Keith Knight of the K Chronicles - Keepin' Kool on the Cheap

By Andrea Karim on 30 January 2007 10 comments

My favorite comic strip, bar none, is the K Chronicles, by Keith Knight. It might have something to do with the virtual crushes I tend to form on Salon.com contributors (Farhad — call me), but I genuinely look forward to Keith's weekly installment of artistic wit and wisdom. His commentary on life, art, politics, and love never fail to make me smile. Well, the more political cartoons make me cringe in recognition, but you get the idea — Keith's funny.

My favorite K Chronicles strips often covered the topic of frugal living — how to get by as a starving artist, tips on raiding art gallery buffets, adventures in public transportation, where to donate your sperm for cash. I gained inspiration from these comic, only-partially-joking takes on cheap living and quick cash-making schemes.

I recently asked Keith to dish on his experiences with living on a budget, and he took time out from his hectic schedule to give us the scoop.

Copyright Keith Knight

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You probably went through a few years as a starving artist. What were some of your best methods of saving money?

Hmmm..Cooking. Eating at home. I lived really close to some great Chinese markets where veggies, fish, rice, and tea were cheap. I ate well (and healthy!) for very little. If I did eat out, it was either the standard San Francisco burrito that was bigger than your head (it would easily last for two meals) or a little Chinese place where the woman who ran it would give us lots of extra stuff to take home.

Another great way to save $$$ is to water down everything. Juices, dishwashing liquid, liquid laundry detergent. You can make it all last a lot longer by watering stuff down. And they all work just as well. I always water down my juices because they're all way too sweet anyway. I got used to it being watered down.

Gallery openings are also great places for free food, booze, and socializing with no budget. We used to categorize openings from a category one (cheese and crackers) to a category five (seafood, hot food, hard liquor).

Download music for free. Rent DVDs from the library. Join a band, and you can get into the club for free, drink for free, and have the best seat in the house (onstage!).

Oh, and stay away from cabs.

In one of my favorite K Chronicles strips, you offered advice on a variety of ways to save money, including filtering cheap vodka through a Brita pitcher to get good vodka. I thought that they were highly amusing ideas, but do frugal tidbits actually work?

I heard the filtering vodka story from another cheap bastard I know. I'm too old to experiment with drinking cheap vodka. But frugal tidbits really do work. I sneak in cheap cookies from the Chinese bakery across the street to my favorite cafe ‘cause they only cost $1 for four. If I didn't, I'd spend two bucks on some pastry in the cafe. I do that three to four times a week. Over the course of a year, I'm saving two hundred bucks.

Here's something I learned from cheap bastards featured on Oprah: Don't use change. Don't spend change. Only use dollars. At the end of the day, drop the change into a jar. When it's filled, put it into a savings account. I usually save up about $300 a year.

Let's say that a certain blogger has spent her way to Brokesville and is facing the very real possibility of living off of leftover office Christmas cookies until the next pay day. Where can a girl score some cheap eats without completely compromising her dignity? Or is dignity pretty much her last concern at this point?

It depends on where you live. But like I mentioned, S.F. has got the low-cost burrito. The lunch specials in the Asian restaurants here are great. The taco trucks are good, greasy fun. And there are a few nice happy hour deals around. One of my favorite places, El Rio in the Mission, has free oysters on Fridays.

College towns are great places to live for cheap eats.

And don't forget beer! In addition to the various art openings each week, the Onion has a beer appreciation night every Wednesday or Thursday here in the city. And if you wander this town like I do, you're bound to stumble upon some drunken foodie weirdness.

Now that you are making millions of dollars, jetting about the world in a private plane, and having gold-plated toilets installed in every comic convention restroom for your personal use, are there any relatively frugal indulgences that you still permit yourself?

I still do all the cheap things I did when I was completely broke. One thing I still try to do once in a while is focus groups. A focus group is where some company pays you to come in and give your opinion about some consumer product or place. I've done focus groups about sex, smoothies, a coupla lawsuits, shopping centers, banking and many, many more.

They usually last an hour or two and they generally feed you and pay you anywhere from $50 to $150. They always overbook it so sometimes they send you home immediately with cash and a sandwich. That's the best.

