You can read a full feature story with more true tales in “An Uncensored Look at Banned Comics” in the February “Sex and Graphic Design” issue of Print.
Happy Banned Books Week! This year’s focus is on banned comics and graphic novels. Y’know, like Fun Home. The one that provoked pushback in both library and university settings. The one that was created by Alison Bechdel, who just received a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship last week. Over the years, Harvey and Glyph Award-winning syndicated cartoonist Keith Knight has been the victim of a different sort of ban. As he puts it, “I haven’t experienced a lot of censorship lately. Usually my stuff runs, stirs up a controversy, and then I get dropped from the paper.”
Nevertheless, Keith perseveres. His latest Knight Life collection, “Knight Takes Queen,” is about to publish. And next month he’ll be a featured guest at San Francisco’s SatireFest, which he describes as “…essentially a ton of political cartoonists getting drunk and fighting. On a boat!”
And he continues to uncompromisingly pursue issues of politics, culture, and race in features, strips, and Mad. But maintaining such a stance can be hazardous to one’s financial, and even personal, health, so he’s recently taken to soliciting public patronage online. Here’s what Keith had to say when I asked him about his experiences in getting the newspaper boot.
Keith Knight: “Campaign Trail” was a story conveyed by a canvasser in Western Pennsylvania. Once I heard that someone who would refer to a presidential candidate by the n-word and still vote for him, I knew Obama had won the election. This one got me kicked out of a bunch of papers. Not sure if others kept it from running, but it was my last big controversy. I didn’t even put the word in there!
Ten or 15 years ago, I had a couple of editors who wouldn’t run certain strips for silly reasons. They eventually lost their jobs. Not because of me: they were just crappy editors. The gun strip was based on a story about a British guy who was visiting the states and overheard about how some guy learned about guns from his dad. My editor for the San Francisco Examiner wouldn’t run it because of the erection. She asked me, “What’s the point?” I said the strip made more of a point than most of my strips. It didn’t run.
Two months later, my “V Games” strip ran with no problem. I usually bring controversial ones into the paper to argue why they should run it, but I had no defense for “V Games.” I was just trying to get penises in a daily paper.
Here’s your Banned Books Week guide to more fun comics censorship reading: