TheVeganJunction recently got the chance to ask Rich, of Vegan Sidekick a few questions. If you’ve ever wanted to learn a bit more about the creator behind the comics and other great vegan content, now’s your chance!
Could you share a bit about yourself and your journey to the vegan lifestyle?
Hi! My name is Richard, I was born in 1982, and I’m from the UK. I have been vegetarian ever since I learned what meat was as a child, and then later in my late teens, I gave more thought to our treatment of animals in general, and concluded that all animal use is unreasonable in our society. I also identify as an atheist and skeptic, and I feel like veganism is an extension of logical reasoning. Just as I am against discrimination in any form – sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism etc, I am against all exploitation and harm of animals, whether they are cats, dogs, cattle or fish.
How long have you been creating content for Vegan Sidekick?
I began the project in April 2013.
Where did the idea for Vegan Sidekick come from or how did it evolve? Was your background in illustration and design a contributing factor to choosing comics as the main medium for sharing the vegan message?
I had been apathetic for a long time as a vegan, as practically none of my friends or family showed interest and I didn’t know what to do to get people to think. I had been vegan for about twelve years or so, and although I was trying to avoid harming animals, I wasn’t actively helping either. Over time I had seen people advocating for animal rights online, such as Robert Cheeke and other vegan fitness people using their bodies, and various people making videos on youtube. I felt that I could do some form of outreach myself, but wanted to focus pretty much exclusively on the pure logic of non-violence, and get it across that it’s just completely straight forward, and that any sensible, compassionate person should be vegan. I hadn’t really considered my background in illustration being of any value, and really it still isn’t because the images are so roughly drawn and rubbish!
You seem to put out an endless stream of quality content. How many comics/images do you tend to produce per week? And is there anything you do to come up with new inspiration and ideas?
Thanks! At the weekend, I tend to put together at least 7 images, so that I can just upload one per day during the following week. Sometimes I make more than that, or I have other ideas during the week so I spontaneously put together another one or two to upload. Sometimes I randomly decide that I want to upload another one RIGHT NOW so it just happens, I don’t have a routine other than the pretty rigid rule of getting a new image up each day pretty much. I have a notepad document that I keep a list of ideas in, and I just make a note of absurd arguments I read online. I have the dilemma of reading these comments and arguments to be able to then create comics depicting them… but they are so irritating and depressing that I can’t stand to do it for too long without either slipping up and choosing to reply and arguing with someone for the afternoon, or just going offline and ignoring it, then not being able to think of relevant comics.
Vegan Sidekick takes a unique approach to activism, using humour that at once shows the feebleness of many traditional ‘meat-eater’ arguments against veganism, while maintaining a lighter vibe that doesn’t come across as harshly condescending or belittling.
This method seems quite effective, even as a means to reinforce why we have chosen this path. Is there anything you do in particular to create and maintain this feel to Vegan Sidekick?
I’m glad you see it that way, but that certainly isn’t everybody’s opinion! I also get criticism to the contrary, that my images are extremely condescending and belittling… Ultimately I feel like my points are logical, and the comics are displayed in such a way that the reader should not want to be “that guy”. I try hard to avoid saying “Look, this is every single person who isn’t vegan” – because not everybody has the same excuses or attitude, so nobody should be reading it and saying “Hey, how dare you say that about ME” – unless they actually have made the argument made in the comic, in which case they have been proven wrong presumably, and should re-think. I hope to make people laugh, but humour isn’t really an exact science. I can only try my best and hope that people get the point of the images, rather than focusing on being offended by being held accountable.
You seem to have a fair amount of patience with others, shown through the level-headed and logical way you address ‘trolls.’
Do you ever feel overly frustrated by certain responses to the images/message? Do you have any advice for others for how to deal with more obstinate mind-sets and responses to various aspects of veganism?
Well again it depends who you’re talking to. I do try to be a good advocate, but even so, I know that I can sometimes be overly sarcastic or stoic because yeah, the responses and arguments do get to me. Rather than just dismiss people outright and say “don’t be stupid”, I try to take the time to spell out why their argument doesn’t make sense… by opening myself up like that, it means that when they subsequently completely abandon their point and make a new absurd argument (fifty times in a row), it becomes annoying. My advice to people is to try and spot when someone actually is saying “the reason why I am not vegan is X and if you could really disprove X, then I would be vegan”. If that is what is happening, then spend all the time you need with that person. But if someone has made that statement fifty times, then their arguments are not genuine clearly, and they are actually just either looking for a fight, trying to make themselves feel better, or something else that I can’t understand. Keep calm, don’t insult them, just walk away when it’s clearly a pointless conversation. There are seven billion of us on this planet, so if one person has their hands firmly over their ears at that time, then find someone who doesn’t.
