Interview with cartoonist Keith Knight

Interview with cartoonist Keith Knight

In this episode of The Truth In This Art, Rob interviewed Keith Knight, rapper, social activist, father and educator among them and he is also one of the funniest and most highly regarded cartoonists in America , and they discuss his work, Hulu's WOKE and much more.

00;00;10;17 - 00;00;35;09
Rob Lee
Welcome to the truth in this art. I am your host, Rob Lee, and if you're looking for candid conversations on arts and culture, you found the right place. Please consider subscribing and sharing today. My guest is a cartoonist and musician known for his accessible yet subversive comic strips, the K Chronicles ink and the nightlife. While his work is humorous and universal in appeal, he is off.

00;00;35;12 - 00;00;42;18
Rob Lee
He often also deals with the political, social and racial issues. Please welcome Keith Knight. Welcome to the podcast.

00;00;43;13 - 00;01;12;13
Keith Knight
It's a pleasure to be here. But you've got my my new title, Dr. Keith Knight. Dr. Keith, I, I just got a right. Yes, I got an honorary doctorate from my alma mater of Salem State University. So I'm going to milk that as as much as I can. Someone says, please see and deal with that until I'm in a situation where someone screams, is there a doctor in the house?

00;01;12;13 - 00;01;16;26
Keith Knight
And that's probably the only time I will say I will not say I'm a doctor.

00;01;17;17 - 00;01;33;22
Rob Lee
So, yeah, thank you for joining my podcast. It's definitely a treat to have you on here. And before we get too deep into the conversation that you were talking about before we got started, you had these 20 minute, 30 minute conversations is like, where's the podcast? So could you.

00;01;33;28 - 00;01;34;16
Keith Knight
Share.

00;01;34;16 - 00;01;41;12
Rob Lee
The key, the Dr. Dr. Nugget that Dr. Keith and I story? And what was your first experience with Hard?

00;01;41;20 - 00;02;11;06
Keith Knight
Oh, wow. Well, I think my first experience with our I withdraw all the time. I remember I love my apartment walls when I was a little kid, there and it was always just a part of my life. I also remember drawing dinosaurs in kindergarten and the teachers being super excited to hold up my drawings when I was in kindergarten.

00;02;11;11 - 00;02;42;06
Keith Knight
And honestly, I had a great uncle who I think was really responsible for exposing me and my twin sister to all types of art. He would take us to museums. He took us to New York. I grew up in Boston. He took us to New York City when we were little kids, to libraries, to plays. I remember seeing the King and I with the older brother was like performing on stage and it just, just really cruel stuff like that.

00;02;42;08 - 00;03;13;09
Keith Knight
So I was always exposed to it and I remember doing my first Z when I was in fourth grade, I think it was fourth grade, and it was my older version of Mad magazine. It was called Kooky Magazine and and I didn't have access to a copy machine. So I actually literally drew the same issue over and over again and sold it for $0.15.

00;03;13;16 - 00;03;46;23
Rob Lee
So I love I love those those early kind of art entrepreneur situations. I love it when when I when I was younger, I was talking with a an illustrator earlier about this today when I was younger, I would hurry up and finish my test. I would take the B right knowing that I could get it A if I work, but I would take the B so I could draw X-Men, I could draw Wolverine and then charge people a quarter to buy a picture of Wolverine that I drew in class.

00;03;48;14 - 00;03;53;19
Keith Knight
That was good. That's an entrepreneur who has a pretty amazing.

00;03;53;28 - 00;03;54;13
Rob Lee
Hustle as a.

00;03;54;13 - 00;04;14;15
Keith Knight
Real to me. I always got better grades if I included drawings in my schoolwork. Unless it was math, math, math. It was either right or wrong. We couldn't you couldn't stand, you know, draw a nice picture alongside an incorrect answer.

00;04;14;18 - 00;04;21;08
Rob Lee
So you would get that you would get a nice drawing next to, like, the D or the F or whatever it is.

