Thursday, October 20, 2005

A comically enjoyable Knight

It caught my eye right away. I had to look at it. A few years ago, I was at a comic book shop and a book called Fear of a Black Marker was waving its arms at me from across the room. The strips inside were hilariously funny, but also thought-provoking and challenging. And the always-aspiring cartoonist within me admired the looseness of the art. This guy just got his thoughts on the page, doing what he had to do to sell the point. I almost read the whole book right there in the store.

From that point on, I've been a huge fan of "The K Chronicles" by Keith Knight and have purchased virtually everything the man has created. (Okay, I haven't gotten the t-shirts and coffee mugs. Not yet, anyway.) His strips are a big reason I'm subscribed to Salon and ESPN the Magazine. And he won my adoration forever when I ordered What a Long Strange Strip It's Been from his site, and he signed it "Ian!! Peace out, my pale brotha!" C'mon, how cool is that? And I was pale at the time! How'd he know that? (Watch those "pasty" cracks, Hooz.)

I once met Keef at the San Diego Comic-Con and in the midst of fawning and slobbering all over him (I took a picture, but it was with one of those stupid disposable cameras and didn't turn out), I begged him, "Please, please, please, Mr. Knight - please come to the Midwest someday!" Keef patted me on the head, said "Maybe someday," and wished groupies would come to his table instead of me.

Well, "someday" finally came last night. Please read more…

Keef has been touring the Midwest (as "the other black cartoonist," who's not Aaron McGruder of "The Boondocks" fame) with a slideshow presentation of his strips, in conjunction with promoting a new project of his, The Beginner's Guide to Community-Based Arts, and Ann Arbor was on the itinerary. Hell yeah, I was there!

The event at the Ann Arbor Public Library was sponsored by 826michigan (an organization I just may have to get involved with soon - brought to you by the same people who gave you 826 Valencia and 826NYC), and provided an entertaining evening of poetry, singing, comics, laughter, and, best of all, discussion. Knight had some fascinating thoughts on the language of cartooning and demonstrated how comics are able to convey information that other art forms - such as film, music, and literature - can't.

I didn't start off the evening very well, however. I'm often uncomfortable meeting people whom I admire. I'll just stand there, nodding with a stupid grin on my face. Or try so hard to act cool that I won't say anything at all. Or I'll try to say way too much in that quick two-to-three-minute window of time and sound like a babbling, blithering idiot. I got to the library early, while Keef was setting up, took a seat, and read through a couple of newsweeklies I'd picked up. Soon after I placed the Metro Times on the chair next to me, I felt someone looking over my shoulder. And that usually bothers me, so I turned around to see what was up. It was Keef, who was intrigued by the cover of the MT's 25th anniversary issue.

(Image ©2005 Metro Times, Inc.)

"Cool," he said. "Is that from Detroit?" OhmyGod, I wasn't ready to talk to him yet! I was keeping cool, thinking of what question I'd ask after the presentation, or what I could say once he signed my book. But hey, there he was. And it was early. Hardly anyone was in the room yet, so maybe I could strike up a conversation. Or not. All I could muster was a feeble "Yeah," as I considered asking him whether or not he wanted my Metro Times (which, unfortunately, doesn't run his strip). Idiot.

After the show, however, I squeezed a few bucks from what remains of my college loan, bought two new books, and strung a few coherent sentences together for Keef. We talked about him finally coming to the Midwest and a few cartooning techniques before I handed him my books to sign. When he asked who to make them out to, I showed him my signed copy of The Passion of the Keef (I know - geek!) and said my name. He took one look at his signature and drawing (of a hand holding a black marker triumphantly), and said "Ian? Casselberry, right?"

Have you ever heard those old tapes of the Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show? Ed said, "Ladies and gentleman, the Beatles!" and this explosion of screaming came from all the girls in the audience. That's similar to the noise I made when Keith Knight said "Casselberry, right?" "What?" I said. "Yeah! You remember me... ?"

Keef smiled. "Well, there's two Ians on my mailing list. You and Ian Nagy, who's right over there." (I believe Ian Nagy and I went to school together at some point, too.)

Hey, I don't care how he recognized my name. He recognized my name. I shook the man's hand, let the man enjoy his Zingerman's sandwich, and walked back to my car like Fred Astaire. What a cool evening. (And I bet it was way cooler than Adrian Tomine and Chris Ware in Iowa City for the New Yorker College Tour. Figures that would happen after I left Iowa, by the way.) Thanks, Keef.

♦ Here's Keith's account of the show, courtesy of his blog. (If I'd brought him a sandwich, I wonder if he would've mentioned me?)

♦ Also in the audience last night was another fantastic cartoonist, Phoebe Gloeckner, whom I did not know is now teaching at the University of Michigan. (Here's her blog, too.)

♦ The introduction to The Passion of the Keef is written by God. Don't believe me? Check out its listing on

♦ If you're interested (and I hope you are), Keef's other single-panel, non-autographical strip, "(th)ink," can be found, along with "The K Chronicles," at, among many other places.

(Images from "The K Chronicles" ©2005 Keith Knight)