- Posted by Johanna on February 4, 2006 at 9:05 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: by Keith Knight
- PUBLISHER: Manic D Press; $12.95 US
The K Chronicles is a weekly semi-autobiographical strip about a struggling cartoonist and musician — Knight is half of the hip-hop group The Marginal Prophets — living in San Francisco. This isn’t a typical newspaper comic, mainly due to the nature of some of the jokes, which have involved vomit, snot, poop, cannibalism, and penis size (illustrated).
Common themes include family, the difference between the East and West Coasts, popular culture, liberal politics, foreign views of our country (through his European vacations and his work in a youth hostel visited by tourists), male/female relationships, and drawing the comic itself. Recent volumes emphasize family interactions — I loved the strip about going to SPX with his sister, and how you don’t realize some benefits from a relationship until it’s too late — and current events.
Knight establishes a good sense of place and pays attention to the regional differences that are disappearing; the unique flavors of Boston and New Orleans are two that he highlights. Some of the strips are a bit dated, as when he takes on the Spice Girls or the Woodstock anniversary, but that’s not uncommon for social commentary.
The strip somewhat resembles the classic Hey, Look! by Harvey Kurtzman, with large amounts of text at the top of each panel occasionally squeezing out the pictures. The pages are primarily populated by talking caricatures while the text narrates the events and provides an internal monologue.
His lettering has real personality and individuality, supporting his unique voice. The pictures are more illustrations than an essential part of the comic combination, but the comic strip format serves as camouflage for things that otherwise couldn’t be said to this audience. The sometimes challenging material comes across as less harmful in this context.
The real-world observations of daily life are humorous, and Knight has a unique perspective on urban politics and social issues mixed with a healthy disrespect for authority. There’s also fun in vicariously living his somewhat Bohemian lifestyle, with bars, band tours, and the like.
Many strips have a tone of grouchiness spawned by the frustrations of other people’s thoughtlessness. His artist’s imagination sees things just a bit askew. Who else would think of responding to everyday rudeness by literally throwing tomatoes, spiced by the acknowledgment of casual racism?
The strongest strips are those relating to race; with the freshest insights and most daring comments, they seem most his. The one that made me a fan was done as a reaction to the 41 shots fired by NYC police at a black man holding nothing more threatening than a remote control. The strip has the text “BLAM” repeated 41 times, filling most of the space. (It’s included in the third book.) Paradoxically, this mostly text strip works well as comics. Aside from the consistent reminder of the position of the questioner — a small, harmless character in the corner of the panels — the BLAMs figure as both graphic symbols and text, integrating words and pictures in one object.
With the third book, he’s also begun talking about cheap thrills and little victories, small moments of optimism in daily life. Personal revelations, as when he shows how he was starstruck meeting Maya Angelou, make me feel I know him, but at the same time, they shed light on human nature in general.
The recurring “Life’s Little Victories” feature demonstrates Knight’s underlying appreciation of life, especially food. He’s willing to say uncomfortable things and take unpopular positions, but he’s generous with compliments when they’re deserved and appreciative in acknowledging those who’ve influenced him in music, comics, comedy, and more.
The books require flexibility of thought. It can be a little weird to read a rant about needing to teach kids a second language early followed by a literal matter of life and death followed by his band playing naked. I find this variety a significant part of the book’s appeal; I never know what subject will send the author off. Like life, I’m suddenly reminded of mortality or fallibility in the middle of enjoying myself.
Many comic strips may be read online at the Salon.com archive, or visit Knight’s web site. These four books have been collected as The Complete K Chronicles. I Left My Arse in San Francisco is the newest strip collection.
Knight has also released Are We Feeling Safer Yet? A Th(Ink) Anthology. He was interviewed in Attitude 2: The New Subversive Alternative Cartoonists.