00;04;21;27 - 00;04;35;04
Keith Knight
I tell you, a geometry was the only subject I failed in grade school. I would just get the I would get the test and just be like, just sit and draw the rest of that.

00;04;35;25 - 00;04;52;19
Rob Lee
It was it was one of those things for me when I was in high school. And I made that kind of choice because early on, like, I wanted to actually be a comic book artist and I was what I hoped and dreamed of as a kid. And then this slowly got whittled away and it eventually became, Hey, I'll be an engineer.

00;04;52;27 - 00;05;10;13
Rob Lee
And then that took a physics class and I was like, I'm going to be an engineer, think I'm out. And that's where that shift kind of came to you hanging out. Entrepreneur So at the time, so in sodas and candy and all of that. US So comics let's do that and that's ultimately where I'm at now.

00;05;11;08 - 00;05;40;28
Keith Knight
Nice. Well, listen, you dodged a bullet if you not in a way, being a comic book artist that was just contemplating that today. Like how literally we get paid. I've been, you know, doing this probably more than 30 years now, like self syndicated to to newspapers. And we still get paid the same rate as we did 30 years ago.

00;05;41;07 - 00;06;10;22
Keith Knight
Like, wow. I think there was at one point I ask for more money from places and I got it from some places, but other places were like, Now I can't do it, that stuff like that. So, you know, the advice I give to cartoonists just starting out is like, don't do not try to sell syndicate to newspapers. And you know, newspapers are dead industry as far as cartoonists go.

00;06;11;11 - 00;06;37;16
Keith Knight
So, you know, the best thing to do is to establish your own community. And you can do that with your, you know, your own website with going to conventions, with, you know, posting on social media and having your own Patreon page and just build it from there, you know, build it from there, collect email and just build it slowly, build it up.

00;06;38;08 - 00;06;44;04
Keith Knight
I'm in fewer newspapers than I've ever been, and I'm more successful than I've ever been. So.

00;06;44;28 - 00;07;17;28
Rob Lee
And thank you for sharing that, because that's a one this early gem, too. I think that's I think that's applicable through like various media is right where you have comics and that is that is your your lane and an illustration and that is your lane and cartoons that is your lane. And looking at what I'm doing in terms of, you know, this version of content creation, I think you hit the nail on the head when it comes to, you know, it kind of not going with the traditional path because there's a lack of vision.

00;07;17;28 - 00;07;34;24
Rob Lee
They're saying, oh, we're going to pay you this or this is how this works and there's no conversation or maybe adjusting this or going towards where things are at in terms of how much people are paying and and kind of getting with the times. So being able to do it yourself and be a build a community, that's where it's really at.

00;07;35;02 - 00;08;04;03
Keith Knight
It truly is. Like I tell people to find your niche. Like find your focus. And what I found is when I was coming up, I was doing article comic strips about race issues of police brutality and stuff that no one else is doing. And and it seemed to be hitting in a way that my other strips weren't hitting as much.

00;08;04;03 - 00;08;21;29
Keith Knight
And so I just leaned into it and that was super important to sort of find that niche and become so whenever whenever somebody or some organization thinks of that, they say.

00;08;21;29 - 00;08;22;23
Rob Lee
Okay, like.

00;08;23;14 - 00;08;45;15
Keith Knight
Who can we get to do a strip about this automatically? My name is generally the first thing that comes to mind and there are so many stories, you know, I could do it forever. I tend to do it. And then, you know, do something else just to keep it interesting and and not just hammer it all the time.

00;08;45;15 - 00;09;17;13
Keith Knight
But but you know, that that's how sort of I grew. I grew up my brand, and I just realized that I wasn't going to reach anybody under 50 through the newspaper. I needed to branch out. And so I started doing slideshows really early on to get to get people, you know, in, in a totally get people turn on to my comics in a totally different way.

00;09;17;13 - 00;09;51;08
Keith Knight
And I love performing live. I kind of see it as sort of almost like standup with visual aids, you know. Now no one ever expects a comic strip slide show about racism and police brutality to be humorous. So, you know, so it's always a surprise when they realize that it can be funny to, you know, my director from work put it best.

