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Vile men: The art of Vincent Stall, and Nicolas Cage in 'Drive Angry'

Alien meal: A Vincent Stall poster
MinnPost photo by Max Sparber
Alien meal: A detail from one of Vincent Stall's Gastro Non Grata posters

There are two perfectly vile men sitting on either side of my sofa just now. Both have long, greasy hair despite it having thinned to near baldness on top. Both have wispy mustaches and unkempt splotches of stubble on their doubling chins. Their faces are heavily creased, and they have sunken eyes and tiny little teeth. One has tattoos on both arms, and an enormous belt buckle. Both wear ragged T-shirts with chest hair peeking up through the neck hole, and both T-shirts are printed with salacious novelty phrases. Also, both men are about 6 inches tall and are stuffed with something, perhaps cotton.

These are the creations of Vincent Stall, whose work I collect, now and then, and have for quite a few years. He has put out a number of small, self-published comic books under his own imprimatur, King Mini, and I have quite a few of them — I often think I have all of them, and then find one I didn't know about, and buy that. This past weekend, when I purchased the vile men (they’re from a series of plush dolls called Scumbags, and I intend to collect them all as well), I snapped up another comic I had not seen before, called "Everybody Takes a Turn."

Ghost ham: A Vincent Stall Gastro Non Grata poster
MinnPost photo by Max Sparber
Ghost ham: A Vincent Stall Gastro Non Grata poster

Bound in a large cover of rough brown cardboard, the comic itself, which is much smaller than its cover and attached with a rubber band, might have a story lurking in it — it's hard to tell. On first blush, it wordlessly follows a series of clouds, or plumes of smoke, through a dense woods in which hulking creatures lurk behind trees, into a cabin, where it engulfs the inhabitants, who don't always seem human. The clouds rain very briefly, and then part to reveal a mysterious figure in white, who wanders deeper into the woods to build his own cabin, which is ramshackle to the degree that, newly built, it appears to have fallen apart for years, and trees grow straight through it. This vague summary isn't doing much justice to the comic, through. Stall has always been a bit obsessive with his designs — his earlier comics contained detailed cityscapes or puzzling machinery. In this comic, his illustrations are dense and seem to hide more than they reveal, and what they reveal is always a bit puzzling, like a section of the woods where the smallest limbs of the trees have been covered with glass bottles.

I picked up all this Vinnie Stall stuff on Saturday because he’s just had a show open at Pink Hobo. This consisted of a retrospective of posters he designed for Gastro Non Grata, a recurring series of events based around experiments in food and music that started at the Triple Rock Social Club. There are a dozen posters here, and all display the same sort of obsession with detail, and contain illustrations that seems to mask as much as they show. With some of Stall's images, you have to stare at them for a really long time before you get a sense of what is going on in them — they have so many layers of overlapping images that all you can do is get really close, focus on one element that you seem to recognize, and work your way out from there. If you recognize anything, that is. Stall has a few recurring motifs that aren’t likely to be familiar to anybody else, such as his "ghost hams" — beheaded pigs with their neck bone jutting out out where their head should be. But stall will paint over this, using a very thin white paint, adding the head back in, as though the pigs were now haunted by their own missing rostral parts.

Although Stall's scenes in these posters are usually food related, they often seem to be set in some sort of post-apocalyptic environment, where men in space suits or ragged, mismatched costumes meet in dumping grounds of empty bottles, while tentacled aliens drag cows off into the sky or plunge themselves deep into the ocean in search of prey. There’s an image from a poster that’s relatively easy to parse: A small crowd of punk teenagers gather in the street around a fallen man in a bear costume, his neck bloodied -- he is identified in the poster’s text as the Hamm's Beer Bear. For whatever reason, Stall has recast the experience of dining and listening to music as being an apocalyptic event, and it's hard not to imagine that anybody who attended a Gastro Non Grata event after seeing one of these posters wouldn't be a little disappointed.

A note: The Pink Hobo Gallery has somewhat irregular hours, although it can generally be accessed during the work hours of its related business, PUNY, which does design work and animation, and which Vincent Stall cofounded. Call PUNY before heading to the Pink Hobo. It's worth checking out anyway. Not only do the people at PUNY animate segments for the enormously popular "Yo Gabba Gabba!" show on Nick Jr., but they always have some surprising project underfoot, and if they're not terribly busy they might show you what they’re working on. For instance, College Humor has a cartoon by PUNY that recasts Steve Jobs as Willie Wonka, taking us on a tour of the Apple factory. It's also a bit apocalyptic.

Nicolas Cage in "Drive Angry"
Courtesy of Summit Entertainment
Nicolas Cage in "Drive Angry"

And while we’re on the subject of apocalypse, there's a movie out with the wonderful title "Drive Angry." It's a Nicolas Cage film, which I can never resist, although this is a love affair with a great risk for disappointment. But when Cage's movies are not disappointing, they're utterly mad, and, thankfully, "Drive Angy" is the latter.

The plot is simple enough, but the devil — so to speak — is in the details: Cage plays a bad man who has busted out of hell in a muscle car to chase down a gang of devil worshippers who intend to sacrifice a baby. The film is set entirely in the southern United States, and every character in it, especially the satanists, look like one of Vincent Stall's Scumbag plush toys. The worse a character’s haircut, the more screen time he or she will have, and the more screen time the character has, the worse things will go for them. The film functionally moves from one set piece to the next, be it a tin-roof-sided country bar or a dilapidated rural church, and here somebody will be brutalized. Then everybody hops in their cars and races to the next location, shooting at each other the entire time, where the process can be repeated.

It's hardly surprising that the film has such strangely comical plotting — one of the screenwriters is Todd Farmer, who penned the last "Friday the 13th" movie, called "Jason X." I think I may be the only person on earth to have seen this film, but I loved it — for some reason, it was set in space, and played more as a demented satire than a horror film. Farmer's satiric impulses are unleashed here. As an example, Nicolas Cage's bad man is so bad that he has an entire gunfight while smoking a cigar, drinking Jack Daniels, and engaging in coitus, none of which he stops doing even as dozens of satanists lunge at him, flinging sharpened garden tools at him.

The film is in 3D, by the way. It's worth seeing that way.

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