Thursday, June 21, 2018

Vegan Sidekick on activism, his goals and "poorly drawn" comics

Vegan Sidekick has taken the internet by storm. With his hilarious, crudely honest and perfectly shareable comics, Richard AKA Vegan Sidekick has carved out a niche for himself in the world of animal activism. In this in-depth interview, we talked to Richard about his work, future plans, and advice for animal activists.
VI: You say you started Vegan Sidekick because you became apathetic about and had given up on activism. What kind of activism were you into before and why did you become disillusioned with it?

VS: Well I don’t know if it can be called “activism”, but really I just talked to anybody about animal rights / veganism. I tried various ways to try to convince people, usually just simply stating “If you care about animals at all, how can you eat them?”, but ultimately I just kept getting the usual excuses or straight up “I don’t give a shit so shut up” responses.  So after a while I just decided to try to be a positive example without questioning anyone, and hoping they’d just be interested in what I was doing, which didn’t really work either because barely anybody asked.

VI: What drew (pardon the pun) you to conveying messages via comic? Had you drawn comics before creating Vegan Sidekick?

VS: I am a graphic designer/illustrator, and I’ve always drawn since I can remember. The comics are deliberately poorly drawn to make them more humorous and accessible, but most people don’t know that as I don’t make it widely known that I am actually an illustrator (as it’s not important). I think that drawing them like this makes it clear immediately that they are satire, and I worry that if I drew them properly that it could appear condescending.  This way is rough and ready.  However, to begin with I made videos of myself talking on the subject very seriously and giving advice, and then began making memes using photographs etc. After a few months I wanted to say something in particular for one image, so drew some crappy stick men to get it across, and it was more popular than anything else I had done, so I continued that way.

VI: As well as conveying a vitally important message and being brutally honest, the comics have an element of absurdist comedy to them. When you started creating these comics, did you realise how well the ridiculousness of the animal product industry translated to being (quite literally) tragically funny? Did you realise how rightfully stupid you can make people’s support of animal abuse look?

VS: Yeah, I guess I did realise how ridiculous the industry is and all arguments in support of it, but as I take the subject so seriously, I hadn’t considered there to be comedy there really.  Until running the page I was just frustrated with these justifications, I had already heard them a thousand times, but found no joy in it.  I naturally make jokes a lot in real life, so when it came to putting these things across in an image, my mind just seemed to go in that direction of satire / sarcasm /ridicule.  I stay with the comic form because it is working, people like to share them, and they are making people think. Frankly, I knew precisely how stupid I could make people’s support of animal abuse look, because you just have to listen to these kinds of excuses for five minutes, and it’s plain as day how stupid it is.  The comics just basically hold a mirror up to reality and say “This is ridiculous isn’t it?”.1234632_583778318383295_1440634981_n

VI: You’ve just recently hit 60,000 likes on Facebook. Did you expect this kind of positive reaction amounting in only a little over two years since you started posting comics to Facebook?

VS: No, I never considered that I’d have a large audience or that people would find the comics so useful and important. When I went to VegFest in May, I was really blown away by how people were talking to me because honestly I am down to earth, and don’t consider myself to be anybody special, this is just something I started doing and people happened to share it a lot… but people talked to me like I’m a celebrity which was crazy, but it goes to show what an impact these silly pictures have had.  Some people have sent me really touching and heart-felt messages, it feels great to be able to do something which really seems to matter to others.

VI: I know it must be hard to gauge, but do you have any idea of the vegan/non-vegan make-up of your audience?

VS: Yeah I have no idea how many people who follow me are vegan, vegetarian or non-vegan… My guess is that over half will be vegan, and then the other half would be mainly vegetarian and very few non-vegans.

VI: I love that you have an extremely thorough FAQ/guide to veganism on your website. What spurred you to do this, let alone type it all up yourself when you could’ve easily just linked to relevant information elsewhere?

VS: I was finding myself in the same conversations over and over again as my page grew in popularity and attracted people who wanted to justify animal abuse… It got to the point where I was explaining to people “no, you’re not a lion. No, plants don’t have feelings…” several times a day and I knew I was just typing the same answers… so to save time it made sense to have those answers stored so I could copy and paste. I was also starting to lose patience and get a bit sharp with some people (a problem I still have, I know), and copying and pasting from the guide also sidesteps that because that’s all phrased pretty well. It also struck me that others would find such a thing useful, and I see so many other vegans arguing all over the internet – and frankly I don’t think many vegans are very good at getting their point across. That’s also the reason I wrote it all out myself. There are other great resources, but they’re often too wordy, and I like to be more concise and reply to these excuses with an angle that cuts through the crap.

VI: Were you expecting to put books of your comics out?

VS: Never! I ran the page for about a ten months with no intention of doing a book. But I just kept on getting messages from people asking for one, so I did it, and then similarly had more messages asking for a second book… I will keep releasing them I guess, I’ve already had several people ask for book three.Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 1.37.09 pm
VI: Do you have any long-term goals for Vegan Sidekick?

VS: My goal has always been to help people realise what is going on, and that animals don’t deserve what happens to them. That has been achieved already. So many people have gone vegan as a direct result of my page, and I’ll never know the total because of the nature of shares, re-shares, downloads and re-uploads… the images are getting everywhere. Really the page has served its purpose, and I could stop tomorrow and I would feel very happy with what I achieved. But now that I have this audience, and it looks set to keep growing (on Instagram I am getting about 1,000 new followers per week at the moment which is ridiculous), I keep trying to think of the most effective thing to do. Essentially, what I have been doing is working so I will keep doing it and trying to get the message across in humorous and inventive ways.  In the future I may do a regular podcast where I can deal with more general vegan stuff, and I may even end up doing some animation, although that is also time-intensive.

VI: What advice would you give to people who have maybe “given up” on animal activism like you once had?

VS: I guess I would say, don’t give up on activism altogether. If what you’ve tried hasn’t worked so far, then either try something else, or try it on someone else.  I am glad that I tried my own thing with Vegan Sidekick, and it has done well, so if I had given up entirely, nobody would have these comics…  I know that it isn’t all a dead end, it is mainly about being able to reach somebody who is even receptive at all, that’s the hardest part (which is made easier for me due to the reach of the comics). I don’t know for sure what the best form of activism is. However, one thing that everyone can do is to get in shape and be healthy. Work out, go jogging, swimming, cycling, lift weights and watch what you eat. You can become an advocate for animals just with your body, because people will ask you what you eat once they see that you look good, and then it makes the conversation that much easier.  Also it just makes sense to be in good health anyway, so it is win/win.

Thank you for your generous time, insight and advice, Richard!

To read 11 of Vegan Sidekick’s best comics as chosen by him, click here!
To find out more, visit Vegan Sidekick’s website
To buy his books, click here.


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