Very few comic strip creators can match Keith Knight for production and overall cultural hilarity. In addition to producing three regular web comics, he has published several books collecting work—The Incredible Cuteness of Being and The Knight life among them—that originally appeared on Salon.com, the DailyKOS and several national news and lifestyle outlets. Knight has also just launched a page on Patreon, the crowdfunding site that lets fans provide recurring financial support to an artist. .
All of Knight’s work is infused with a signature mix of laugh-out-loud humor, thoughtful political commentary and wry, sharp observations on everyday life. Knight describes his work as a cross between “Calvin and Hobbes, MAD magazine and Underground Comix.” Check out his appearance on Totally Biased, comedian W. Kamau Bell’s interview show.
Knight also ranks among the vanguard of cartoonists who have migrated from the vanishing landscape of daily newspapers and Sunday funny pages to new opportunities online—opportunities to reach new readers as well as new opportunities to get paid. However, the prospects for new readers and greater profits hinge on a creator’s ability to market and promote themselves and their work, in the brave new world of online cartooning.
Knight, who lives in L.A., has put together an online network that includes KChronicles.com, where he collects his popular autobiographical comics series, (Th)ink, weekly one-panel editorial strips, and KnightLifeComics.com, a daily comedy strip based on his life that is also syndicated by Universal/Uclick.
PW Comics World spoke with “Keef” about growing his brand and online platform and about his Kickstarter-funded graphic novel, I Was A Teenage Michael Jackson Impersonator.
PW: As a newspaper cartoonist how did you approach the idea of building a brand for yourself and your comics without the traditional print platforms?
Keith Knight: I was lucky enough to be a part of one of the earliest successful online magazines [Salon.com, 1995], so that helped. But I was feeling my way through the dark just like most cartoonists who established themselves via print. It was mostly just emulating what I saw from successful web cartoonists. People like David Kellett (Sheldon and Drive) and R. Stevens (Diesel Sweeties). I just see what worked for them, tried different things, and stuck with stuff that worked. Jettisoned stuff that didn't. Nowadays, I just emulate people named Matt. Matt Bors (The Nib) and Matt Inman (the Oatmeal).
PW: Tell us about the Keith Knight online platform. How do use your website to build an audience for your comics?
KK: My websites are a great spot to see more of my work than anywhere else on the web, but it generally appears somewhere else first—places like Medium, gocomics, or Dailykos. Then it ends up on my sites The Official K Chronicles and (Th)ink Website and www.knightlifecomic.com. But my weekly strips can be seen first via my Round Table Subscription Service.
PW: How does your subscription service work and how many subscribers do you have?
KK: The Round Table Subscription Service is a way for readers to support my cartooning cause directly, by paying a minimal fee for a 6-month or 1-year membership. After you join, you'll begin to receive the new K Chronicles and (th)ink strips via a newsletter, before they run anywhere else, along with sketches, classic strips, insight into how I come up with stuff, hate-mail, sneak previews. It's really the closest people can get to my creative process.
Let me be clear: I do not post all my strips to the sites anymore. They're the places to go to see more of my work than anywhere else, but the Round Table is the place to be. My goal is to have 1000 subscribers by the summer, I'm a little less than halfway there.
PW: A comprehensive online platform is essential for the modern cartoonist. What kind of adjustment did it take to transition to online publication and build an audience. Is it all trial and error?
KK: It takes continuous fine-tuning regarding the online platform. You essentially want to make it as easy as possible for readers to take in and support your work. You have to be constantly updating, and spreading your gospel via facebook, twitter, etc. You also want to find new revenue sources without having to draw additional work. Reprints are huge for me. Also: speaking engagements at libraries, universities and art schools.
PW: You've just launched a page on Patreon [see Patreon Raises $2.1 Million], a crowdfunding platform that allow fans to provide recurring financial support to an artist, rather than to a one-off project. How does it help your work?
KK: What's great about Patreon is that it allows people to support you for the work you're already doing and giving away for free. You know how hard it is to make a living at this..especially with a family. Patreon is a low-cost, stress-free way to support interesting art, music, and content on and off the web. People can donate as little as a $1 a month..And I'm hoping there are enough folks out there who feel my comics are worth that. Wish me luck!
PW: Tell us about the graphic novel you’re working on that is inspired by your time as a Michael Jackson impersonator?
KK: Like the K Chronicles, it will be semi-autobiographical. It's like my work: funny in some places, racially awkward in others. I think if anything, it comments on what celebrity obsession used to be. It's a whole different ball-game now.