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Brian Perry, 51, known as “Brian the Cartoonist,” is a freelance illustrator living on Salt Lake City’s west side. He lives with a group of other artists in a warehouse, his third such arrangement in the past 6 years.
The 6’2″ Perry peaked at 447 pounds by 1993. Diagnosed at the time as asthmatic and 70% disabled because of a blood oxygen saturation of 44%, he was confined to a walker and an oxygen tank. Tired of these disabilities, he started to diet. Now at 340 pounds and an oxygen saturation of 85%, he no longer needs a walker and depends less on extra oxygen. Still, he is easily winded and can fall asleep anywhere.
“That’s the way I want to look: thin and with sunglasses and handsome,” says Perry of this self-portrait, one of several on the Wall of Cartoons. “They’re all thin. I can draw them the way I want.” His goal weight fluctuates between 200 and 225 pounds, and he hopes the weight loss will gain him a social life. “I’d like to eventually move to Santa Barbara and buy an old firehouse,” he says. “I’m looking for someone to tag along. That’s where losing the weight comes in.”
The desk that dominates Perry’s room serves as his kitchen, work space and social area. “Brian’s castle is his space, his room,” says his friend and swordplay student Dave Campbell. “It’s set up how he wants it. In his space he is king, and his word is law.”
The warehouse porch is a rest stop whenever Perry leaves or returns. “I go out for food, the occasional exploratory of the outside world, the doctor,” he says. Friends or taxis provide transportation, with Medicaid covering taxi fare for trips to the doctor or pharmacy. “I miss being out, walking about, window shopping,” says Perry. “I miss the real world. I’ve really got to get out more.”
From time to time Perry watches Kitchell Jones lead her band The Jonz during practice in the basement. In addition to musicians, others renting space in the warehouse include graphic artists, animators and potters. Perry, who refers to himself as “The cartoonist in the back,” compares warehouse life to urban camping.
The sizzle of non-stick spray and butter hangs in the air when Perry cooks with his desktop electric frying pan. Bread, lettuce and condiments are close by in desk drawers. “There’s a place for everything, and preferably within reach,” he says. “It’s too far to the fridge.”
Perry is passionate about fencing and swordplay and instructs a tight group of enthusiasts, including Roger Eppich, left, and Dave Campbell, behind Brian, twice a week. “He gets really proud when he sees our progress,” says Campbell. “His eyes light up. In a way we’re surrogate kids, and to a certain extent he’s a surrogate father to me.”
Campbell sent Perry to LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City one night with a sword wound requiring 18 stitches. A few weeks later the same fate befell Eppich. They have since dubbed Campbell’s broadsword “Handbiter.”
Because of a long, slow line of customers and no place to rest inside, Perry waits outside a Circle K before buying cigarettes. Although his health has improved so he can take pleasure in an activity as simple as returning a shopping cart to its corral rather than leaving it where he stops, he looks forward to when he can breathe more easily. In February of 1998 he was 140 pounds heavier than he planned.