Interview: Susie Cagle!  »

Susie Cagle’s new comic book, Nine Gallons, details her experiences—equal parts hilarious and bewildering—as a volunteer for Food Not Bombs. She also writes for lots of awesome publications, including The Daily Cross Hatch. In addition to all that, Susie is SUPER FUCKING FUNNY. If you don’t follow her on twitter, you’re missing out on one of the most charming, funny, smart, and fantastic things on the entire internet. THE ENTIRE INTERNET, PEOPLE. THAT  INCLUDES R.KELLY VIDEOS AND KEYBOARD CAT (he’s a cat! playing a keyboard! HILARIOUS!). Susie recently moved back to the bay area so let’s welcome her by saying all sort of nice things in the comments section, okay!?

How long have you been vegan?
Four years..? Before that I was vegetarian for… six years? something like that. But I’ve had some cheegan moments, I admit—it hasn’t really been easy going, especially on long road trips. (Yes, please, bring on the hate comments.)

Are you vegan for health, environmental, animal rights reasons, or a combination?
I guess it’s a combination, but primarily environmental and animal rights reasons. I’ve always liked to call myself a Reluctant Vegan, because of and despite many different factors; I don’t think food politics are black and white, I don’t think it’s healthy to look at anything that way, especially issues so complicated. I mean, veganism isn’t sustainable on a worldwide scale; I wish vegans were more willing to talk about things like that. And I’m still pretty freaked out by the vegan cult and anyone talking about “cleansing.” I think vegan outreach kind of sucks for these reasons—food choices are very personal, deeply ingrained in culture and upbringing, and they won’t be easily changed, even when people are presented with facts. As a journalist, I should know that presenting people with facts doesn’t do much good. I think if you want to make real strides, they should be presented with tiramisu cupcakes. But I guess I got a little off-topic there.

Vegetarianism (or some may say near-vegetarianism) is sustainable worldwide, as it uses resources that exist; if cows, goats and chickens were no longer factory farmed but just roamed the countryside, it would be better for the planet for us to use their extra milk and eggs (eggs especially since chickens produce lots). Same for wool, or things like ahimsa silk (from abandoned silk worm nests). But if you’re an abolitionist vegan, it would still be completely wrong to you on moral, animal rights grounds. This is where my whole Reluctant Vegan thing sort of comes into play—I think it’s the best answer to the current situation we’re in, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the best answer ever for all circumstances and for all times. I mean, is living on a diet of prepackaged vegan treats that’ve been shipped across the country better for the planet than drinking the milk from your well-treated cow on your own farm? That might not be the most fair comparison, I’m just playing devil’s advocate. (This is why I often wear used leather instead of buying new PVC products that often degrade faster and require more new purchases.) Then it gets into cultural differences, like what about native tribes in Brazil? Should they not fish in their rivers? Should they survive on rice and grass and import tofu and seitan at a great cost to themselves and the planet? The logical extensions of these arguments become problematic. Plus then this gets into the fact that a lot of prominent vegans I know whose names I really can’t use have told me they would or do eat eggs from their friends’ chickens…

I’d love to spark some debate on these things though since I think it’s important to constantly reevaluate your political beliefs. And maybe that’s the difference for me: I see veganism as a political choice, whereas I know some other people see it as closer to a moral or even spiritual choice. Maybe, though, that’s because I identify more closely with environmental concerns than just with animal rights.

In “Nine Gallons,” you volunteer with Food Not Bombs and the experience was…interesting. Has anyone from FNB seen the comic? What do you think of them now? Would you encourage people to volunteer there? Is the soup really edible?
A couple of volunteers have seen the book, but no one who’s actually in it has seen it yet, as far as I know. (Though I’ve been told that they were portrayed very true-to-life… Yikes.) I think Food Not Bombs is great, and I would absolutely encourage everyone to volunteer with them. Why go to a government-run food bank when you could volunteer with wacky anarchists and salvage food that will otherwise be thrown away? I hope when the story is completed people will see that there’s a lot of good to be done there, especially if you’re also a person in need and if you already know where the good dumpsters are. And yes, the soup is really edible, though some batches are certainly better than others.

How has being vegan influenced your comics?
I’ve done a fair number of vegan comics, like this one about the FBI infiltrating vegan potlucks that no one believes is based on this story about FBI agents in Minneapolis trying to infiltrate the radical community. I think sometimes people think I’m just making this shit up, even when I say “true stories.” There’s also some conversation about veganism later on in “Nine Gallons.” I’ve written a lot more comics about industrial food production, factory farming and modern food science I’d like to do in the future too.

