Fred Noland, a serious moonlighter

In his comic Working Stiff, Fred Noland exhaustively outlines all of the jobs he’s had, from a Taco Bell gig as a teenager to doing design work for the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District. Throughout much of his life, he’s done comics alongside other work. 

“I think I once would have just described myself as a cartoonist, but the way I look at it now is I see myself as a visual storyteller,” Noland said. “And as I’ve gotten to broaden my palate work-wise and actually had more opportunities, I’ve seen there’s ways to apply what I learned in editorial and what I’ve learned doing comics and these other venues.” 

Noland, who has an eclectic bibliography of comics that encompasses fiction, autobiography as well as historical biography, continues to make comics alongside other meaningful visual storytelling work. 

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The 47-year-old Oakland, California resident has made lots of comics and cartoons throughout his interesting career trajectory. Most recently, he’s been doing cartoons for The New Yorker about bicycling, love and the COVID-19 pandemic. His most recent cartoon, “Checking in on Old Friends,” published about a week-and-a-half ago, tells a story about contacting an old friend that eventually dips into the absurd – it’s funny stuff. Give it a read here

The first cartoon he got published in The New Yorker, “In the Flow: A Cycling Story,” from about a year ago, represents one of many comics from Noland about bicycling. An avid bicyclist himself, Noland often returns to the past-time when he’s working on comics. 

“It’s a thing that I do, you know? You write what you know,” Noland said. “I don’t go to see movies, I don’t go to live shows anymore – I mean, nobody does now, but my years of going to concerts is over. I’m a parent and rarely single and don’t like talking about my romantic life anyway. So that’s the thing that comes up. That’s the thing that I do. I spend 10 hours a week cycling.”

He enjoys cycling for the obvious reasons, like the exercise it provides, but also gets a lot more out of it.

“When you do that, you see a lot. It can be kind of a metaphor for life in a lot of ways,” Noland said. “And the encounters you have are interesting. Just observing life from that level versus being in a car… you just encounter a lot of things that can be interesting.” 

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In his recent comic Major Taylor, which tells the story of the titular historical figure who pioneered Black representation in competitive bicycling, Noland bookends the plot with a small, exaggerated anecdote from his own bicycling. In Major Taylor, Noland explains that people often refer to him as Lance Armstrong when he’s bicycling, which grew to annoy him over the years. 

“I know the spirit of this greeting is intended to be encouraging or (at worst) a mild, good-natured tease. But it ignores several crucial details,” Noland writes in the comic. 

This panel in the comic shows a vexed Noland yelling at one of these passersby. “I DON’T do DRUGS,” the cartoon Noland screams. “I am NOT a SOCIOPATH. I am NOT WHITE.” He’d rather be compared to Major Taylor, a historic bicyclist Noland recently discovered.

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“I’ve been bicycling for 10, 12 years – had never heard of him. He just kind of got lost,” Noland said. “You hear about Jackie Robinson, you hear about Muhammad Ali. And Major Taylor was on that level years before, but because bicycling didn’t last as popular a sport as it was at the turn of the century, kind of just got lost to history.” 

Outside of comics, Noland has recently done work for [people. power. media], a non-profit that advocates for marginalized groups. For this group, Noland has done illustrations and worked on animated cartoons. 

Noland also hosts a podcast called Serious Moonlighting, a podcast for which he interviews people like him – folks who make art after a hard day’s work spent on a different obligation. Noland’s mission statement for the show dovetails with how he sees his own work.  

“It has to be people who are really committed and serious about their work. It’s not a hobby,” Noland said. “We do this because we kind of have to. This is essential to who we are. That’s why it’s Serious Moonlighting, not Killing Time Moonlighting.” 

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all images courtesy of fred noland. you can find his website here

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