Sonic the Hedgehog artist injured by hate crime; life can be prickly for struggling artists

by Patch O'Furr

Milton Knight has a hand in works of animation and cartoon art seen by millions. For the 1993 Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog TV series, he did storyboards and animation and is credited with design for the villain Robotnik. In nearly 40 years as a pro, he’s made countless fans happy. But on February 25, he was hospitalized with “cuts, a broken nose, and more” at the hands of a racist stranger. Knight described enduring 15 minutes of provocative hate speech before it exploded with “endless punches to the head”. The attacker injured his fist and was jailed for battery.

Knight’s creative drive is inspired by retro style from the Golden Age of animation, and traditional ink and paint. As a pro since 1980, he got into animation on Ralph Bakshi‘s Cool World and The Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat. In comics, he worked on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mighty Mouse. Like his inspiration from untamed 1930’s cartoons, he also did mature work like Heavy Metal and his own indie comic Midnite the Rebel Skunk. A fact that readers here may like is that he experimented with “extremely adult furry” work in the independent spirit of 1980’s fandom. In the network where pros, fans, and art curators meet, he has done archiving for the International Animated Film Association (whose president Jerry Beck was very close to “fandom founder” Fred Patten.)

Overcoming challenges with art

The February 25 attack was another in a series of ongoing misfortunes. Knight has a career that any art lover can admire, and can be counted among the most notable African-American cartoonists.  But appreciation doesn’t mean security for Americans with financial or health problems. In Knight’s story you can find problems of race, class, and the treatment of vulnerable older generations.

Last year Knight made local news as a “struggling artist” when he was evicted from his Pasadena, CA home after complaining about unlivable conditions that his landlord wouldn’t fix. They even degraded his health to the point of hospitalization. A crowdfund helped cover legal and relocation costs, and support can still be given there or on Patreon.

Rising above adversity is part of Knight’s creativity. It’s more than just a job or a passion, it also helps with post-traumatic stress disorder from childhood. His artist statement says:

Ever since I fell in love with drawing in 1963, I felt a purpose beyond simply creating. In those early, naïve days, I felt I had a purpose: to help make a better world by providing it with art of a special sort…a sort with feelings so extreme, it might exorcise the viewer’s pain. That is what made me defy the cruel opposition of my family.

The politics of an artist’s struggle

Readers sympathetic to Knight’s situation may appreciate his responses to hundreds of comments on Facebook following the February 25 attack. He described the frustrating trap of lacking resources: “Please, no more advice about moving unless you are going to help pay for it.”  He described the burden of relocation: “The landlord & the cops responded “Well, just move, that’s all”, but the rents has skyrocketed impossibly around my little hovel.” Hate being spread from powerful places and lack of solidarity got a comment: “The Black supporters are usually wealthy and see those who aren’t as unworthy leeches. They’ve “beaten the system” and kid themselves that it wipes out color prejudice.” 

More to the point for fandom, Knight’s career coincides with the founding of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. It defended a comic seller from obscenity charges for selling Omaha The Cat Dancer, the underground/funny-animal/proto-furry adult comic started in 1978. (The fact that furries were part of such a milestone deserves an article itself). Along with organizing to protect speech, the comic industry has the Hero Initiative, a charity for comic book creators, writers and artists in need. (Of course, a lot of need came from the industry itself exploiting creator rights.) These organizations can inspire a young and independent fandom to think about support for members as it grows.

Art isn’t an easy career. And while Knight isn’t technically a senior, just someone from a generation older than many young fans, this is still an opportunity to mention elder welfare. In comics, it’s been quite an issue recently with Stan Lee and elder abuse charges surrounding his lucrative estate. And Anthrocon Guest of Honor Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn, received coverage at Flayrah for his elder abuse lawsuit against his former manager.

Furry fandom is thriving with so many young people that elder issues are seldom discussed here, but “greymuzzles” have become a very active group of their own. Expect articles in the future with group founder Grubbs Grizzly where we may chat about this.

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