Is Vegan Sidekick accomplishing what you had hoped it would? Is there anywhere you would like to see it go in the future? And have you enjoyed seeing the tremendous response?
I had become so used to people ignoring veganism that really I began the project out of a kind of desperation. I felt like I had to at least try to do something… but I didn’t think for a moment that I’d ever get a single person to go vegan. But now I continually get messages from people saying that I changed their minds with my images. So yeah, I have accomplished more than I ever hoped to, and it’s great. I feel like my time on this planet actually has some kind of benefit, which I never felt before. I very much enjoy the response that I have had, it is humbling to be held in such high regard by so many people, and I doubt I’ll ever get used to that. In future, I basically just hope to reach more people. I think there is a high chance that I will attempt to animate my work, especially as there are more and more ideas that I have which I cannot fit into my current format.
Are there any topics or comics that are your favourites so far?
It’s hard to say. Sometimes I get a kick out of being able to have an image which shows what meat really is (like my recent image of two people making a recipe, but then the meat eater says he’d like to also slit a pig’s throat). Those kinds of things I feel are so simple, and all they are saying is “Look at what you are responsible for and think about it”. There are images which I feel are clever ideas, like the wall of excuses with a vegan trying to break through… but I have no way to know which of the images are reaching people and getting them to think. Maybe that image just got thousands of vegans to say “yep” over and over again, which doesn’t help anybody… who knows.
When you’re not creating quality vegan comics, where can you be found? What are some of your favourite activities?
I spend most mornings in the gym. I enjoy a lot of nerdy activities like gaming, reading novels and comics, watching movies and certain TV shows. Some of my favourites are Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Sopranos, Shield, Burn Notice, Breaking Bad and lol the first season of Dexter, Lost, Battlestar, Game of Thrones, Prison Break… I spend a lot of time just relaxing, taking baths, or listening to ASMR. I love watching close up magic like card and coin tricks, especially that of Slydini, Elmsley and Lennart Green. I also like cooking meals for people. I play guitar and drums, and I have a Body Opponent Bag for stress relief and exercise. But let’s be honest, mainly stress relief tho.
Do you have any favourite vegan meals?
I love food and easily binge on unhealthy junk, but right now I am following a strict nutrition plan and weigh my food. I love my fruit smoothies right now, and I am eating a lot of brown rice and beans. Also cashew butter is amazing. When I am not being so careful, I like a curry, chili or pasta dish, usually something spicy.
Is there anyone or anything that has especially inspired you within the vegan lifestyle? Are there any additional resources you would like to direct others to?
I try to learn from everybody, whether they are arguing with me or in agreement, and I learn little things here and there. There are so many vegans in great shape, and they inspire me to do the same. I have worked for several years with Robert Cheeke and I try to learn from his positive approach to conversations. I don’t think I will ever have the same positivity as him, as I am far happier to meet the conflict head on! But I do think that his attitude is wonderful. Dr. Greger is a brilliant resource for plant-based nutrition information, and he isn’t afraid to highlight the issues relating to the standard diet that most people have in the West.
Do you have any advice for someone who is just considering or transitioning to the vegan lifestyle?
I don’t have any magic words really, ultimately it is just the sensible choice to make. We are in a society where this has become the norm, and it’s the only way of doing things that people know, so they just see it as “how things are done”. Take a step outside that for a second look at your options, and you see that the use of animals is just completely ridiculous at this point in history. We should be moving towards a more compassionate, less violent future. Exploiting innocent victims for our trivial enjoyment is just not a part of that.
And you have compiled many of the Vegan Sidekick comics into a couple of books. Where can people find these, and do you plan to put more together in the future?
They are available through lulu which is linked to on my website. I would like to add that I don’t want anybody to feel obliged to purchase anything from me. The books are there because I had lots of people writing to me to ask for them, as they wanted them in their home, so I provided them. The page runs for free and I will keep it that way, so you can just follow me and get the same content! It is my intention to put together subsequent volumes, absolutely.
Where can people find and follow Vegan Sidekick on social media?
Thank you for all that you do, and for taking the time to share a bit about yourself and Vegan Sidekick!
You can find more great vegan-themed comics on the Vegan Sidekick website.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is now on Netflix! If you haven’t seen the documentary yet, you may want to read a review of Cowspiracy.
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