Longtime readers of ANTIGRAVITY no doubt recognize Keith Knight’s name, as his comics have elevated the social commentary in this magazine since its very first issue. The K Chronicles follows Knight’s ideas wherever they lead him, whether it’s questioning authority, paying tribute to a historical event or person, or just celebrating life’s little victories. Over the years, Knight has expanded his cartoon roster with another socially focused strip in (th)ink, and in 2008 launched a syndicated daily comic, The Knight Life, which looks at life through the prism of his family.
Live speaking is another way Knight has reached people, conveying new thoughts on current events through a slideshow of curated panels from his repository of comics, “They Shoot Black People, Don’t They?” which debuted in 2014 at universities in Germany. He’s since performed at colleges from California to New York. Knight will extend his reach in Louisiana in March when the New Orleans Public Library, in coordination with Tulane and Xavier, hosts the artist for a lineup of workshops and slideshows in an effort to explore the issues of race, police brutality, and community accountability. I caught up with Keith about talking to kids about serious stuff, some guy named Trump, and even his hometown professional football team winning some big game.
I hope all’s going well! It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen you, maybe San Diego Comic-Con in 2012?
Yeah—it’s been a while! Looking forward to catching up! A lot has been happening.
First off, that was quite the Super Bowl, wasn’t it? Even a couple weeks later it seems so improbable that I don’t believe it happened sometimes.
Super Bowl! Holy sh—! It was like watching the Seahawks throw that interception on the one—yet dragged out over the second half, plus overtime. It woulda felt a lot better as a Pats fan if Trump wasn’t pulling for ’em.
When’s the last time you were in New Orleans, and what did you do?
The last time I was in New Orleans was a year after Katrina. I was there to promote a book at the American Library Association conference. It was really interesting. Tanks were still rolling around the streets. I remember sitting in a cafe with Black and white locals at one table. National Guard at another. And a group of Spanish-speaking laborers at another.
This time around you could still find all that, minus the tanks.
I’m looking forward to seeing where New Orleans is at, now.
I’m curious to hear what you think about that, by the end of your trip. It’s always interesting to see people experience the city after not being here for a long time, just because we can take for granted the incremental changes that happen, places that are gone or something completely different now. Verdi Marte is still around, though!
Mmmmm… Verdi Marte!
Between the daily and the other strips, how’s the syndication side going?
It’s chugging along… But my online income has totally overtaken my print income. There are other things brewing that may take my comics off the page and into your various viewing devices!
Will your family be traveling with you to New Orleans?
The fam will not be traveling with me to N.O. Wish they were, but we just bought a house. I need them to stay home and use it.
Two of your events will be held at libraries and will be all-ages, and one on Xavier’s campus, open to the public. What are some challenges in approaching those two audiences?
It’s not too challenging presenting to different aged audiences. Mainly because I have the different strips: Older folks know me for the K Chronicles and (th)ink. Kids know me for my daily strip and MAD magazine stuff. And Random House is just about to release my new book, Jake the Fake Keeps it Real, which is my first foray into the Diary of a Wimpy Kid market.
I will not rant to the children. I’ll save that for the adults.
I’m going to show teens how comics are a great way to express yourself, but also a great way to learn a lot about the world, other people, and cultures. I’ll show some examples and techniques.
What are some of your favorite non-fiction comics that you hold up as must-reads?
I suggest any non-fiction comic about someone from a culture you may not be familiar with. That’s all I’ll say. There are a lot of folks doing some really neat auto-bio and non-fiction work out there. Just march on over to your local comics shop and you’ll find what you need.
When you’re doing these types of talks with an all-ages audience in other cities, how often does politics get brought up, and how do you balance that?
The idea of me expressing myself as a Black cartoonist is inherently political, and urging youth to express themselves through comics—in many ways it is very political. I certainly don’t avoid politics. But I will not rant to the children. I’ll save that for the adults.
Has there been anything that a parent went nuts over, where you were really shocked they weren’t cool with it?
Nah. One time I pretended I was gonna show something shocking at a high school in San Francisco, and I said “Your teachers had your parents sign release forms, right?” And you could see all the teachers looking at each other with that “I didn’t know there were any forms” look on their faces. It was hilarious!
On that same note, one of the issues you’re dealing with across the board while you’re in town is police brutality. What are some of the ways you talk about that subject with kids?
I am still learning how to talk to kids about police brutality. I have yet to address a group of kids about it. What I do is welcome parents to bring their kids to my adult slideshow. Some parents are fine with their kids seeing that content, but some aren’t.
I feel like if we start really talking about Trump we could fill an entire issue and not get close to caught up. But let’s start anyway! What’s been the most frustrating thing for you so far?
Trump? This would all be hilarious if we were watching from another planet. I’m just dumbfounded at the idea of people voting for him, not because he’s competent, but because it’ll piss off the “lib-tards.” There is a group of folks in this country willing to sink the ship just because.
What do you think that’s about? Maybe it’s the naiveté of growing up always thinking that one day all the hate in this country would be stuffed in the corner, like the old useless crap we keep in the attic. Neither one of us can smell our 20s anymore, so it’s not that we’re too young to have seen hate permeate the world before, but to me it feels different now, like the tide’s turned and being a hateful idiot is now a legit career/life choice.
And that is why we must punch Nazis!
Keith Knight will be appearing on Tuesday, March 21 for a teen workshop at the Main Branch of the New Orleans Public Library, 4 p.m. (advance registration required, ages 15-24); Wednesday, March 22 at the Xavier Student Center Ballroom, 7 p.m. (open to the public); and Thursday, March 23 for a Community Talk also at the Main Branch, 6 p.m. (all ages). For more info, check out kchronicles.com