Who is your favorite cartoonist, vegan or not? it’s okay to say Jonas. In fact, it’s best if you do. KIDDING!
Aw man, I have lots of favorite cartoonists… I’m going to suggest some people that maybe your readers are less likely to have heard of already. I think Hellen Jo is a watercoloring force to be reckoned with. Ken Dahl draws like a motherfucker. Eleanor Davis is completely underrated. In terms of storytelling specifically, I really like Chester Brown, and Guy Delisle and Joe Sacco’s reportage stuff. There are a lot more, but I’m on deadline… And if you’re looking for more vegan comics, J.T. Yost is really great. You guys should interview him too! [Ed.: Forthcoming!]

What is your favorite animal?
Otters holding hands; runners-up: kittens in a tissue box.

Favorite vegan food to make?
Apricot almond cupcakes from VCTOTW. Dreena Burton’s chocolate chip cookies, because they’re done in 15 minutes, start to finish. And seitan riblets, easiest seitan dish I’ve ever made.

Favorite vegan dish at a restaurant/favorite vegan restaurant?
Crispy nuggets at Vegetarian Palate in Brooklyn, hands down. (Ed.: FUCK YEAH DELICIOUS CRISPY NUGGETS FROM VEGETARIAN PALATE!!)

Based on food options alone, which is your favorite comics show to travel to?
Well, I’ve never been to the vegan hipster mecca that is Portland, Oregon so I’m not sure I can give a complete answer. But I think New York offers an astonishingly wide range of foods.

Any eating tips for traveling cartoonists?
Primal Strips (Ed.: FUCK YEAH DELICIOUS PRIMAL STRIPS!!!)are a great thing to have on hand. They’re like 10 grams of protein for $1 or something, maybe $1.50 with inflation. And just do your research — consult the hive mind. Lots of places that don’t seem veg friendly totally are. I used to manage the restaurant database for SuperVegan when I lived in New York and I was always running across random vegan treats at unexpected spots.

Do you have one drawing tip to share?
Just keep doing it—you’ll get better, and the more you do it, the faster you’ll get better.

Do you have a day job, or do you draw comics full-time?
Well, neither. I’m currently a victim of the economic downturn and its particular wrath on journalism. I’m freelancing for a few different places, but this has given me a lot of time to be drawing comics.

I have to ask you about your dad. What influence did his career have on your own path as a cartoonist?
Wait, does that mean you’re going to post that picture of me in the bath? Please don’t! (My father is an editorial cartoonist; before that he was a commercial illustrator for many years, including a long stint with the Henson company drawing, as he puts it, “pigs and frogs.”) I think my father has been a big influence on me in terms of his ambitiousness and his determination to do his own projects; I definitely have that headstrong perspective, sometimes to a fault. One of my most vivid memories as a kid was his always reminding me that he’s never had a real job; of course, one my other most vivid memories as a kid was thinking that we were always one Zillions cover from economic ruin. But I think just being around so many cartoonists growing up gave me the bug—our annual family vacation was to the National Cartoonists Society Convention, after all.

Do you guys ever get together and draw comics? What feedback has he given you on your work?
When I was little my father would give me drawing lessons all the time; I have some of these old gouache paintings from when I was eight or nine, and they’re kind of amazing. But he really cracked the whip, and I stopped drawing for a good 10 years because I felt like I just wasn’t good enough at it. The guy is a harsh critic, which can be a double-edged sword—he has a lot of really great points, but he’s not so cognizant of his delivery. To be fair, he’s very critical of his own work too, and he often asks for my input on gags.

You have a cat, right? Tell us about her! Any other cute pets?
Hannah! My cat followed my friend home a year and a half ago in Brooklyn, and my roommate and I had originally meant to just foster her. I was never really a cat person, I thought they were kind of boring and I was afraid of their claws. But then one night I woke up to her spooning me, and it was all over. She is three years old, her favorite game is fetch and her favorite treat is tomato paste. I still don’t think I’m a cat person, though, because I think Hannah thinks she is a dog.

What exciting upcoming projects can we look forward to? Because we do look forward to them.
I’m going to be the cartoonist in residence at the Charles Schulz museum on Saturday Oct. 10, I will have a new “This is What Concerns Me” minicomic for APE about recession woes, Nine Gallons the graphic novel will, if all goes according to plan knock on wood oh my god please please please, be out next June. AND THEN I can start on this monster of a book that I’ve been writing for the last six months about California history—cults, Manifest Destiny, serial killers, natural disasters—you know, the fun stuff.

Any questions for Vegansaurus? Anything!
How do you guys get all that sweet free shit?!

A: Begging, naturally! Thanks, Susie!

Susie’s comics are available for purchase at her website. GO BUY THEM ALL NOW.

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