Interview: Keith Knight

Conducted by Aaron Alexander

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Keith Knight: rapper, cartoonist, speaker, social critic, and much more. Who knew one artist and one sharpie could do so much? Let’s find out how he does it. This interview was conducted via email in September of 2014.

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Aaron Alexander: I love to start out with the “what pen do you use” question because I know lots of people, like myself, are curious. However, you have been very vocal with your tools of choice on your website and elsewhere, so let’s see if I have this right: Micron 05s and 08s, Rub-a-Dub Markers, and Sharpies, all on Bristol board (for K-Chronicles and The Knight Life) and card stock (for (Th)ink). For sketching you appear to use a ball point pen in a Mead composition book. Short of correcting me here, anything else you can tell us more in depth about your process of turning that blank page into, say, a new K-Chronicles?

Keith Knight: Nope…that’s pretty much it. Other than scanning it in Photoshop to clean it up, add gray tones, and change all the dialogue at the last minute.

AA: Patreon is a new exciting thing in the crowd-funding world. How did you discover it and how has it been going for you thus far? Will it change your way of doing business with your work?

KK: A colleague, the very lovely Molly Hahn, turned me onto it last year at this time. I signed up for it and never did anything. Then, in the spring of this year, someone showed me Zach Weinersmith’s Patreon page…and he was north of $9000 per month!! That’s when I got my page together, and launched it about 5 months ago. I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be with it, but it is doing well enough to offset some of the losses I incurred from the “death” of print. Will it change the way I do business? Nah..It’s always been a non-stop hustle, and I do not anticipate that changing anytime soon. Patreon is another great way for fans to support a number of artists, in a way that’s not too expensive for them.

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AA: What’s a bigger thrill: seeing someone laugh out loud at one of your comics or someone dance to your music?

KK: Playing music live and seeing people go nuts totally beats people laughing at my scribblings. Playing in a band is the exact opposite of drawing a comic strip. You’re in a collaborative group dynamic. You are on stage jumping around getting exercise. And you receive immediate feedback about whether your music sucks or not. I miss playing out.

AA: You appear to be a very snappy dresser especially in hat wear. What’s your preferred hat brand?

KK: Whatever hat I can find that fits my big, oddly-shaped head. It’s so rare that I find a good one, so I always buy two of the same when I come across one I like.

AA: Let’s talk about influences. You have discussed your childhood influences elsewhere. Who do you still look to for inspiration today and why?

KK: I look everywhere for influences. They show me what to do and what NOT to do. Some of the folks who inspire me: Mat Bors, Jen Sorenson, Erika Moen, Gabrielle Bell, Shannon Wheeler, Ruben Bolling, Chris Allison, Lonnie Millsap, and Zach Weinersmith, just to name a few.

AA: How would you describe your style and approach to cartooning?

KK: Sloppy. Dirty. Messy. With a touch of class.

AA: I think your work would make great street art due to it’s bold look, fluid anatomy, and political and social content. Have you ever put your work on a wall?

KK: I have! I was one of the first artists to participate in the Clarion Alley Mural Project in San Francisco. It started in the mid-nineties and is still going strong. I also had some stuff blown up for an exhibition in Angouleme. Though I was too broke to attend the festival there.

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AA: Let’s talk about print vs. digital comics. Is this even a debate? Where do you see the industry, and subsequently generic levitra online no prescription your business, going?

KK: There’ll always be some form of print. Just a smaller piece of the pie. But there really isn’t a debate. If a cartoonist starting out today wants to make a career out of it, you go digital. But your readers will always want tangible stuff like books, prints, t-shirts, etc. I see cartoonists aligning themselves directly with corporations and businesses and being a content creating for their websites. That’s what we are: very prolific content creators.

AA: If you could change one thing about the comics industry, what would it be?

KK: Higher salaries!

AA: I remember reading that Charles Schulz’s kids hardly ever read his work. What about your family?

KK: My kids cannot read yet. But they’ll be following Daddy’s stuff when they’re older. My eldest loves seeing himself depicted in the comics.

AA: What is the weirdest experience you have had in relation to someone and your work (i.e., meeting a celebrity, odd fan, etc.)?

KK: I’ve had a lot…but I remember this one guy recognized me on a bus and said he was a big fan. Then he proceeded to tell me his favorite that I did, but halfway through his description, I realized it was someone else’s comic he was talking about. I tried to tell him that I didn’t do that strip, and he asked if I was sure!! Then my asshole friend who was with me said, “That sure sounds like one you’d do.” Thanks, pal. Anyway…the guy got off the bus thinking I was some asshole because I wouldn’t admit that I did the strip he was talking about. Funny!

AA: You spoke in The Comics Journal about the strips you did on your wife’s tumor (after it had turned out to be benign and was taken care of) and how many people reached out to you, not only with concern for your wife but also personal stories of their own. I know Johnny Hart got a letter that his comic kept someone from suicide. Why and how do you think comics can have this almost therapeutic power for readers? Is this something you have ever actively sought to create with your work?

KK: I think comics have a unique way of connecting people. These simple scribblings can mean so much to so many people, especially when it touches on a shared experience like an embarrassing moment, or a little victory, or experiencing sickness or loss. It’s therapy for me to share certain things I’ve gone through. And I love hearing from people touched by certain strips I’ve done.

racecardneuAA: Why do you think racism continues to pervade our culture, despite so much effort to annihilate it? Do you believe comics like yours can help defeat racism, beyond just pointing out the problem (which your work does do brilliantly)? What is the social function beyond humor of the comic medium?

KK: Racism is good for business. A lot of the success stories in this country result from the exploitation of certain segments of the population. That is not going to change anytime soon. Of course, not many people want to hear that stuff. Especially in a cartoon. Cartooning is the perfect medium for storytelling, whether it’s horror or humor.

AA: Where do you want to take yourself as an artist? Where do you want to take your work?

KK: I want to take it to different mediums. Live slideshow performances. Television. Film. That’s why I’m in Los Angeles.

AA:  What can fans look forward most to in the near future for “the gentleman cartoonist”?

KK: A new Knight Life collection is available exclusively on my website. Still working on my graphic novel, I Was A Teenage Michael Jackson Impersonator. Taking a new cartoon slideshow on the road about police brutality called “They Shoot Black People, Don’t They?”  I’m taking it to Germany in November. And don’t forget my patreon page!!

AA: Thanks again for a great interview, Keef! Keep up the great work.

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Get your copies of Keith Knight’s various collections:

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The Comics Alternative is a podcast and blog focused on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics.

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