In the Nov. 4, 2010 issue of the San Francisco Chronicle, a political cartoon featured President Barack Obama and a talking elephant dressed in a suit. Obama is drawn battered and bruised with his arm extended towards the elephant in hopes of a handshake. His speech bubble read: “I look forward to working with you.”
The elephant, holding a baseball bat, said, “You still don’t get it do you?”
Keith Knight, the award-winning cartoonist of that particular strip, has been drawing comics since grade school. Some of his political strips these days may be deemed controversial, but that hasn’t stopped his humor from appearing in publications ranging from ESPN to Salon.com.
Knight is also the cartoonist behind the “K-Chronicles,” his semi-autobiographical comic strip, and “The Knight Life,” his comic strip featured in the Washington Post and MAD magazine.
Knight will appear today at the Marshall Student Center Room 2707 with his multimedia comic strip slideshow, “Fear of a Black Marker: The Funny and Controversial Cartoons of Keith Knight.”
Knight said his cartoons that deal with race typically attract the most controversy, despite also drawing politically charged cartoons.
“Unfortunately sometimes it rubs people the wrong way,” he said. “But I don’t do it just to create controversy. All my strips are done with a purpose in mind.”
He said he will show some of his favorite strips, as well as some of his most controversial, including strips that were never published.
Knight said he also intends to speak about the importance of the media, media literacy and having an opinion.
“You could think of it as a type of class that needs to be taught that creates more media literacy,” he said. “The power of media and how it is very easy to manipulate people’s beliefs and thoughts with what you put on television and online.”
But not all of Knight’s cartoons change the opinions of his critics. In 2009, one of Knight’s racially-saturated cartoon strips, which featured a black man in a noose, was met with complaints from students of Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania after it appeared in their student newspaper, The Rocket.
Knight said his career is the realization of a lifelong dream, but it was not always clear to him how he might realize his aspirations.
As a junior in Malden High School, in Massachusetts, he said his teacher allowed him to do a comic book report instead of a book report.
“He loved it so much that he said, ‘You should be a syndicated cartoonist,'” Knight said.
“Th(ink),” Knight’s editorial cartoon, attracted the attention of Larry Bush, a cartoon historian and second-year USF graduate student majoring in American studies. Bush approached Sylvio Gaggi,director of the Humanities Institute, about the possibility of bringing Knight to campus.
“I thought he’d be a good contrast to the usual, more traditional, scholarly things,” Gaggi said. “Keith Knight was someone who is lighter in tone, but totally serious in content.”
Bush said that Knight’s cartoons often deal with race in a humorous way. While Bush’s professional research mostly involves editorial cartoons, he said he enjoys Knight’s other work as well.
“Despite the fact that the cartoon strip, “The Knight Life,” isn’t considered a political strip, it has a fair amount of political satire in it,” he said. “And he deals with race relations in it.”
Gaggi said today’s event is free to all.
The presentation portion of the event will be 90 minutes – 45 minutes dedicated to the comic strip slideshow, 15 minutes for question-and-answer session and the remainder of the time allotted to book signings.
The event will begin with a reception at 2:30 p.m. and it will be followed by the presentation at 3:00 p.m.