'World has gone crazy': Cartoonist defends 'racist' Serena depiction

An Australian cartoonist has broken his silence over a controversial depiction of Serena Williams that has sparked outrage around the world.

Mark Knight of Melbourne’s Herald Sun newspaper posted his illustration on Twitter on Monday morning, immediately sparking a firestorm of criticism.

The cartoon depicts Serena’s confrontation with umpire Carlos Ramos during the US Open final, showing the tennis superstar destroying her racquet with a child’s dummy lying on the ground next to her.

‘WRONG TIME’: Tennis legend reveals what Serena got wrong in US Open outburst

The controversial cartoon. Image: Herald Sun

Many labelled the cartoon “racist” and “sexist”, accusing Knight of using derogatory imagery of African American people.

But Knight says it had nothing to do with race or gender.

“I drew this cartoon Sunday night after seeing the US Open final, and seeing the world’s best tennis player have a tantrum and thought that was interesting,” he told the Herald Sun on Tuesday.

“It’s been picked up by social media in the US and my phone has just melted down.

“The world has just gone crazy.”

Serena Williams argues with umpire Carlos Ramos during her Women’s Singles finals match against Naomi Osaka. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)

Knight said his cartoon was simply about Serena’s poor behaviour.

“Three days before I had drawn a cartoon about Nick Kyrgios being led off by the ears, like you used to do with your children,” he said.

“The cartoon about Serena is about her poor behaviour on the day, not about race.”

‘Making stuff up’

Knight also appeared on ABC News Mornings on Tuesday to defend the way he’d depicted Serena.

“I think what’s happening here is people are just making stuff up,” he said.

“The cartoon was just about Serena on the day having a tantrum. That’s basically it.

“I drew her as an African American woman. She’s powerfully built.

“She wears these outrageous costumes when she plays tennis. She’s interesting to draw. I drew her as she is, as an American African woman.

Mark Knight defended his cartoon. Image: ABC

“So, this whole business that I’m some sort of racist, calling on racial cartoons from the past, it’s just made up. It’s not there.”

Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston also defended the cartoon.

“A champion tennis player had a mega tantrum on the world stage, and Mark’s cartoon depicted that,” Johnston said.

“It had nothing to do with gender or race.”

‘Repugnant on many levels’

The National Association of Black Journalists has condemned the cartoon for it’s ‘unnecessarily sambo-like’ depiction – a racist term for an African American.

“The racist cartoon of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka by Mark Knight of the Herald Sun is repugnant on many levels,” the NABJ said.

“The Sept. 10 cartoon not only exudes racist, sexist caricatures of both women, but Williams’ depiction is unnecessarily sambo-like.

“The art of editorial cartooning is a visual dialogue on the issues of the day, yet this cartoon grossly inaccurately depicts two women of colour at the US Open, one of the grandest stages of professional sports.”

Harry Potter author J.K Rowling was among a number of high-profile figures to slam the cartoon, with many also seeing problems with the way Osaka was depicted.

But there are also many in the camp who believe the cartoon isn’t racist, including 3AW broadcaster Neil Mitchell.

“This shows an awful misunderstanding of Mark Knight and this country,” he said.

“I looked at that cartoon and it didn’t even cross my mind it was about race.

“It was a sports bully, a petulant child throwing a tantrum about losing.”

The cartoon was produced in response to Williams’ meltdown in the US Open final against Japan’s Naomi Osaka.

Williams was fined $24,000 by the US Tennis Association in the wake of her outburst.