Written & Drawn by Susie Cagle
32 pages, 6.75″ x 6.75″, $5
Available at This Is What Concerns Me
We roll into the holiday season and more thought is given to those among us who are in need. Whether or not it’s the holidays or The Great Recession, there will always be those of us less fortunate. Susie Cagle’s mini-comic, Nine Gallons, invites those of us more fortunate to take a step into the world of the homeless and consider helping out.
For Susie Cagle, part of the answer is to just do something and she finds an outlet through Food Not Bombs, an international collective that protests war and serves food to the homeless. We see her on the first page, sprinting, limbs stretched out, sweat beads flying, as she runs to her first gig with the group. Once there, she’s met by a curious little man who barks, “I am Raj and you are late! Here, chop these into bits and introduce yourself.” This guy is a 20 year veteran, the de facto leader and a hard taskmaster. He is Yoda to Cagle’s Luke Skywalker.
Then there’s the rough terrain of battle, San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, an area full of sketchy characters until maybe you get to know some of them. First thing up, no one here in the TL is homeless. They’re just “camping.” Cagle asks one guy how long he’s been camping. “Seven years.”
Keep in mind too that this comic is full of life due to the combination of excellent reportage and spot on cartooning. It’s no wonder a lot of the best cartoonists are also excellent writers. It must be that inner need to get to the truth, observe and report. And Cagle does indeed report from the streets. She captures the vibe of waiting and hoping to make a difference as you offer free soup. It’s one ragtag bunch of people with soup attempting to connect with another ragtag bunch of people without soup or much of anything else.
You’ll be happy to know that Raj comes around to believing in Cagle. He even gets comfortable enough to request that maybe Cagle could make cupcakes for everyone. That she won’t do. We also learn that the city of San Francisco has not come around to addressing its homeless. As Cagle mentions, in 1988, the year that the SF chapter was founded, the city made more than 700 felony arrests of Food Not Bombs volunteers. Nowadays, the city hoses down the TL at six each evening in the hopes of scattering people somewhere else.
So, as we enter the holidaze, those of us who have the luxury of arguing the merits of one comic over another should consider ourselves lucky. And, by all means, look to Nine Gallons as a shining example of a comic used for a higher purpose. There isn’t any need to argue whether it’s too sexy or not literate. This mini-comic is really a nice guide for what you can do in the comics medium if you have integrity and a good story to tell.
Having said that, consider how each character in Nine Gallons is imbued with his or her own light. Whether it’s a volunteer or someone down on their luck, each character is distinct. Little but vital details are included: facial expression, clothing, body language, word choice. And this isn’t in some realistic style but more of a cartoony and naturalistic style which is actually more of challenge. Cagle is trying to show you how the character feels as much as how the character looks. A wonderful example is the portrait of Judy, a little old lady who knits amazing sweaters. The panel of Judy stepping up to get her routine cup of soup has a beautiful drawing of her in the background. It’s a great portrait and wonderful pause before we return to the streets.
For more information on Food Not Bombs, check out their site. And for more on what Susie Cagle is up to, check out her site.