Transcript

Meet the Comics Pages

Keith Knight
Cartoonist, "The Knight Life"; Washingtonpost.com Comics Blogger
Friday, June 20, 2008; 1:00 PM

Readers joined Washington Post Comics page editor Suzanne Tobin on Friday, June 20 at 1 p.m. ET for a discussion with Keith Knight, creator of " The Knight Life."

The transcript follows.

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Suzanne Tobin: Welcome, comics fans, to another edition of "Comics: Meet the Artist." Today our guest is Keith Knight, creator of "The Knight Life," which recently finished its tryout in The Post, filling in for Garry Trudeau while "Doonesbury" was on sabbatical. Keith is joining us from Los Angeles. Welcome, Keith, and thanks for joining us live online.

Keith Knight: Thanks, Suzanne. Pleasure to be joining everyone.

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Suzanne Tobin: Since our readers have only been exposed to your comic for a matter of weeks, can you tell them some background about your career? What was your first big break? How autobiographical is your strip? How did you get your training? And, of course, is your nose as big as Keith's in your strip? Is he related to Darryl in "Baby Blues"? I detect a definite resemblance in their schnozzes.

Keith Knight: A lot of folks may know me from my indie strip, the "K Chronicles," which I've been doing for almost 15 years. It's an autobio strip that I started years ago, doodling in my notebook when I should've been paying attention in class.

I did the strip for my college newspaper in Salem, Mass., and started it up again after I moved cross country to San Francisco. The legacy of underground comix transformed my own work, and I started to add politics, race, and a lot fo risque stuff in it.

After getting picked up by the San Francisco Weekly, I won an award or two and started to self-syndicate.

I had been hit up for years by syndicated to try a daily version of the "K Chronicles," but it wasn't til last year, did I really say yes, let's do this.

I had just won the Harvey Award for Best Comic Strip, I figured it couldn't be a better time to go daily..

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Alexandria, Va.: In your June 3rd cartoon, your main character makes the comment that extraterrestrials must be racists, because they never abduct people of color.

Come on! The first famous alleged alien abduction case, that of Betty and Barney Hill (described in the book and TV movie "The Interrupted Journey") involved an interracial couple.

Keith Knight: Alexandria, sooo many people have sent me a link about the interracial couple that were abducted. I didn't know.

That's the great thing about doing work like this. You learn so much.

I still believe aliens like probing white people more. :)

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New York: Okay, I will start with an easy question: How did you ever come up with the name "The Knight Life?" instead of, say, "The Keith Life"?

Keith Knight: Doesn't "The Knight Life" sound better than "The Keith Life"? It's a play on Nightlife.

There was another title I liked, but no one else liked it. "For Keef's Sake". But they said it sounded like I was playing God. I do control everything in my comic strip!

Suzanne Tobin: Didn't they get the play on "for Pete's sake" instead of "for God's sake." Silly editors.

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Washington: So, being a cartoonist of color, did you participate in the protest, of sorts, back in February when several of the black and Hispanic cartoonists got together and drew the same basic strip to make the point that often, newspapers will only run one strip about a minority group. And, whether you did or not, what did you think of the idea?

Keith Knight: I did participate in the protest. It was really nice to see black, latino and white cartoonists come together and do the exact same strip in their own styles. I think it really pointed out that even if we all did the same thing, it would still be drastically different. Will it result in keeping editors from switching out a black cartoonist for another black cartoonist all the time? We'll see.

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Tysons Corne, Va.: Which format do you prefer, the many panels you are able to do for your weekly K Chronicles on salon or the smaller space in the daily strip?

Keith Knight: I prefer both.

I enjoy the space I have to do a strip like the "K Chronicles." I can tell a story with that much space. I can touch on any type of subject..even talk dirty. It's a lot like an old school blog.

Whereas the format of the daily comic strip is more like a challenge or puzzle. How can I be funny and/or relevant in such a small space? It's a fun, exciting challenge (so far!!). Plus I have the Sunday strips to let loose a little.

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Hip Hop?: Your bio on comics.com mentions that you're in a hip-hop group. Is that true? If so, do you actually perform anywhere the public can see you?

Keith Knight: I am a band called the Marginal Prophets (http://www.marginalprophets.com). They're based in San Francisco, where I lived for 16 years. We're a Hip-Hop/Punk Rock band that won a Cammie (California Music Award) for our last release "Bohemian Rap CD".

We haven't played for a while, considering I moved down to Los Angeles. But we will be playing a show on Sat. Nov. 1st in San Francisco at the Cartoon Art Museum (http://www.cartoonart.org), for the closing party of a retrospective of my work that currently went on display this week.

If you cannot make it to the show, check out the museum in the next few months. They even have some of my crap work from high school!!

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New Orleans: First let me say how much I enjoy the strip. My question is, who is the character Dexter based on? I find him very realistic and funny at the same time. Thanks.

Keith Knight: Ha, nice! Dexter's a combination of a few different people whose names I won't mention, because I don't want 'em coming after me.

