Previewing ‘Knock Out! The True Story Of Emile Griffith’ By Reinhard Kleist

by Richard Bruton

Knock Out! is the latest of Reinhard Kleist‘s graphic novels from SelfMadeHero, the true story of the bisexual black American boxer Emile Griffith, who faced a life of racism and homophobia and had to deal with the guilt and stigma of one life-changing knock-out blow…

“I keep thinking how strange it is. I kill a man, and most people understand and forgive me. However, I love a man, and many say this makes me an evil person. To so many people, this is an unforgivable sin.” – Emile Griffith, 2008.

In 1962, Emile Griffith fought and brutally defeated the Cuban fighter Benny Paret, the final blows raining down on his defenseless opponent, a couple of seconds that changed Griffith’s life. Paret fell into a coma in the boxing ring and died from his injuries 10 days later.

In Knock Out!, Kleist recounts the story of Griffith, switching between the old man looking for forgiveness and understanding and the flashbacks to the younger man, a bisexual black boxer in a time where that was an impossible thing to be.

Whether Griffith was guilty of killing Paret or not was never conclusively resolved, but there were always questions over the fight, the possibility that a pre-fight argument where Paret referred to Griffith as a faggot could have led to Griffith’s brutal final blows. Whatever happened, whatever the motive or reasons, Kleist leaves things open, concentrating instead on the way that the death haunted Griffith for the rest of his life.

Kleist’s graphic novel promises to be a beautiful thing, his stark, emotive black and white artwork, evocative and powerful, dealing with race and sexuality and a man haunted by his actions in the ring.

Of course, Kleist is something of a biographical comics expert, having created some very insightful works on characters as diverse as Castro, Johnny Cash, Nick Cave, and Olympian Samia Yusuf Omar all available from SelfMadeHero.

But it’s his graphic novel The Boxer that really showed just how good Kleist could be and how he was so capable of showing us the beauty and brutality of the ring with his recounting of the life of Harry Haft, a Jewish fighter and Holocaust survivor.

Knock Out! promises to be every bit as powerful and emotive as The Boxer, a haunting tale of regret and remorse, of a life-changing moment of brutality, and of a man sadly living in a time where to be who he was was seen as an evil thing.

Knock Out! – by Reinhard Kleist, translated by Michael Waaler, published by SelfMadeHero on 24 June 2021 (UK) and 20 July (US)