00;09;51;10 - 00;09;55;03
Keith Knight
It's it's funny, but it's not a joke that's silly but.

00;09;55;16 - 00;10;14;16
Rob Lee
That's that's great. And we're going to we're going to put a pen in that because we're going to come back to that. I don't want to bury the lead too much, but we are going to come back to that. I wanted to ask you about certain influences you have in terms of maybe cartoonists that have influenced you and your own style and maybe other artists that have influenced you.

00;10;14;16 - 00;10;37;27
Rob Lee
Because I find that it's not purely artists that are in the genres that we work in other mediums that we work in. But it could be a guitarist that that influenced you. So with any of the influences that you have stylistically, what do you take from from them and kind of make your own point in your career because you said you've been out there doing this for, you know, a couple of decades at this point.

00;10;38;22 - 00;11;15;23
Keith Knight
Yeah. Wow. There's so many influences, you know, if you're talking about comics and then I'll branch out from there. I was influenced by, I think, Charles Schulz and Charles Schulz Morey Turner, Bugs Bunny, like Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, like the old Warner Brothers cartoons, Calvin and Hobbes is a huge thing. And Bill Watterson, Mad magazine, like Sergio Aragon, is from Mad magazine.

00;11;15;26 - 00;11;50;24
Keith Knight
It's huge influence, I would say. Pedro Belle, the artists who did the Parliament-Funkadelic album Nice and this also totally spaced on the other artists, man. But there were two main artists that did those Parliament-Funkadelic albums. I used to buy those albums just for the artwork, you know, like in the music. I mean, obviously the music is amazing, but like I would just sit there and just look through like it was so much fun looking at all the little things that they put in there.

00;11;50;28 - 00;12;08;01
Keith Knight
Doonesbury was another big influence, especially the early Doonesbury stuff. Doonesbury was the first time I saw black characters that weren't they? They actually had a black agenda on it.

00;12;08;03 - 00;12;09;17
Rob Lee
Was it over to Lord, by the way?

00;12;09;17 - 00;12;34;20
Keith Knight
Lloyd Oh, Richard. Lord Yes, over and. Lloyd But I just remember the early, like Doonesbury, the one who didn't call us. It was like this black character that knocked on the door, artery of Doonesbury. And so could you would you like to contribute to the local chapter of the Black Panthers? And now I'm tapped and tapped and many others like now, you know, they don't have anything.

00;12;35;02 - 00;13;06;29
Keith Knight
And then he writes a little X on their door. It moves out to the next and it was like, oh, wow, this is, you know, this is really funny and and and current and mixes in that's what I loved about Doonesbury is is it sort of mixing current real events with these fictional characters? And so I think that's part of what I do is I have these characters based on real people, but also mix in a lot of fake elements, but current events type stuff too.

00;13;06;29 - 00;13;33;20
Keith Knight
So that's that's really big. But also like a big influence for me were editorial cartoons because I remember just when I was small, I just remember there was the comics page. But then I saw that there were comics on the editorial page and that there were comics on the sports page and they were comics in the classifieds. So it made me go to every newspaper, like from front to back, looking for cartoons.

00;13;34;03 - 00;14;21;09
Keith Knight
So I think that was a huge influence on just just finding where cartoons lived. And it just made me say, Oh, okay, like, you know, cave paintings or cartoons and in hieroglyphics or cartoons and the directions in in the airplane are cartoons, you know, just like I saw cartoons almost everywhere. And and I think that's one of the reasons why I've done so many different formats from, you know, doing a daily to an autobiographical weekly to us, you know, socio political single panel, longer form narratives.

00;14;22;02 - 00;15;24;03
Keith Knight
And I just really love messing around with the different genres because you talk about like sort of folks that, I mean huge influences, people like James Baldwin and Maya Angelou and and Gil Scott-Heron and David Bowie and just folks just folks who just expanded. Expanded what I thought art was, you know, and personality wise and how they folks who managed to kind of be around for a long time, I think that's that's a trick in and of itself to have a long career in the arts.