But I wanted to have a way to parody the music industry and the whole hip-hop/thug myth mentality. What's special about Dexter is he's a great father.

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Kensington, Md.: Suzanne, I sure hope you picked "The Knight Life" as the winner of that recent three panel competition. Not only was it the best of the three, but the other two, to put it politely, stunk up the joint. How many "Far Side" clones are we going to have to put up with, anyway?

Anyway, Keith, love your strip, and wish you well. Hope the Post editors have the sense to agree.

Suzanne Tobin: We are still compiling the results of the comics survey on the three tryout strips. Since "Cul de Sac" by Richard Thompson had been waiting its turn so politely, it is taking "Single and Looking's" place. (I have been loving his final week's storyline, where characters from other strips keep appearing in "Single and Looking's" space.) Anyway, "Cul de Sac," which runs in the Sunday Post Magazine will be running daily, as well, beginning Monday.

By the way, if you haven't voted for the tryout strips, go to http://comicsurvey.washpost.com and let your voice be heard. They listen to you alot more than they listen to me!

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Chesterfield, Mo.: If "Knight Life" could replace one comic currently on the comics pages, which one would it be and why?

Keith Knight: I believe the more comic strips, the better.

I'm serious. It's the one thing people always look forward to in the paper everyday. I think the more strips a paper adds the better.

And if they spread throughout the paper, folks will come through everything to look for 'em. That's what I did when I was a kid. The editorial page. Parade. The classifieds. There were comics in all these places. And now, as an adult, I read the whole paper because it's a habit started as a child.

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Takoma Park, Md.: Hi Keith, love the strip -- particularly the recent strips about how righties are keeping us lefties down. I was pleased to see that sequence start up on your website so I can forward to my friends. At last someone understands!

Keith Knight: Thanks! Yes ... wouldn't the world be a better place if the right man just left us alone!

I like that leftie character. He'll be back.

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San Francisco: Do you still work for MAD magazine? What is (or was) that like?

Keith Knight: I still do work for MAD magazine. There will be a new "Father O'Flannity's Hot Tub Confessions" in this latest ish, featuring Edward Norton and The Hulk.

Working for MAD is one of those dreams come true, along with the daily strip. It's an honor to work with folks like Sergio Aragones. It's tough to break in, though. I had to submit a lot to get on the page. Still do.

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Baltimore: What is your work schedule like? Can you have a life and be a daily cartoonist? Or is it all-consuming?

Keith Knight: I'm still trying to lock that schedule down. There are so many deadlines I have to meet. Along with "The Knight Life," I do two weekly strips (the K Chronicles, (th)ink), a sports strip for ESPN the Magazine ("Sports Knight") and the MAD work.

Do I have a life? A little bit. I've got to, so I can draw and write about it. But I'm still trying to figure the schedule out.

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Damascus: How did the "K Chronicles" come to be on Salon.com? When did they start?

Keith Knight: The "K Chronicles" was on Salon.com from the day Salon started. My editor at the San Francisco Examiner, David Talbot, asked me if I'd be interested in being on some new-fangled online magazine. I said yes, and the rest is history. This was about 13 years ago.

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Edgewater, Md.: Can you tell us a little about self-syndicating? How does one find the time to draw and also sell and keep the books? And, more importantly, is it worth it?

Keith Knight: Self-syndicating can be a pain. But you don't have to split the proceeds in half with anybody else (beside the wifey).

Is it worth it? I get up when I want and my office is the local cafe. I draw pictures for a living!!

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Washington: I've been a fan of the chronicles on Salon for years. Even if The Post doesn't start running "The Knight Life" (please do so he can get paid!) at least now I know about it and found it online. Also, a note to The Post: there's a box near my house where I still can get the paper for 35 cents, and I ain't tellin where it is!

Keith Knight: Yes..Another decent upstanding individual. And cheap, too!

Suzanne Tobin: Don't you feel guilty for taking the bread out of the mouths of us hard-working folk? For shame!

P.S. Give me a hint ... is it in Washington or the suburbs?

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New York: When did you first begin drawing comics? Did you draw any comics in your high school newspaper?

Keith Knight: I always have been drawing comics..There's an upcoming strip about that.

I had 'em in my high school newspaper. Even the occasional junior high newsletter.

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Virginia Beach, Va.: Does everything that happens in the strip really happen? How do you find time to have a life and be a cartoonist?

Keith Knight: Everything is based in truth, unless I lose a limb or something. But most of the people in the strip exist. Some may even be posting on this chat!

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New York: In your long-running weekly strip, "The K Chronicles," there is a strong political element. How long before this shows up in "The Knight Life"? I notice it only took a month before Canadian-bashing started!

Keith Knight: The political stuff will be more subtle in "The Knight Life." It is more character-driven than issue driven. But it'll be there, just in a more subtle way. Of course, there'll be plenty of Canadian bashing, though.

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Middle America: After many years self-syndicating your comic strips, you signed a deal with one of the largest syndicates. Why? Will you continue to self-syndicate "The K Chronicles"?

