Rick Smith & Brian Griggs: The men behind Yehuda Moon

The very first Yehuda strip (and one of my favorites)

If you’re into bikes and the Internet (as one would assume you are as a reader of this bike blog), you’re probably more than a little familiar with the webcomic Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand Cyclery. The comic, started in 2008 by Rick Smith, centers on bike shop co-owners Joe King and Yehuda Moon along with a wide cast of bike-world characters. Through the character’s daily lives, the strip explores subjects like bike politics, the follies of bike commuting, the ups and downs of shop life, racing, and the many archetypal bike people we’ve all encountered as cyclists. I spoke to Rick Smith and Brian Griggs (who joined the comic in 2010 to help write) about their backgrounds as bike people and artists, the inspirations for the characters and stories, their bike politics, and more.

What inspired you to start the comic?

Rick: In 2007 I committed to a year of cycling the 24 miles to and from work. A year later I had accumulated enough tales from the road that I thought they should be noted creatively in some fashion. Since I enjoyed drawing comics, I decided the daily strip would be the medium of choice. It worked out nicely: each day I rode, each day I drew.  Combined with the conversations I’d have with a co-worker who also rode (which turned into conversations between Joe and Yehuda in the shop), I figured that there was enough material to constitute a comic strip. I waited until I had finished 30 or 40 strips before showing anyone, since I thought maybe the interest would peter out or I’d run out of things to say. It didn’t happen so I kept drawing. Eventually the comic grew into a whole world complete with a bike shop (that burned down), a host of characters, and different stories.

Rick Smith

Did you have a background as an artist or cartoonist before hand?

Rick: I drew comics growing up but had no formal training. In 2001, after returning from a six month globe trotting trek and without job prospects, I began drawing again. I self published a number of books, and then ‘Shuck Unmasked’, a whimsical look at what the devil does in retirement, was published in 2003 by Top Shelf. I started drawing ‘Yehuda Moon’ early in 2008.

I’m guessing Yehuda Moon is more a labor of love than a gravy train to early retirement. What do you guys do in your other lives?

Rick: The comic’s patrons and business sponsors have made it easier for me to quit and support the kids while my wife pursues her economic development career. Their financial support has been great, actually. I am a web developer by trade and still need to work; the comic pays some but not all the bills.

Brian: I really enjoy working on the strip but, yeah. don’t think either one of us are buying vacation homes. It’s really great to see all the support from the readers, patrons, and sponsors, but to date I still have to keep up my day job as an internet customer service rep for a financial services company.

How much of the Kickstand and its characters are based off of real places and people from your life?

Rick: Many of the characters are based on people in my life, though most represent points of view Brian and I have about the subject or situation at hand in the story. The Kickstand Cyclery is actually situated in Shaker Heights (where I live and where the strip takes place) in a beautiful little rapid transit building.

Brian: Since I started writing with Rick, I have injected a lot of personal events and experiences into the strip. I think most of my best strips are based on a real event, place, person or even a real conversation with Rick. There are far too many examples to list but one of my favorites is 05/11/2010. My daughter’s stroller does have a Salsa skewer on the front.

Presumably the creative forces behind a bicycle cartoon are avid bike people themselves. Give me the short rundown of your life with bikes.

Rick: Huffy Desperado, 1977 – 1982 (retired). Some BMX model, 1982 – 1986 (stolen). Single speed cruisers, 1986 – 1996 (stolen, retired, lost). Specialized mountain bike, 2001 – 2006 (retired). Dutch transport bicycle, 2006 – present (grocery getter now). Rivendell Saluki, 2007 – present. Madsen cargo bicycle, 2010 – present. I’ve commuted to school and work by bicycle off and on throughout most of my life. I’ve always had just one bike – never felt the need for more than one, save for lately with the purchase of the Madsen.

Brian: I was a product of the mid 80’s BMX boom. I would only hop off my Schwinn Predator long enough to watch the movie ‘Rad’. Eventually upgrade fever caught me so bad that I had upgraded everything on my bike except the frame. When I was 12, I finally upgraded the frame as well, which resulted in my first bike build from the frame up at a very early age – a 1987 GT Pro Freestyle Tour (with white tires, of course). After buying a used Fuji road bike in high school and logging countless miles in the summers, I went to college during the mountain bike boom. I had a splatter painted full rigid Diamond Back Topanga that I jumped off flights of steps till I broke the forks. Later, during my years as a wrench working at a ski and bike shop, I ran through a K2 Animal (which rode like a waterbed) and finally arrived at the bikes I still have today. A 1999 Univega Modo Vincere and a Marin Juniper Trail (which now has an Xtracycle conversion). Toss in a tall bike, a cheap fixed gear, and a polo bike and there is very little room in my garage.

In some comics, it seems like you’re using Yehuda as a mouthpiece for your views on bike advocacy, infrastructure issues, progressive urbanism, etc. In others, it feels more like you’re taking a jab at the bleeding heart, anti-car, bike activist types. Is it your goal to sometimes use the comic as a platform for exploring complicated issues, or are you simple pulling material from one corner of the bike world?

Rick: I try and resist being preachy in the comic, though I know the earlier strips can come across that way. I prefer giving voice to the other side of any argument Yehuda may be having with another character. Working with Brian makes this infinitely easier.

Brian: There have been times where we’ve approached certain topics that can be pretty polarizing. Whether Rick and I agree or disagree, I try to keep it pretty balanced or at least squeeze a laugh out of it.

Most important question. Are you a Joe or a Yehuda?

Rick: Yehuda. Like him, the glass is always half full, I’ve always got something on the back burner, and I like to use my bicycle for transportation. What’s great is that Brian has many of Joe’s sensibilities, which means many of our conversations often turn into comics.

Brian: More and more these days, I find myself to be the voice of Joe. That was not my original intent. I’m not a race guy or even an aspiring race guy, in fact I’m pretty far from it, but conversations with Rick can generate some pretty witty jabs back and forth and that can generate some great material.

Rick: I want to introduce a new character that represents Brian’s perspectives. Yehuda treks out west this Fall to Interbike – maybe he’ll meet this character along the way.

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