or a preset script, makes this adventure only more impressive.
BB: Anything else you'd like to add?
CW: Again, you'll find my blog and more information at graphicnovelart.blogspot.com, and soon we'll launch the website www.graphicnovelart.com. We'll be at APE, and at San Diego in the ASFA [Allen Spiegel Fine Art] booth.
It can be ordered straight from me via the site--remember the limited edition is only available directly from me--or via Diamond. Finally, the ISBN for Life After Black is 9789081151313.
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