Self portrait by cartoonist Fred Noland On a warm April afternoon, I met cartoonist and avid cyclist Fred Noland in front of his studio in a converted factory wedged between forlorn train tracks and I-880 in East Oakland. A solidly built man of 50 with warm brown eyes and a wide smile punctuated with deep-dish dimples, Noland led me into a cavernous white-walled space that he shares with other artists and handed me a cartoon of his from 2013. In it, he’s kitted out in cycling gear, just riding his bike when someone shouts, “Hey, Lance Armstrong.” In the cartoon, Noland cringes and holds up three fingers as he schools the flustered bystander: “I DON’T do DRUGS. I am NOT a SOCIOPATH. I am NOT WHITE.” A decade later, he still dislikes any comparison with Armstrong: “It’s because he’s the American face of cycling,” Noland says.
This essay was adapted from the Alta newsletter, delivered every Thursday.
Noland, whose work appears regularly in underground comix, the New Yorker , and LA Weekly and on murals on San Francisco’s Market Street, prefers to be compared with his cycling hero, Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor (1878–1932), who became the first Black world champion road cyclist 30 years after the abolition of slavery. “I would have no problem with somebody being like, ‘Hey, Major Taylor,’ or a Justin Williams —they’re just not as well-known,” he says with a shrug.
That may change with Noland’s forthcoming, 250-page biographical comic, Major Taylor .