This Thursday, December 12th, Know Your City is hosting a release event for our new box set, Comics for Change! Illustrated Stories from Oregon’s Front Lines at Darcelle XV, from 5:30PM – 7:30PM. The series of 10 comics celebrates the lives of living Oregonian activists who are making Oregon a better place for everyone. Writers and artists from the series will present a brief slideshow about the project, while original artwork made for the comic series will be on display for one-night-only. The comics are available for pre-order here.
As a way to preview the release event, we’re running interviews with some of the involved artists and writers all this week. Today we speak to artist Khris Soden, who illustrated a comic on activist Paul Knauls. Enjoy the interview and see you Thursday!
Q: Comics for Change! is a project celebrating living Oregon activists. Have you always had an interest in Oregon history and activism? Did you discover this interest from working on a previous project?
A: I have this idea that getting to know a place is like getting to know a friend. At first you learn about what’s going on in their day-to-day life, but your friendship gets more intimate when you know all of their past experiences and actions – both the good ones and the bad. I had this in mind when I moved here in 2000 and I’ve been becoming best buds with Portland and Oregon by learning as much about our history as I can. There are so many things I love about our state, but we’ve had a terrible history when it comes to racial equality.
I don’t consider myself an activist, but I do think that it’s important for people to be educated about the huge obstacles Oregon’s African-American community has had to face (and still faces). More people need to know about the tremendous amount of good being done by Paul Knauls and the other people profiled in Comics for Change.
Read the entire interview after the jump!
Q: How did you go about researching the comic you illustrated/wrote?
A: Paul Knauls is a very public figure, so I read every article about him that I could find in the Oregonian Historic Archives (found on the Multnomah County Library website). At Geneva’s Shear Perfection, they have a wall of photos of people that Paul and Geneva have known or met over the years, and I referenced some of those photos – the page of Paul and Geneva with Sammy Davis Jr. is taken directly from one of those photos. I also made heavy use of Google Images and Google Maps streetview for visual reference of people and places. I probably watched about a dozen different YouTube videos of people dancing the Hustle so I could draw Paul and City Commissioner Charles Jordan dancing it in one panel.
Q: What kind of challenges did this project present to you?
A: The comic has a lot of cameos of public figures and local politicians, and learning how to draw each of them was pretty tough. Drawing Sammy Davis Jr took me half a dozen attempts before I came up with something that I was comfortable with.
Q: What did you learn from the interviewing/research portion of this project?
A: In researching and drawing this comic, I came to realize the full extent of the destruction of the historically black neighborhoods in North and Northeast Portland. There’s one page in the comic showing a complete neighborhood that was erased when Memorial Coliseum went up, and another page that shows the intersection of Russell and Williams before the Legacy Emanuel expansion. I have these photos of Williams and Russell from the 60s, and it’s this built up area of two- and three-story commercial buildings, and now there’s just one of those buildings left. Even with that one building left to prove that the neighborhood looked like that, I have a hard time being at that intersection and trying to comprehend what was once there.
Q: Why do you think this story is important to share?
A: Paul’s been a constant advocate for the black population of our city, and it’s important to recognize that advocacy. A lot of the work he’s done has been in ways that aren’t particularly glamorous – attending lots of meetings, directly communicating with politicians – and so it’s not stuff that necessarily gets a lot of media attention, although there’s so much good that has come out of it.
Q: Do you have a story to share about sitting down with the activist one-on-one?
A: Douglas Wolk and I got a chance to sit down and talk to Paul for about an hour-and-a-half at Geneva’s Shear Perfection, and we were laughing the whole time. Paul is amazingly charismatic and positive, and has a seemingly endless supply of hilarious anecdotes. Even if we’d made the comic three or four times longer, I don’t think that we’d be able to fit in all of the great stories that he told us.
Q: Where can we see more of your work?
A: A lot of my work is not online and out of print, but some of it can be found at khrissoden.org. Pick up Know Your City’s “Oregon History Comics: Black Panthers” if you haven’t already – it’s a really good companion piece to “Comics for Change: Paul Knauls”.
Thanks, Khris! The artwork looks terrific. Don’t forget – the Comics For Change! release event in this Thursday at Darcelle’s!