Keith Knight on Complete K Chronicles
(This interview was originally published in PiQ #4, July 2008.)
If he’s not the hardest working man in comics, Keith Knight’s definitely one of the top ten. He’s the creator of The K Chronicles, the Harvey and Glyph Award-winning weekly comic strip, as well as the weekly editorial cartoon (Th)ink. At the beginning of May, he launched a new syndicated daily called The Knight Life. That’s in addition to his regular work for MAD and ESPN magazines and, oh yeah, he’s also part of a hip-hop band called the Marginal Prophets.
When asked how he manages to accomplish it all, Knight responds with the classic freelancer’s rationale, leavened with equal parts work ethic and fear. “The thought of having to get a real job. My pregnant wife. Living on the street. Conquering the world. Those thoughts keep me going. I’m not sure how I accomplish it all. I still haven’t worked out a schedule. I just gotta put a full 8 hours in every day.”
That kind of dedication, bordering on insanity, keeps the semi-autobiographical K Chronicles fascinating. Whatever his subject — movies, music, clashing with neighborhood hippies, breast-feeding, world travel — he commits. There doesn’t seem to be any subject he won’t tackle with honesty, humor, and a healthy disrespect for authority, all in his loose, caricature-driven style. He’s very observant, picking up on elements of daily life in a way that makes the reader say “of course, that’s exactly how it is!” His passion makes even the roughest subjects — America’s problems, including politics, racism, injustice, and commercialism — relatable.
One of his personal favorite strips, “41 Shots“, demonstrates his artistic strengths: willingness to confront difficult topics, the personality and individuality of his lettering, the comfortable, bulbous quality of his characters, his skill with the medium of comics. Aside from the consistent reminder of the position of the questioner — a small, harmless character in the corner of the panels — the sound effects figure as both graphic symbols and text, integrating words and pictures in one object.
Now Dark Horse is publishing an omnibus edition of his first four comic collections (most of which are out of print). The Complete K Chronicles is over 500 pages of social and political satire from Knight’s unique perspective, reprinting in a larger format strips dating from 1993-2004, along with additional sketches.
After reading a few of his cartoons, you’ll feel like you know Knight, like you’ve spent an evening drinking together or shooting the bull. That feeling is heightened by the occasional author’s comments, new to this edition, which run unobtrusively along the bottom of some of the cartoons. He annotates cameos, talks about his artistic tendencies, and provides trivia (like which character was pitched as a TV cartoon). But according to Knight, the idea that readers know him is the biggest misconception they have about him. He jokes that he’s really “a short, heavy-set Korean girl named Soon-Yi.”
Regardless of their literal truth, his stories of the daily life of an urban artist provide an entertaining glimpse into an alternate lifestyle, that of the ecologically conscious, downtown city dweller. Contained under one cover, this decade of strips, aside from providing a lot of laughs, trace Knight’s growing up. The subjects change from scamming free food, taking drugs, club-going, dating, and roommate problems to joking about nostalgia, sports, and once he’s married, his in-laws.
He also moves into more explicit political content, as with another favorite strip of his, “Once Upon a Time in the Playground, Part Deux”, a fairly accurate prediction of the fate of the Iraq War. His squat, lumpy character style perfectly suits his portrayal of officials as self-centered children.
The amazing range of his subjects demonstrates his creativity. And he stays readable because, even when he’s righteously and rightfully angry, he keeps his positive outlook. If he truly believed things were hopeless, he wouldn’t bother pointing out the problems. This optimism is best seen with his recurring series-within-the-series “Life’s Little Victories”, which celebrates the everyday small things that make a day better. The reader might even learn something, as his strips about working as a freelance artist contain awfully good advice.
Knight is 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. Ideally, this collection will bring his work to the attention of the wider audience he deserves. For further assistance in keeping up with Knight’s activities, visit his website at kchronicles.com.