Journal of the
An Interview with Keith Knight
Editors Mayerson and Sutton met Mr. Knight at Comic-con last July. He graciously consented to this email interview. Keith's comic strip, The K Chronicles, is at http://kchronicles.com/k-chronicles.shtml and he also has a weblog at http://kchronicles.com/news.shtml, so you can know when and where he's appearing, rapping, or having knee surgery.
Background and art
Ginger Mayerson: What do you feel are the most important aspects and events in your development as an artist and a syndicated cartoonist?
Keith Knight: First was discovering these different artists : Charles Schultz, Jules Feiffer, Mad Magazine, Garry Trudeau, Berke Breathed and Bill Watterson.
Second was moving to San Francisco in 1990 and getting a huge dose of the underground comix scene. It was very instrumental in my development as an artist. I found out I could tackle all sorts of heavy issues using a larger format strip that I hadn't seen a lot of growing up in Massachusetts. Politics. Sex. Drugs. Rock and Roll. After that I realized that I didn't have to go the daily comic strip route.
GM: Are there any strips or cartoonists that you read purely for your own pleasure? If so, what is attractive to you in those strips or art?
KK: I love reading autobio stuff as long as it isn't cynical urban white guy comix. there's waaay too much of that out there.
Lessee... if come across a daily paper, I'll read Aaron Macgruder's Boondocks(the best of the new generation), Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury(huge influence, great guy), Zits (funny and well-drawn), Rose is Rose (incredible art!), Luann(?), For Better or Worse (like a good, old friend)..underground/independents: Gabrielle Belle (funny, droll, n.y.c. autobio), Tom Beland's True Story: Swear to God (extremely touching, well drawn romance comic), Kieron Dwyer's LCD (tastelessly hilarious stuff) Grickle, Craig Thompson's stuff (beautiful art, touching stories)
Laurel Sutton: What do you read for pleasure - fiction, non-fiction? What was the last novel you read?
KK: The last two books I read were Craig Thompson's graphic novel "blankets".and a book called "Peops" by nyc artist Fly. ďDiary of a Teenage GirlĒ by Phoebe Gloekner.
LS: How has the exposure on Salon.com affected your career (if it has)?
KK: Salon has given me worldwide recognition. The guy who started it, David Talbot, was my editor at the San Francisco Examiner. He asked me if I was interested in being a part of this online magazine he was starting up. The rest is history.
A whole lotta exposure. Not a whole lotta money.
LS: What inspired you to start drawing "(th)ink"? How is it different from the "K Chronicles" (besides the format)?
KK: (th)ink was started after I was approached by Africana.com to do a weekly strip for them. I wanted to do something completely different from the K Chronicles, so I decided to do a single panel.
Unlike the K Chronicles, (th)ink is not autobiographical. It mostly deals with political and social issues concerning communities of color. It's a challenge to work in both formats week after week.
LS: Are you a musician who draws comics, or an artist who performs in a band?
KK: I am a cartoonist who performs in a band.
LS: What did you have for dinner last night?
KK: Tilapia (fish). Cous-cous. Salad.
GM: I feel these are scary times to speak out. Do you feel there is a lot of self-censorship among your fellow cartoonists and what, other than more irony in response to official and unofficial censorship, can be done about it and/or for the cartoonist?
KK: I don't think there is any self-censorship amongst My peers (weekly, alternative cartoonists). I'm not sure if that's the case amongst daily cartoonists.
GM: How much abuse, including what kinds of violent threats, do you get for your art? Does one topic (say, Bush et al) draw more ire than another (say, race)?
KK: Lessee. I've received racist literature. I've gotten death threats from gun nuts. I got a lot of flak for my strips following Sept. 11th. I did one that opened with, "I was smoking crack with God the other day.."
But I've gotten about 50 times more positive mail than negative mail. Folks have sent me pot, pornography, and avocadoes.
GM: Do you have any idea what GW Bush's appeal is?
KK: Dubya is the kind of guy a lot of folks could sit down and have a beer with. I wouldn't want to, but I think a lot of folks would.
I also think it's the name. I'm sure a lot of folks thought the country would save a lot of money by reusing all the stationery left over from the first Bush administration.
GM: What do you feel is the biggest danger facing the people of the US right now and what can be done about it?
KK: The biggest danger facing the U.S. right now is ignorance. Ignorance and apathy. This administration is screwing this country over for years and years to come and so many people have the attitude that it is treasonous to disagree with our governmentís shady-assed behavior. It's absurd. People are slowly waking up, though.
GM: This is the most politicized era in mainstream sequential art I can remember. How much worse do you think things will get politically and in the media before they get better and why are we living in times where there is more truth in a comic strip than the six o'clock news?
