Richard Watts, aka Vegan Sidekick, has produced hundreds of comics debunking arguments against veganism with his trademark logic and wit. Here he speaks about social media activism, meeting fans and the future of Vegan Sidekick.
I went vegan in 2000. I’d previously been vegetarian for a long time on the basis that it’s wrong to kill animals, and I didn’t buy leather or animal tested products. After a little thought, I came to realise that breeding animals into captivity for our purposes is unreasonable. It’s exploitation no matter what.
I make comics that deal with the kinds of justifications that people give for harming animals, the situations vegans find themselves in, and the general attitude or mental process that goes on when people try to weigh up their own views on animal rights against how they actually treat animals in reality. The point is to get people to rethink what we’re doing to animals, and realise it’s totally unnecessary.
There are a lot of great resources out there already, which just give the straight facts about animal product industries. It’s obviously really good to have that, but then as a result you often get the typical nonsensical excuses from people who don’t want to accept it. I like to think that’s where I come in, to provide handy rebuttals for people who have been told what’s going on, yet still want to fight.
"It’s not simple to know what will shake someone out of their routine. So I like to think of my page as a single tool, but not the only one that anybody should use."
Humour and vegan outreach
I think that including humour in my work makes people want to share it. So non-vegans end up seeing my comics and reading them before they know what they’re getting into. I wouldn’t say that my approach is the only one that works or should exist, or that I get it right every time. I’m not a perfect advocate – I screw up, either in the comics or how I speak to people.
There are some people who criticise or even hate what I’m doing, and that’s alright. There are other forms of outreach which may appeal to them, whether it’s a video about animal rights, a documentary, a vegan athlete, vegan chef or even a vegan musician.
It’s not simple to know what will shake someone out of their routine. So I like to think of my page as a single tool, but not the only one that anybody should use. You have to say what is appropriate for the person you’re talking to, and if my work is just annoying them, then try something else.
Creating new vegans
I’m frequently told that my comics have changed how someone thinks. Generally people say that they used to make the same silly excuses that I cover and they hadn’t ever had it spelled out in such blunt terms as to why it’s wrong to think that way. There are other people who just say they never realised what went on in the egg and dairy industries.
It’s surprising when people I’ve been talking to have been putting forward nonsensical arguments for days, and then go vegan after that. It’s rare – I do a double-take when it happens. Certain people are so argumentative and cling to what they’ve been doing all their lives, they’ll say pretty much anything at the time when confronted. But I think that after, when they are alone with their thoughts, is the time that they truly reflect and make the decision for themselves. A lot of people see conversations as a battle, and they don’t want to lose that battle at the time – even if they know their side isn’t even worth fighting for.
Since I began having stalls at vegan events, the reaction has been pretty mind-blowing. Sitting at home in my pants drawing a silly stickman, and then having people ‘like’ it on social media is one thing. But face to face (fully dressed), people talk to me like I’m a celebrity. I won’t get used to that.
It’s nice to know that I’m making a difference for a lot of people but I really try not to let it change how I see myself. I feel out of place at big events, and to me I’m just another person attending – but other people are there to speak to me as if I’m something special. I just try to be myself and answer people’s questions. I worry sometimes that people build me up too much like I’m some kind of superhero, but I’m just me, another everyday person like anyone else.
It’s fun to see people react to the comics for the first time. You see them frowning in confusion because they don’t realise it’s going to be humour or sarcasm. But once they flick through a few pages or pick up a couple of stickers, you see them start to smile and show their friends. So far I’ve only had one person react negatively, and all they did was read some of the comics and say “Okayyyyyy” and then walk off. Can’t win them all.
In terms of the page itself, I think I’ll be making another book of comics soon, as I’ve got so many piled up since the third volume. Also, people have been asking me to make T-shirts for a long time, and for a couple of reasons I haven’t done it. But in the near future it seems like it could be a thing.
I am still considering doing animated stuff but I’m hesitant because as soon as you put a voice to it, you risk altering the whole feel. So it might be that I do something fresh which has the same principle, but would have unique characters separate to the comics somehow, so I don’t detract from the comics. Honestly I don’t really know what I’m doing. I just try to keep up with the demand for the comics and I get round to answering the sweet e-mails and messages people send me when I’m feeling vaguely organised. Whatever it is that works about the comics, I hope to keep it alive and make the best of this opportunity to reach so many people.
Head to Vegan Sidekick's website to find out for yourself: though watch out for bad language!
By Richard Watts
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