Kevin, who grew up in St. Louis Park, remembers that fleeting yet empowering moment when he was the cool kid in school. "I have this distinct memory of being in preschool, of being the only kid in school who drew, and kids would gather around me [and say], 'Draw me!'" he says. "And then it changed."
Perhaps that sense of isolation has something to do with why the cartoonist scene in Minnesota is flourishing. Whether it's cobras, mean kids, or subzero temperatures, there's always something that makes comic artists sit indoors by themselves and create. "The local scene is blossoming now," Shad says. "You have graduating MCAD comic students. People [are] indoors all winter long, with nothing to do but draw and write stories."
The guys at Big Time Attic also cite the Cartoonist Conspiracy and the national success of graphic novels as the reason why the local industry continues to compete with cities outside of New York, like Portland and Chicago. "We all have this love of comic storytelling," Shad says. "King Mini [Vincent Stall] is out there showing people that they can go to Kinko's and be a little bit creative and make something in their house and sell it for $2."
Despite the fact that the number of local comics continues to grow, no one thinks it will reach a saturation point. Even with15 to 20 people showing up to the Cartoonist Conspiracy meetings to create the jam comics, Shad suspects that's only a fraction of the number of local comic creators. "Cartoonists spend a lot of time at home," he says. "They're indoor cats. So if you can get a fifth of them to come out on any given day, that's a big deal."
Episode Two: Vincent "King Mini" Stall
The first two things you notice when walking into Vincent "King Mini" Stall's house are his black-and-white-spotted cat and dog. They almost match, but on closer inspection, they become film negatives of each other--like salt and pepper shakers that match the many knickknacks in Stall's house. On a table in the entryway, he has a collection of mismatched figurines from around the world: a sparkle-flecked Chinese cat, a doll with electroshock hair, wood-carved figures that look like they could be housed in a gallery. Stall could probably list off the tiny differences between them. He's good at picking out the details that differentiate two things.
"I'm at a different place than my parents were at this age," he says, as his eight-month-old daughter sits on top of his shoulders and uses chunks of his curly hair as reins. "Wait...what am I saying?" he says, laughing. "I'm married, I have a house, a daughter, two cars." And then he catches himself. "But they had three kids at my age."
That same self-reflection, as well as Stall's sense of uniqueness and universality, reveals itself in his work, a collection of mini-comics that infuses humanism into an art form that hasn't been known for its literary convictions. "I've always been interested in the kind of people who sort of fall through the cracks," he says. "Instead of it being just This is a sad person and something bad happened to them, I want to try and get at what those emotions are and get some sort of physicality into it."
His most recent mini-comic, Mansions of Need, features a single moment re-created in nine pages. One story, "Just Like That," is about a man whose wife passes away. He's dogged by shadows and sadness, and then he stumbles into the bedroom, takes his wife's dress from the closet, and lays it next to him. He whispers, "Good night, my dear," and falls asleep next to the dress, still wearing his shirt and tie. "I'm sure he gets up, has coffee, goes on later," Stall says, shrugging his shoulders. "But it's a singular thought."
A few years ago, Stall's wife was rushed into emergency surgery. She had a tubal pregnancy, though neither of them knew she was pregnant at the time. He sat in the hospital waiting room at 2:00 a.m. as an old baseball game replayed on TV. He was focused on the inevitable. "I was thinking, I have no family here, I'm all alone. We're from Florida. You start wondering, Man, what would ever happen if she dies?" The surgery went well and the two later had a child, but Stall still thought about exploring these thoughts as a story. "I started thinking about what that would feel like," he says. "You leave the house and it's one thing, and you come back and it's another. Or the answering machine still has a message from us on it or something."
Although his most recent stories are beautifully sad, Stall maintains he's not drowning in a pool full of tears and ink as he etches his latest drama. "There's this other part of me that likes those silly Little Red Riding Hood being chased by monsters sort of stories, too." That said, the mini-comic Stall is drawing for the show is about the storm clouds that have rolled through the Cities all summer long. "I keep thinking about how you illustrate an eight- or sixteen-page comic of the trees moving back and forth in the wind, and everything getting dark and then light again. Is that like a comic-book poem?" he asks. "I don't know. But I'm going to try to do it."