00;15;24;03 - 00;15;58;25
Keith Knight
That's, you know, as I get into my I'm the old man at the corner these days. So it's really interesting to sort of see folks who've been around for a long time, who've lasted for a long time. And and how do you make that those adjustments and I just remember conscious sleep at one point in time switching you know I still listen to my elders but there was a I made a conscious thing to to listen to younger people because younger people had younger people.

00;15;58;25 - 00;16;46;09
Keith Knight
Obviously, the future of the medium, how are they doing it? How are they going to have a career in this? Because it's not going to be in newspapers and magazines. And so that's that's how I learned about Patron. That's how I you know, I cop I basically copy from people that I admire and I see and I don't mean to steal their ideas, but, you know, yeah, I mean, still what they do to have a career, you know, and you know, and I think that's that's something you got to you want to emulate your heroes whether they're they were around 50 years ago or whether they're around now.

00;16;47;05 - 00;17;09;07
Rob Lee
Yeah, it's it. Thank you. Thank you for that. Because I think in having this sense of like what's happening now where people moving towards things and they're they're very like especially in, in podcasting, you know, that's a that's the lane that I'm in. And, you know, I was describing how long I've been doing it and now hearing that, oh, we've scaled it, we've monetized it, we've done this, we've done that.

00;17;10;00 - 00;17;32;08
Rob Lee
And instead of being stuck like I've been doing this so long, I need to pay attention to it. I try to make it an effort to pay attention to what's happening now. We're in a risky sort of way. Where is the puck going? I don't care about where it's been and trying to find ways to stay true to what the ethos and what the purpose of what I'm doing is by the means in which to put it out there.

00;17;32;19 - 00;17;53;15
Rob Lee
That's ever changing. So you got to be in the know. It's doing a bunch of reels. If it's having a Patreon, if it's you know, with within means, I'm going to at least pay some attention to that. And listen, you know, that's that's the thing that people must do more of. And and then the stealing piece or what have you like.

00;17;53;29 - 00;18;11;29
Rob Lee
I look at like the podcast or have you there's certain ones that I don't like. I like to, you know, someone can listen to me and let's say I was doing I was listening to a lot of these as a Miro at a point and the podcast that I was doing that definitely had some of that kind of energy rub off on it.

00;18;12;08 - 00;18;20;01
Rob Lee
And it's not, you know, maybe me stealing from it. That's me being influenced in that way and then trying to repurpose it and make it my own. To paraphrase it, if you will.

00;18;20;21 - 00;18;49;07
Keith Knight
Yeah, yeah. I mean, that's, that's what you do is like I mean, I look at my early work and I could totally see all the, all the influences there and what happens is like you just develop your own unique style as you are working through all these influences. And yeah, it's everybody goes through those growing pains and I think it's having the patience to know that you're going to find your voice eventually.

00;18;49;07 - 00;19;26;01
Keith Knight
Like, I just know so many people who just if they, you know, they start drawing and it doesn't look exactly the way they want it, they'll just rip the page up and throw it away and start completely on a new piece of paper. And it's like, no, no. Which is like, you know, there are no mistakes. And as you're doing it, just like just do it right next to it so you can see, like, you know, if you want to improve on it or whatever, but like just don't, don't feel like you're going to just be on top of it of your game right at the beginning.

00;19;26;01 - 00;19;31;13
Keith Knight
It's going to take time. You know, there's something about those was a 10000 hours. Yeah.

00;19;31;23 - 00;19;54;04
Rob Lee
Yeah, yeah. It's funny. It's funny you mention that because I won't skip ahead a little bit to go back to go back into it. But I think of this example drastically on book, you know, still like an artist you hear about this thing of having he incorporates I think a what is the analog to digital loop in his work and I tried to do some of that.

00;19;54;04 - 00;45;55;00
Rob Lee
I always have a notepad with me, I always have something. Instead of going into the notes app in my, my, my cell phone, I rather have a notepad to write down the questions because I find that I'm inclined.

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