Keith Knight is a self-proclaimed “Gentleman Cartoonist.” He has a broad understanding of caricatures, an ear for funny dialogue, and the tunnel vision it takes to sit through a 24-hour news cycle without losing his mind. In addition to writing nine comic strips each week, Knight is also a part-time graphic novelist, full-time husband, and devoted father to his two kids. In other words, he’s a busy man.
That’s why it was a rare occasion when the award-winning cartoonist recently came into town to attend his own art exhibit and present the latest iteration of his slideshow to new audiences at Sierra Nevada College and the University of Nevada, Reno. The presentation, titled “They Shoot Black People, Don’t They?” is all about Knight’s most widely-drawn subject: racism.
For Knight, it’s a topic that hits close to home. The cartoonist’s first comic strip, The K Chronicles, began as a reaction to how young black males are portrayed in the media.
“I was a huge hip-hop fan and I was like, ’How come I’m not seeing anything about young hip-hop fans who are intelligent or into nerdy stuff too?’” said Knight during a recent Skype call. “[That viewpoint] was not out there, so it was no surprise that it took off.”
The fact that the strip launched in the mid-00s—a bad time for newspaper cartoonists—did not stop him from getting syndicated. Dealing with topics ranging from the prison system to “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” to gun control, The K Chronicles is and was a refreshing antidote to lasagna-eating cats and whatever-the-hell Cathy has to deal with on a weekly basis (Aaack!! Shoes! Chocolate!).
The success of The K Chronicles soon led Knight to branch out into other cartoons including the family-friendly The Knight Life, and socio-political single-panel Th(ink), which ran in the RN&R for several years.
As much a pun-ny title as it is a dare to its readers, Th(ink) has led to more than a few big thoughts over the years. There was, for example, the panel depicting Gil Scott-Heron staring out at the reader, updating his famous verse, “The revolution will not be televised,” with the words, “… but it just may be Twittered.”
Or the drawing of “The GOP’s X-Mas Carol Set-List,” a piece of paper emblazoned a dozen times with the words “White Christmas.”
But perhaps the biggest waves Knight has made have to do with his treatment of police brutality—a subject that makes up the bulk of the slideshows he gave during his Northern Nevada visit.
In the 39-slide presentation, the Gentleman Cartoonist gives his take on All Lives Matter* (*restrictions may apply, see skin color for details), police target practice (a silhouette that is not only black in color but is also sporting an afro), and a possible explanation for the officer who violently grounded an unarmed 17-year-old bikini-clad girl at a pool party (“She needs to wait an hour before going into the pool after eating!”). Knight’s work bridges the gap between comedy and tragedy but more importantly exposes the hole between our peaceable reality and the fear state.
“Crime has been gradually going down so there’s no reason why [police brutality] should get worse and worse … unless it’s part of the system.”
Built-in or derived, the results are the same. And someday, Knight knows he’ll have to have “The Talk” with his own children.
“Go out with a ball, but don’t ever go out in public with that [toy] gun in your hand. … People have been shot for a lot less.’” Knight recited. “It’s weird but that’s the talk I’m going to have to give. [They] can learn about sex on the internet.”