KK: Mainstream media is chock-full of corporate cowards. They feel it's better to play along with the government and get access and ratings than to inform the populace.
It'll only get better once Bush is out of office. And that'll come in 2004., but it ain't gonna be easy. I cringe thinking about all the stuff his folks are gonna try to get him re-(s)elected.
LS : Before the next election, what personal freedom will the Bush administration try to take away next? Is John Ashcroft really Caligula?
KK: Even Republicans are getting sick of Ashcroft. The guy is out of control. I'm sure I'm on his list
GM : What issues do you think will be crucial in the 2004 Presidential election? What issues do you think *should* be crucial in the 2004 Presidential election?
KK: I don't think the economy can be ignored, although Bush will try his best to do that. And of course, who will be able to keep America safe. Wesley Clark has got the Republicans sweatin' bullets.
The focus SHOULD be the economy, healthcare and education. Thatís gonna protect the American people more than bombing Iraq.
GM: I feel that we need a Martin Luther King, Jr. to rally us to save ourselves from the Bush administration. Do you think this might be true and, if so, where and how is this person going to come to the forefront? If you think we're never going to see another Dr. King or even the spirit of those times, why is that and is there any cure for it?
KK: I certainly donít believe a new MLK is gonna rise up over the next year and a half and save us from the Bush administration. Heíll be out of our hair soon, but the residual effects are gonna last a long, long time.
The culture at large works against there being another MLK. People are too worried about themselves, now.
GM: Many of your strips deal with violence - against minorities, women, poor people. Do you think society is getting more violent, or are we just more sensitive to it? What do you think about violence in Hollywood movies? Does a movie like "Bad Boys 2" give Black people an equal opportunity for Hollywood violence?
KK: No. I donít think society is any more violent than itís ever been. Itís just that it gets more hype nowadays. But weíve always been a violent society. The crucifixion, roman gladiators, beheadings, the death penalty, wars , lynchingsÖ
Some violence in movies is fun, crucial to the story, very effective. Other violence is gratuitous, damaging, and in poor taste. Like every other aspect of the moviesÖ
ďBad Boys 2Ē was made by white people. Movies like this allow a select few black people to participate big, horrible, and expensive drivelÖjust like white peopleÖ
GM: You often address the ways in which Black and white culture clash. Do you feel that naÔve and/or cruel white people are reinforcing the worst stereotypes of Black culture for fun and profit? And even though certain Black artists might be laughing all the way to the bank, how is this negative presentation of Black, usually male, culture affecting the rest of the culture and what can be done about this?
KK: I donít think itís just cruel and naÔve white people. I think ALL types of people exploit black culture for fun and profit. Itís a culture that is rich in art and history and ripe for exploitation.
I think the negative effect that it has on American culture is that it limits what is expected of black men in society today. If you canít rap or play sports, essentially entertaining white people, youíre either going to jail or going into the army. Thatís it. How many scientists, doctors, cops, inventors, and professors are we tossing away?
GM: How long do you foresee yourself voluntarily drawing this strip?
KK: I didnít think Iíd be doing it for ten years. thatís for sure. But now Iím really starting to appreciate what the strip allows me to do. I carved a little niche out for myself and Iím gonna hang out here for as long as I am allowed to.
I asked Matt Groening once, ďWhy do you still draw ďLife in HellĒ after all these years? ď With the success of ďThe SimpsonsĒ, he doesnít have to do anything for a hundred lifetimes.
He said he still does it because with everything else he works on, he has to deal with all these execs, and producers and censors , etcÖhis weekly strip is the only thing he does where itís just him and nobody else.
It was a great answer.
LS: Do your fans have a hard time realizing that not everything in this strip happens to you in real life?
KK: No. I donít think so. I think people understand that if it was just like real-life, itíd be boring as hell.
LS: How does your family feel about being included in the strip?
KK: I think they enjoy it. They understand itís all about the love. My wife is still getting used to it, though..
GM: What themes do you feel you can never explore in your art and why is that?
KK: I wonít ever get too personal with something thatís happened in my family. Something that I know would hurt them if I did something about it.
I donít know, though. Iíve questioned the existence of God. Smoked crack with Him. Offered a man, who was dating my mom, a condom . Iíve dealt with my cousin dying of cancer. Iíve done suicide. PedophiliaÖIíve done a lot of stuff..
Last question: Why isn't that naked picture of you up at your website?
KK: My wife would get pissed!!
GM and LS: Thank you!
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Editor in Chief - Ginger Mayerson
The Journal of the Linclon Heights Literary Society is part of a larger site, www.hackenbush.org, which is in conjunction with www.gingermayerson.com, and there is also the LHLS weblog. Please feel free to visit those sites and look around while we assemble LHLS Issue 2 for your reading pleasure this winter. Thank you and see you later.
Updated: September 23, 2003