I will always be a cheap bastard. Always. The only reason why I'm going to a coupla better restaurants, is ‘case I'm moving to L.A. soon. So I'm trying to check out stuff I've always been curious about.

Both you and your wife are talented artists. Can you offer advice for ways for new artists to break into the world of graphic arts? Are things like networking important at all? Does the internet play a big role for comic artists?

Networking is huge. Because it's people that get you published. Talent plays a big part, of course, but so many people think all they have to do is draw and someone is gonna come along and discover them. You've got to put your work and yourself out there.

Perseverance is huge, too. The longer you plug at it, the more doors will open.

The Internet is the greatest invention we'll see in our lifetime. It's great for artists. It allows people from around the world to see your stuff 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Internet is the intern that never sleeps.

You live in a very spendy city, and travel around a fair amount. What are your tips for saving money in travel expenses?

Youth hostels. I worked in one for years. Hostelling International has cheap, clean affordable places to stay all across the world. There are other hostels outside the Hostelling International network, some better, but many are worse.

I also crashed on a lot of floors with my band, the Marginal Prophets. Also doing book tours with the Perpetual Motion Roadshow tour and book tours I put together myself. You'd be amazed at how many folks are eager to put you up, feed you, and give you bong hits.

One of my favorite places we crashed was in San Diego. We stayed at this place that had two chefs living there. And they were always trying to outdo each other. It was the most elaborate mélange I ever had outside of a fine restaurant. Half the band stayed somewhere else that night (the place was too small for all of us) and they were pissed when we told them what we had for late-nighte snacks and breakfast the next morn.

Should Canada and all of its natural resources be annexed by the United States immediately? Or avoided without exception?

Canada has been cooler than the United States for more than a few years now. I'm hoping the U.S. can get its act together so I can make fun of Canada again.

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Keith Knight is an award-winning San Francisco-based cartoonist and rapper. His two weekly comic strips, the K Chronicles and (th)ink, can be found in over 35 alternative, ethnic, political, and college newspapers across the U.S. Knight is part of a new DIY generation of talented young African-American artists raised on Hip-Hop. Artists who infuse their work with urgency, edge, humor, satire, politics, and race. His seventh book, Are We Feeling Safer Yet?, is the second collection of his single panel, (th)ink. A regular contributor to Mad Magazine and ESPN the Magazine, Knight is also the narrator for the Bay Area artist documentary TV show, Spark.

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Will Chen's picture

My friends up at Berkeley will filp when I tell them that you scored an interview with Keith Knight!  Without going all fan-boyish on you, I'll just say that it is awesome reading his answers and catching myself thinking "yeah he would TOTALLY say that."

When he comes down to LA we might have to take him out to In and Out to celebrate. 

Andrea Karim's picture

But I was thinking King Taco. No? I mean, In and Out is nice, but King Taco... sigh. Such goodness.

Will Chen's picture

If it's tacos then we have to leave it up to Greg.  He sets this website as his homepage.

Tannaz Sassooni's picture

i heart tacohunt

Guest's picture
mapgirl

OMG! I love Keith Knight! Thank you so much for interviewing him!

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Cap

sweeet. I love Keith Knight too (and his pal Notely of Bob the Angry Flower). great interview.

Guest's picture
Cap

sweet! I love Keith Knight too (that and his pal Stephen Notely of Bob the Angry Flower). Great interview.

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Brian E

I love Knight and Notely too.  It is rare to find fellow fans.  Great interview!

Andrea Karim's picture

I've been diggin' on Keith and Bob for a while, as well, but I don't think we're that rare. A lot of Keith's fans probably don't realize how accessible he is - he travels a lot, and he makes a lot of public appearances. His (evil twin) sister even owns a shop up here in Seattle. I've never had the opportunity to meet him in person, because my schedule never seems to coincide with comic conventions.

Anyhoo, he's ridiculously good-looking. Watch out if you try to meet him. I hear that people go for the humor, but stay for his chiseled features and abs of steel.

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Evil Twin

THIS was very funny. "chiseled features...abs of steel". [giggle] Stop by the tea shop sometime and we'll chat...I have a million stories :)

T