Phoenix bicycle safety comics put ‘graphic’ in graphic novel

Thinking Highways
By Thinking Highways April 21, 2016 12:51

Phoenix bicycle safety comics put ‘graphic’ in graphic novel


Bike safety for kids is dead serious in Phoenix. Emphasis on dead. Or at least maimed.

Spring weather means more biking and, with National Bike to School Day approaching on May 4, the city’s Street Transportation Department is handing out comic books that show the consequences of not following the rules – the gory consequences.

The seven graphic novels, distributed by the city at bicycle safety events, each include a safety tip like “Ride on the right!” and “Avoid the blind spot!” The cyclists who ignore the advice end in a pool of blood, crushed by a truck and, in one case, apparently dead.

“I thought, ‘This can’t be real,’ ” said Nichole Schaffer, whose 9-year-old daughter received one of the comic books last week during a safety event for third- and fourth-graders at Madison Heights Elementary School.

The book, telling kids to wear their helmets, ends with a crash exposing the cyclist’s open skull with his friend saying, “You can see his brain!”

Schaffer said the gruesome graphics “freaked out” her daughter.

“It looks like something out of a horror movie,” Schaffer said.

Extreme illustrations

A Phoenix team designed the material as part of a grant from the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said Monica Hernandez, spokeswoman for the Street Transportation Department.

About $18,700 in grant and city funding has gone toward producing the comic books and posters with similar graphics since 2011, she said.

Illustrator Rob Osborne said he quickly realized while working on the project that the goal was to be over the top. He said he was initially concerned about the reaction to his drawings of exposed brains and carnage, but he’s heard little negative feedback.

“That never got kicked back, much to my surprise,” he said.

Some pictures were dialed back from earlier sketches, he said, including one of a cyclist smashing through a car door.

“We reattached the fingers for the final art,” Osborne said.

Bike safety is serious

The comic books are one of many bike safety initiatives led by Phoenix and are geared primarily at youth in the third grade and above, Hernandez said. The bright and catchy graphics aim to educate a young audience, she said, though the format doesn’t mean they’re funny.

“There’s nothing comical about this,” Hernandez said. “This is serious.”

Hernandez did not know how many comic books have been distributed but said they are given out at dozens of events each year. Schools can also request the safety programming.

The city runs material by schools before it’s shared with students, Hernandez said.

Based on the popularity of the books, the department is now working on materials for children as young as kindergarten, Hernandez said. Osborne will again illustrate them, he said.

“I suspect we won’t be as over the top,” he said.

Thinking Highways
By Thinking Highways April 21, 2016 12:51