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A North Carolina cartoonist explains what it’s like to draw police violence

ABOUT TWO HOURS northeast of Charlotte, where the protests roil, sits a man who has been cartooning about police violence for a quarter-century.

Last year, Keith Knight received an NAACP History Maker award for his new comics project “They Shoot Black People, Don’t They?”

“All these incidents of police brutality can no longer be hidden or swept under the rug,” Knight said upon receiving the 2015 honor. “We are now seeing it as it happens, and how often it happens.”

[More police shootings are being caught on camera — but many of those videos aren’t released to the public]

Since then, Knight has himself relocated to North Carolina, where he is enjoying the vibrant arts scene near Chapel Hill and Durham. The latter is now hosting the AAEC Convention & Satire Festival, at which Knight is a speaker.

Comic Riffs caught up with Knight to talk up the state of his art as he publishes his new collection of cartoons, “Make America Hate Again”:

MICHAEL CAVNA: I like that your new book’s title and cover perhaps set up readers to think they’ll get all Trump cartoons, but then the reader realizes the book has the collective force of so many themes that reflect a range of hate in America — issues that have never really gone away, be it racism, xenophobia or other areas of division. Did you set out to curate the book around the idea of “hate” — or did that come later?

KEITH KNIGHT: The title came later. I’d been wanting to use it for a cartoon, but never found the opportunity. And I’d always thought it’d make a great title.

Since a lot of my ‘toons center [on] the idea of ignorance and intolerance, it just all worked out.

You’ve satirized police brutality for decades, of course, but your newer cartoons now also place events within the national Black Lives Matter conversation. Do these cartoons get anymore attention than they used to, now that more Americans are woke, or have they always functioned as lightning rods of feedback and conversation?

They are getting more attention than they used to. Someone who worked at a museum in St. Louis said she first discovered my work because someone was posting my comics around St. Louis during the Ferguson protests. I thought that was really cool.

People aren’t nearly as naive or ignorant about it as they were even a few years ago. And it excites me that we seem to be entering into a new era of activism and active protest amongst the masses. Athletes, students and others are stepping up and speaking out.

You’re able to find news items — and make connections between news events — that [even] more journalists should be doing. What’s your habit for news consumption … and do you spend hours on this a day?

I’m looking all over the place for my news. I grab any newspaper I can find and take a look throughout the day. … I listen to plenty of talk radio, NPR, local community stuff. I still listen to some of my favorite stuff out of Los Angeles, and I follow a lot of folks online who point out some neat, obscure stuff.

I probably spend about two hours a day taking it all in.

You save most of your Trump cartoons till the book’s end — was that a conscious decision, more than a chronological one, to save plenty of the hottest material now for the final reel? And do you feel as though you’re able to draw a bit of satiric blood when you skewer Trump?

I knew I wanted to end the book with the comic where Trump denies Mary and Joseph entry into the country. And I like to clump certain strips together, so it made sense for Trump to be the a — of the book.

The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists [convention] is in North Carolina, and you recently moved to Durham yourself. Should the AAEC have reconsidered locating because of the state’s bathroom-law controversy? And how do you find Durham to be, as a relocated cartoonist who’s previously lived in well-known arts communities?

The AAEC carefully considered relocating, but keeping it here was a great opportunity to rip H.B.-2 from the inside out. There’s a neat show in Durham right now featuring cartoons by AAEC members that rip on N.C. for passing that [expletive] law.

Technically, I live in Chapel Hill, but spend a lot of time in Durham. The Triangle area is amazing, despite the [expletive] state government. A lot of great artists, culture, music and food. It’s affordable, and I find opportunities to put together shows, events, projects in a DIY way that reminds of San Francisco and Oakland in the early ’90s. Plus, it’s a hop, skip and jump up to D.C., Boston, New York City.

As part of your AAEC panels, there’s a “cartooning and police brutality.” Any takeaways from the panel?

Release the video.

As someone who is a relatively optimistic person, I don’t expect justice to come from any of these incidents. And if you’ve lost me, you’ve lost most people. I think if bad cops saw jail time and, especially, financially penalties — for the cop and the precinct they work out of — this would stop happening.

When I did my slide show at the University of Delaware, I sat in on a class called “Race”. It should be a required course in every grade school, junior high school, high school and college in the United States.

Read more:

Keith Knight’s 14 tips for a more successful Kickstarter campaign