Minicomics: Susie Cagle
Hello. It’s been nearly a year since I last blogged here; another APE has come and gone, and The Stack is now even bigger. So I’m going to revisit the concept and try to stick with it this time. Starting with a pair of minis by “reportage cartoonist” Susie Cagle, This Is What Concerns Me and I’m Here From The Government.
This Is What Concerns Me is a short sampling of one-page strips that I gather are compiled from her eponymous website. How you react to her taken-from-life vignettes will probably depend a lot on how much time you’ve spent in San Francisco, where Cagle lives and works. Subjects like hippie stench, vegan shopping, and random crazies on the street are probably more interesting if they’re new to you and not everyday facts of life.
Cagle’s actual storytelling is more interesting than her choice of stories to tell here. The one- and two-page material at the front of the book is all right, but she’s at her best when she gives herself space to let a story breathe. The two-and-a-half “Security” strips in the 13-page book showcase her skill for evocative recreations of San Francisco’s distinct environs, all sloped sidewalks, tall brick buildings, and unassuming walk-by shops. She uses a much looser style in these strips than in I’m Here From the Government, but it’s still effective at capturing her own unease and irritation, as well as the creepiness of the characters she encounters.
If you only read one of the two, however, I’m Here From The Government is the one to go for. This is the one where Cagle lives up to her title and provides some intriguing cartoon reportage on what it’s like to be a census taker. (Or Enumerator, to use the official term. See, it’s educational!)
Pretty much the only thing I knew about enumerators prior to reading this was hearing stories of paranoid fringe lunatics attacking them during the 2010 census, wholly convinced that they were agents of the New World Order keeping tabs on them for some future mass roundup into indoctrination camps. Cagle worked in the rather more liberal San Francisco, so if you’re hoping for tense tales of confrontations with belligerent responders, you won’t find them here. (Though there are hints of danger evident in the safety training seminar the enumerators receive, with advice such as “Wear comfortable walking shoes. These may come in handy should there be a need to run.”)
These stories are more procedural; half the book is devoted to the training sessions before Cagle takes a step onto the streets to poll people. What’s most impressive about these sections is how much went into the preparation before Cagle drew a single line. It’s clear from the specific details given at every step, from reproductions of the actual test questions Cagle answered to get the job to a dizzying array of jargon and acronyms peppering the dialogue, that Cagle took thorough notes during the process for later use. (One of the chapters is even titled “Verbatim.”)
Once the enumerators are out in the field, the tone bounces around between comedic (the enumerators joking around about “Census Regionals”), informative (did you know government writing utensils are made by Skilcraft, a manufacturer created to employ blind workers? I didn’t!), and uncomfortable (“Operation TNSOL,” a night spent cataloguing the homeless in park spaces, makes effective use of garbled dialogue balloons to convey Cagle’s fear and shame).
The line in these stories is thicker and more solid than the scratchiness of This Is What Concerns Me, which goes a long way toward improving its readability. Cagle’s gift for faces and expressions is put to even better use here with the expanded cast–the enormous mouth and huge-pupiled stare on Cagle’s CL makes her even more memorable as a character, especially in contrast with her thin-lipped, perpetually-silent assistant.
IF SUSIE CAGLE EXHIBITS AT NEXT YEAR’S APE I WILL: Pick up more of her long-form/reportage comics and skip the collections of one-offs.