Nine Gallons #1
by Susie Cagle
I did some light internet stalking of Susie Cagle while trying to find her website at a time when her book was not in hand, and learned unexpectedly that her father was once a toy inventor. This news has nothing to do with her excellent new mini-comic Nine Gallons #1, but it’s fascinating nonetheless and obviously something you should know. I mean, look at this genius “bath soup” invention Ms. Cagle is modeling. Who knew then that years later, when she grew up and moved to San Francisco, she would devote thankless hours to making real, edible kinds of soup as a member of Food Not Bombs? It’s a remarkable coincidence – and certainly the best segue I could hope for leading into this review.
Nine Gallons #1 is a slice-of-life style book that chronicles some of Cagle’s most memorable experiences with Food Not Bombs – the loosely-knit international collective of anti-war pro-soup activists.
Her experience moves from lame to weird to tedious to bizarre and ends just kind of sad. It sums up the exact reasons why most people don’t like to volunteer. Actually, this issue of Nine Gallons never even tries to take a happy turn. The people Cagle encounters on the street and in her collective are, painfully, a constant bummer. I don’t understand why she stays, except for her belief in the cause.
Cagle’s artwork is incredibly gorgeous and detailed – which becomes important while telling a story like this about people on hard times, and those who are only slightly better off. Knowing how to render wardrobe and the often worn faces of people who live (or “camp” as some would say) on the street helps create a lot of sympathy for the greater Food Not Bombs cause. Cagle also adds larger truthful details – like the city’s regular pavement rinsing that purposefully makes homeless people uncomfortable and including in the introduction pieces of Food Not Bombs’ history – that are so quiet and heartbreaking her book almost feels like a call to action rather than autobiography.
Cagle actually majored in journalism – a field that has sown some of my absolute favorite writers – so it shouldn’t be surprising that her work carries more shock, truth and weight than it might have under the influence of any other cartoonist’s ink. Don’t expect to be wholly entertained, but do expect to be educated by this book. She’s definitely got an eye for what tugs at the reader – and applies that sensibility to each page in understated ways. In the book’s only real showing of Cagle’s personal life, she steals a piece of bread that should have gone to Food Not Bombs, and in that darkened panel, and the guilt of her action just rushes in.
Nine Gallons promises to be a very interesting series, but I can’t imagine it’s an easy series to write or draw. I predict long, expectant months of waiting between issues (but where the wait is really worth it). Nine Gallons #1 costs $5 and is available from Cagle’s store.
– Sarah Morean