Saturday, June 27, 2009

Bike Comics

Bike comic strips and comic books, that is. No stand-up here. Let's visit a couple of modern-day heroes, and one very special superhero from the 70's.

Frazz by Jef Mallet

Frazz, aka Edwin Frazier, is a man for our times. Obviously educated, he is nonetheless underemployed (intentionally, for his backstory is, he's a songwriter who has made it big but can't give up the interactions of his "day job" as a middle-school janitor.) His interests? Education, philosophy, music, the impertinence of youth, and (to no small degree) physical activity, which includes a good deal of bicycling. To his credit, when Frazz is on a bike, he always wears a helmet. If you're lucky enough to have a daily newspaper that carries Frazz, don't pass him by.

I really like Mallet's graphic style. While it is very disciplined, it looks loose and sketchy, almost at times like Bill Watterson. His characterizations (both visual and dialogue-based) are great. I especially like Ms. Olson, who (no doubt unfairly) reminds me of countless teachers of my youth.

Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery by Rick Smith

Yehuda Moon, like Frazz, is full of attitude (what practical cyclist isn't?) Yehuda is in the trenches, however. He works in a bike shop (the Kickstand Cyclery) and is a year-round commuter. He lives to ride, and will use any excuse to get on his bike to "run an errand". He seems to lack Frazz's lofty philosophical point of view, though, and the day-to-day of the world gets to him quite a bit more than Frazz. Sometimes the 'tude manifests itself as antipathy to heedless drivers (as in the example above) and sometimes it's just pure stubbornness, as in Yehuda's refusal to wear a bike helmet.

Yehuda Moon is an online-only strip and is subscription supported. Judging from the amount of comments on a strip on any given day, he has a strong readership (and I hope that is reflected in the subscription ranks.) There are a lot of cyclist "insider" jokes in this strip, and casual recreational cyclists might not get all of them. But you know, I've known guys (especially in Austin, Texas, where I used to live) who worked in bike shops who were just like Yehuda Moon.

Sprocketman by Louis Saekow

Sprocketman is a superhero with a single purpose, to see that people are safe on their bikes. He originally appeared in the mid-t0-late 1970's in a comic book that was published and distributed as a joint project of the (California) Department of Public Safety and a nonprofit organization called the Urban Bikeway Design Collaborative. The comic book was drawn by a pre-med student at Stanford named Louis Saekow. It turned out to be a bit of a game-changer for Saekow, as he had so much fun drawing the comic book (his first) that he changed his major from medicine to graphic design!

In late 2002, Stanford University Transportation Services commissioned Saekow to do some more Sprocketman promotions. I'm not sure if they ever intended to do a complete comic book, but if it happened, I haven't been able to locate it. I think I may still have some original Sprockeman comics out in the garage — I used it in a bike commuting class that I taught 'way back in 1979. If you want to see the original Sprocketman comic book, you can download a PDF of it here.

Sprocketman also puts in an appearance in a very quirky website called "Pisser," which stands for "Public Information & Safety Superhero Education Rangers".


yikes ID said...
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Donny said...

I don't like your characterization of helmet-less riding as "pure stubbornness," or perhaps I misread your meaning. It just seemed like that was a point of black-and-white contrast between Frazz and Yehuda.

I have to say though that I'm like Yehuda in this way. Not that this is true for all cases, but in my experience, riding with a helmet is simply impractical. In the few accidents I've been in, it didn't help, and in anything more serious than those accidents, I would've likely been seriously injured or killed, helmet or no.

On the flip-side, there's some "evidence" that drivers are more careless when a bicyclist is wearing a helmet than when they aren't, and it hasn't been disproved or corroborated.

And then adding in the fact that even with the plastic snap-on brim, a helmet provides little shelter from the sunlight (compared to a hat) and causes heat to collect inside of it -- a big deal in climates like Tampa. Also, it just seems to "ruin the mood" by coming across as elitist to the less-informed/more-utilitarian riders and I feel more free when I'm not wearing one. And since the feeling of freedom is one of my favorite things about bicycles, that plays into my decision as well.

Note that I am not intending to start a flame war, and I won't appreciate something like "well, you'll wish you had worn one when you end up a vegetable in the hospital" as a response. I understand the risks of riding without a helmet, as I understand the risks of riding a bicycle on a car-infested road, as I understand the risks of living in society. I know that my choice is not for everyone (or maybe even most people), but it is an alternate way of looking at it that I feel is valid.

Donny said...

Otherwise though, this is an awesome post. I'm already an avid follower of Yehuda, and I missed him sorely when he and Joe went on a hiatus recently. I'll be sure to check out Frazz, as it appears to be an awesome comic as well. It seems to be available at Sprocketman seems a little bit strange and perhaps even disturbing, but hey, it's bicycle-related, so it's gotta be worth something! ^_^

Robert Anderson said...

Donny, the helmet issue is a very emotional one, and I'm a helmet wearer, and always have been. It seems to me that non-wearers such as yourself always have a host of reasons for not wearing them.

On the other hand, I wear them because they have been statistically shown (rather unambiguously, and despite certain users' anecdotal protestations) to save lives and to prevent debilitating injury. A little head-sweat (and even that mitigated by a helmet-liner) is to me a minuscule price to pay for that. And I must say that helmets don't interfere with the "feeling of freedom" on a bike. I daresay that, since modern helmets are so light and unobtrusive, even if you'd never worn a helmet before, you cease to notice it after a couple of miles.

Your mind is made up, and so is mine, and now both sides have had their airing on this comment thread. I leave it for each to make up his mind on this issue.

mondaytuesdaywednesdaythursdayfridaysaturdaysunday said...

Just yesterday I was at the grocery store with my son where a woman from Cascade Bicycle Club was handing out coloring books called "Sprocket Hero's 6 Safety Tips". The cover has a picture of Sprocket Hero that immediately drew my attention and reminded me of an old comic book that I had growing up in Berkeley in the '70s.

I found your post while trying to verify to myself that my old memories of a similar cycling hero weren't completely fabricated.

When I saw the Sprocketman comic on-line it all came back to me and it was fun to recall so vividly something that I hadn't thought about in decades. I read that comic countless times as a kid and memorized nearly every detail.

Cascade Bicycle Club doesn't have their coloring book online but they do mention it on their site and apparently you can hire "Sprocket Hero" to come speak at a school assembly. I don't want to get anyone in trouble but it's pretty obvious that their "Sprocket Hero" was inspired by Sprocketman. Based on how much of my current cycling knowledge I found when reviewing the comic tonight it's obvious that I was as well.

Thanks for digging up the history of Sprocketman.

Louis Saekow said...

Hi, This is Louis Saekow. I came across this blog, and I read what mondaytuesday said about Sprocket Man. Touched me greatly. Sprocket Man changed my life. I'm not really a bicycle enthusiast, but I was slated to go to med school after graduating from Stanford University, and the joy I had drawing Sprocket Man (for pay, no less!) was so great, I became a pretty successful graphic designer instead. Never regretted the path less taken.