Keithan Jones: From Graphic Design to Comic Book Pioneer with KID Comics

Keithan Jones

Keithan Jones is the owner and founder of KID Comics, an independent comic book publishing company that he started after a career in graphic design. During his downtime, he found himself continually working on the stories and art he’d begun in childhood and decided to publish his work himself through his company, which stands for “The Kid In you never Dies.”

Part of his focus includes creating and promoting diverse characters and stories that allow readers to see themselves reflected on the page in ways that weren’t available to him as a child. That focus has led to his creation of Black Comix Day: Heroes Rise, an annual event during the month of February to showcase the work of Black comic artists, writers, and industry professionals.

Jones — who’s currently the artist for Vortex Comics’ “Chaos Breaker” series — was selected as a judge for last year’s Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, which are known as the Academy Awards of the comic book industry. As a comic book artist and entrepreneur, of course, he’s attending San Diego Comic-Con International — he landed his first paid gig after showing some of his drawings at the convention when he was 16. This year, though, he’s one of the featured special guests, appearing in panel discussions on Thursday and Friday to talk about his work and achievements in the industry.

Jones, 50, grew up in San Diego and is a graduate of Morse High School. Today, he lives in El Cajon with his family. He took some time to talk about his work, his introduction to comics and the significance of representation, and where he draws inspiration.

Q: Comic-Con is back at the San Diego Convention Center next week, for the first time since COVID-19 shut down these kinds of large, in-person events. You have your own history with Comic-Con (as you told SD Voyager), landing your first paid comic art job after showing your work there when you were 16. What has your involvement with the convention looked like over the years?

A: I’ve been attending Comic-Con as a fan almost every year since I landed my first job there. In 2003, I first experienced being an actual exhibitor through an independent publisher called Neko Press, which published a comic called “Wildflower” that was created by Billy Martinez. He hired me as a guest artist and was my gateway into attending Comic-Con as a professional artist and subsequently doing in-store signings across California. He was a bit of a mentor to me as it pertained to the business side of the comic book industry.

Q: This year, you’re one of the convention’s special guests, alongside artists and writers like Tomi Adeyemi (“Children of Blood and Bone”), Soman Chainani (“The School for Good & Evil”), and Amy Chu (“DOTA: Dragon’s Blood,” “Rick & Morty”). What’s your role as a special guest?

A: This is my first year as a Comic-Con special guest and, as a special guest, the focus is on me and my personal achievements as an independent publisher/artist. I will be featured on two panels: The first is “Writing for the Young You” from 11 a.m. to noon on Thursday in room 5AB. Tomi Adeyemi, Lorena Alvarez, Soman Chainani, Lilah Sturges, and I will discuss how we craft the stories we were drawn to in our youth and create the tales we felt were missing. The second panel is “The Power Knights: Realizing A Childhood Dream” from 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday in room 4. I’ll be discussing my journey in navigating the independent comics market, and how my childhood creation, “Power Knights,” was conceived.

Q: Your father introduced you to comics, sparking your affinity after taking you to see “Star Wars” when you were a kid. As you started reading comic books, you noticed that none of your favorite characters looked like you. There were no Black superheroes. They were sidekicks, at best, and you knew you wanted to change that one day. Why?

A: I wanted to be the hero, too. I wanted to be reflected in the guy all the kids wanted to be, not the guy who was only there for a laugh or who ran away from the action.

What I love about El Cajon …

I’m not a big fan of El Cajon; I’m more of a Mission Valley guy. I need diversity and youthful energy around me, but also maturity. I can’t deal with close-minded, negative people. I grew up hating bullies, and I still do.

Q: What kind of difference do you think this kind of representation makes, both for the kids consuming the art, and for the industry?

A: It’s better for society because you’ll have a generation growing up feeling more included, which leads to less anger and internal hatred. That leads to a clearer mind to focus on more productive ideas and energy. For the folks who resist this movement, they’ll get over it like anything else. Sometimes, you have to take arrows today to get flowers tomorrow.

Q: After years of professional work in graphic design, you reached back to work on a story you first created as a kid, “Power Knights.” It became the first publication of KID Comics, the independent publishing company you founded in 2015. How did what you were looking for in terms of the representation you wanted to see in comic books as a kid, inform your approach to KID Comics?

A: When I was a kid, I was apprehensive about creating characters of color. At the age of 11, I was actually thinking that it might hurt the popularity of my book if I made the main character Black because I never saw that reflected in the comics I read, the movies I watched, or the games I played. All of my Black heroes were real-life people, like Muhammad Ali. Also, growing up in San Diego, Black people were truly the minority here; it was almost an anomaly to just see a Black person. My young mind had to process all of that with the limited knowledge I had. However, I was never a person who was ashamed of what I was or felt that I needed to bow down to anyone. My mother raised my brothers and me to be self-reliant.

Q: You’re also the founder of Black Comix Day: Heroes Rise. What was your initial vision for this event when you started in 2018? And how has that vision evolved in the year since?

A: It’s exactly what I planned it to be, a showcase of Black creative talent in comics and a model for Black-owned businesses and commerce. It grows larger every year and I simply want it to be a fun, positive event that inspires anyone who attends it to empower themselves.

Q: What kind of influence has connecting with other Black comic artists and professionals had on your own work?

A: It just validates what I suspected when I started KID — there is a huge, underserved market of people of color who dig comic books. There are kids out there who are just like me, who want new heroes who look like them, along with the stuff we already like, like “The Avengers,” “Spider-Man,” “Batman,” etc.

Q: How would you describe your point of view as an artist?

A: Fun, action and adventure, and fantasy; I’m not the “Black trauma guy.” At least, not in comics. I take the struggle very seriously in real life, but I’m not a punching bag. I want to unwind and have fun, too.

Q: What inspires you in your comic book work?

A: Great art and great technique by guys like Jim Lee, Jack Kirby, George Lucas, Spike Lee, Michael Jackson, Jay-Z, Kobe Bryant, Ali. There are too many to name, but I’m inspired by folks who are insanely dedicated to their craft.

Q: Aside from your own books, what are some series or stand-alone comic works that you’ve been excited about recently?

A: It’s hard to keep up when you are constantly working, but my favorite writer right now is Rodney Barnes. He has a horror comic called “Killadelphia,” which I love. He also wrote HBO Max’s “Showtime” about my favorite team, the Los Angeles Lakers; he’s doing the “Star Wars: The Mandalorian” comic for Marvel; and he wrote one of my favorite series ever, Hulu’s “Wu-Tang Clan: An American Saga.” I’m a huge hip-hop head.

Q: Do you have any Comic-Con traditions?

A: I used to make it a ritual to shake (comic book artist) Neal Adams’ hand on the first day of each Comic-Con, for good luck. Neal passed away this year, but he drew one of my all-time favorite comics, “Superman vs. Muhammad Ali.” He was a great artist and person.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: Just do it.

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: I’m not concerned with what people think about me, or prejudging folks before I get to know them.

Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: Good beer, music, food, and making love and laughter. What else is there?