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Monday, April 11, 2011

Susie Cagle's Nine Gallons: Feeding the Hungry While Remaining a Starving Artist

Posted By on Mon, Apr 11, 2011 at 7:30 AM


For more than 30 years Food Not Bombs has melded a punk, D.I.Y. ethos with social justice and charity. Into that world steps the Bay Area's Susie Cagle, with her semi-D.I.Y. comic Nine Gallons, an autobiographical look at the highs and lows (mainly lows) of trying to feed the hungry while remaining a starving artist herself.

Cagle is one of many authors doing autobiographies in comics. Her work recalls Jeffrey Brown's in its use of humorous moments, rather than a continuous narrative, to tell her story, while the clean, bright lines of her art are reminiscent of Alison Bechdel. Cagle remains cagier than either Brown or Bechdel, eschewing their confessional style for something more akin to journalism.

If her journalistic eye is admirable, it also lacks the unabashed guts-on-the-page style that sets things like Bechdel's Fun Home and Brown's Clumsy apart. The story lacks the pathos that would seem to come easy with the topic. At times, Cagle even seems a bit dry. If raw suffering did occur, either her own or that of the people she helped, Cagle chose to leave it out.


Instead, she remains a sharp-eyed observer. Cagle's small vignettes show the shortcomings of herself and Food Not Bombs, outlining the contradictions of helping the homeless and underfed: She goes hungry while feeding the hungry, watches other chapters doing it better, and she suffers abuse from the same people she is trying to help.

Cagle keeps politics out, with one glaring exception. In issue #2, she offers a long-winded sociopolitical bullshit session over an Internet chatroom, with Cagle arguing against the counterproductive ways of fellow activists. It's deftly handled, showing how rhetoric for rhetoric's sake leads to inaction, but we're glad when she moves on.

What remains delightful throughout Nine Gallons is Cagle's drawing style, which is remarkably polished in comparison with most indies. Her clear, uncluttered lines lend themselves well to the subject matter, adding levity to counter the weight of the underlying issues. Her ability to quickly sketch out the general look of a person shines. The people in Cagle's world leap off the page as spot-on San Franciscan, from grizzled campers in Civic Center to her dumpster-diving fellow volunteers.

While the art is character driven, it's the scenes spotlighting the Civic Center Plaza and the 16th Street BART station where Cagle draws with such an innate sense of place. These leave you wanting more -- of the buildings and streets of San Francisco, which would add heft to a book where the city plays such a central role.

In Nine Gallons, Cagle explores the incongruities and dichotomies that are inherent in any social cause. It will be interesting to see where she goes next. It's worth a read for anyone interested in Bay Area food justice, and it's a must read for any and all anarcho-vegan comicphiles.

Issue #1 of
Nine Gallons is sold out, and available for free at Cagle's website. Issue #2 is available at Isotope and Needles and Pens in San Francisco, Issues and the Escapist in Oakland, and at Microcosm's website. Also check out Cagle's recently launched

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Ralph Downs


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