Nine Gallons by Susie Cagle

The cover of Susie Cagle’s fun autobio comic about Food Not Bombs says it all with its splash of unidentifiable goo, dash of DIY (the goo is squeezed out by an industrious silk screener) and urban debris.

The story focuses on the characters surrounding the making and distribution of food for the homeless and hungry (aka the “camping”) in San Francisco. The characters include a stressed Susie learning the ropes, Raj, the skill-less coordinator, the salt-crazy chef and a host of other volunteers and soup eaters from the community. The comic also includes a funny, nicely illustrated recipe for the titular soup that says more than all the pages in the comic put together about Cagle’s feelings on her time doling out food for San Francisco’s hungry. I wish the rest of the comic had been so focused. Instead, it feels very much like what it is, the first part of a longer story. We don’t get any background on the Susie character and only a little on her motivation for joining FnB, and when her reasons are abruptly swept aside by Raj, we don’t get to see her reaction. We don’t know anything about what she does when she’s not cooking. I want to care about Susie, but I can’t quite because I only get to see little bits of what she is like.

I wish Cagle had either stuck to her feelings about FnB, like in the excellent one-page nightmare sequence, or really explored the stories of the people eating, even if that meant going fictional. I understand that a glimpse is the most she gets of these people’s lives, a hand reaching out for a paper cup, but the comic suffers from the author’s slight characterizations.

Cagle’s cartooning is really fun to look at. Her style is a little cartoony, but detailed enough to feel realistic. I love how she draws the FnB crew’s jobs and facial expressions during a cooking session. They all seem a little grim. And the Susie character has such a great face and posture—she looks like a girl whose bike you could get hit by and not care because she’s so nice. I want to see what happens next in the world of Nine Gallons, I only hope some of the characters rise to the top of the broth.

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