Keith Knight: I will continue to self-syndicate "The K Chronicles" (It's the one thing I don't have to run by editors!).

I went daily because it's a whole new audience for me. I'd be doing the indie thing for over a decade and I felt it was time to grow my audience. I'm excited just by all the folks in this chat!

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Lunch Lady: Thanks for taking my question. Since you do both online and print strips, are the deadlines for the online side much more lax? I know the newspaper strips have a pretty long lead time to go through the syndicates to the papers. How are you adjusting to the multitasking?

Keith Knight: Ooohh ... it's a lot different. I can do a weekly the day before it runs (thank you, Internet!), but with a daily, it's five weeks out for dailies and eight weeks for the Sundays.

But we can switch one out if something good and timely comes along.

Multitasking is a monster.

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Cheap paper: Every day I go out with two quarters and a dime, so I can get a paper even if they update the box. I won't give the location, but maybe you should send a memo to the distributors -- they missed one!

Suzanne Tobin: And deprive you of the highlight of your day! Never!

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Silver Spring, Md.: How do you relax? Are you able to shut your mind down from seeing everything as material for your cartoons? And you mentioned a cartoon museum. Where is it?

Keith Knight: I am relaxed when i draw. Filling up a blank page in my sketchbook is a very Zen thing to do. It's taking those sketches and whittling them down to strips by a certain deadline..That's the stressful part.

But I like to travel. Play tennis. Eat. And spy on people. It's all very relaxing.

The Cartoon Art Museum is at 655 Mission St. in San Francisco. Go, you fools!

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Manhattan, N.Y.: Given that a number of cartoonists, I have learned, do other work, is there anything else in life you would like to, or still might, do?

Keith Knight: I just did a strip about my bucket list for "The K Chronicles."

As far as other work I'd like to do: film/television projects, have a talk radio show, review restaurants across the world with a comic strip, and teach at a college or art school.

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Santa Rosa, Calif.: Hi Keef, I was wondering if the move to Los Angeles has had an effect on your writing of the strips. Has it given you different inspiration?

Suzanne Tobin: Stefan Pastis, is that you?

Keith Knight: Is it a famous cartoonist?

The move to Los Angeles from San Francisco was beneficial in that I've done nothing here except work my bottom off. There is a very strong work culture down here ('course, you wouldn't believe it reading the media).

San Francisco was the ultimate place to live, but I didn't get much done! I was playing tennis in the park and having too much fun with all my pals, etc., etc. It was a great life, but I felt like there was more to accomplish.

Since coming down here, I've scored a coupla publishing deals, won a few awards for my comics, started my daily, and a few secret things that I cannot speak of.

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Alexandria, Va.: My favorite cartoon of yours is when you passed on "Star Wars" as a lad because you thought it would be another "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Do you still follow the saga? I see an animated movie is coming out.

Keith Knight: I still follow the saga, but the new movies are dead to me.

I am looking forward to the live-action series in 2009. That's where we'll see good writers and directors step up and ask George for an hour to have fun with the Star Wars universe. I wouldn't be surprised if folks like Spielberg and Coppola did some really neat stuff.

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Martin, Tenn.: Love the strip, Keef! Been excited about it ever since you told me about it last year at the Comic Con. So .. .just wondering. Are there any daily strips you particularly like?

And this is to Suzanne. With "Single and Looking" by Matt Janz ending this Sunday, any chance that "The Knight Life" will be picked up as a replacement?

Keith Knight: Cool.

Comic strips are great when both the art and writing excel. Few strips do both well. "Calvin and Hobbes" did it best.

The three that I enloy most when considering those aspects are "Mutts," "Zits" and "Bizarro."

Suzanne Tobin: Richard Thompson's "Cul de Sac" will replace "Single and Looking." See my full answer to Kensington above.

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New York: "The Boondocks" is often seen as "the only one," when it comes to strips. So I guess that's why it got to animation first. When can we expect to see your work come to life?

Keith Knight: That's why I'm down here in Los Angeles. Here or New York are the best places to be when it comes to developing stuff for TV and film (though I'd have too much fun in New York).

No nibbles yet, but I hope to have an Arbor Day special sometime in the next coupla years...

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San Francisco: Hi Keith. I really have come to be a fan of "The Knight Life," and look forward to it every day! The one about you sinking into the bed, was pretty funny! I have a couple of questions: What does your wife think of your work, and what do you think you would be doing, if you weren't a comic strip writer? Thanks.

Keith Knight: The wifey is quite fine with the comic strip, though she wasn't too happy when I first started putting her in. But she has come around.

I would be a restaurant reviewer if I was doing a comic strip. Like the dude in "Ratatouille." Free food, and throwing my opinions around ... that's all I need.

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Suzanne Tobin: Thanks, Keith, for taking time out to play nice with our readers. And best of luck with all your endeavors.

Keith Knight: Thank you, Suzanne. And thanks to everyone for the great questions! Put in a good word for "The Knight Life" on "The Washington Post" survey!

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