Occasionally some of you first hear about a thing because I mention the thing. This is fine. I like to teach as well as entertain, blah blah etc.

On the other hand, good lord above please never depend on me for your breaking news, because somehow, some way, I either had forgotten or completely managed to miss that Robert Khoo of Penny Arcade fame resigned his position with the company almost a year ago after nearly 15 years as “President of Operations and Business Development.” Here, then, is my belated take.

Now if you don’t know the significance of what I just typed, Robert Khoo is something of a legend, especially amongst webcomickers aspiring to make their hobby into a living. Khoo did more than that for Penny Arcade. He made it into a business empire. PA is certainly not the only webcomic whose creator(s) have developed into something that pays the bills, but for all their success people like Brad Guigar are still those who exhibit and speak at conventions, while Penny Arcade runs conventions. Several conventions. Nationally and Internationally. And perhaps most importantly — since I have often belabored the point that anyone can *try* to put together a convention, often to disastrous result — successfully so.

Now this is not to discount the efforts of the original creators of the comic, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins. They were doing the strip for four years, building their audience, before Khoo came on board. But I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say Khoo was and remains a goddamn unicorn. He was a fan of the strip who also happened to be a business genius, and in late 2002 came to them with a business plan and an offer to work for them free of charge for a two month trial period as he built their brand to the next level. Let me repeat that, for those of you fellow creators out there who are regularly inundated by those bots posting to your contact forms who pretend to be real people but just use your naked URL and a bunch of vague generic platitudes and promises to “get leads” (which is not exactly webcomics talk). Robert Khoo, an actual long-time fan of Penny Arcade, offered to take over all the headaches of business management from Mike and Jerry with no money required up front, promising… well, I’m not sure precisely what was promised, but he seems to have delivered. In a world full of horror stories of artists being taken advantage of by business partnerships, Robert Khoo elevated everyone and his resignation was universally reported as a friendly affair where he just decided that after enough miracles worked it was time for some time off.

A benefit of me being late to this party is that I can observe that in the months since, things have not collapsed and everyone still seems quite amicable. What Robert Khoo did for Penny Arcade is what I’m pretty sure most webcomic creators have dreamed about at least once, although I also think most of us would be happy just being able to live comfortably without dreams of anything beyond that. Did Mike and Jerry dream of empires?  Next year mark’s Penny Arcade‘s 20th Anniversary, and so why don’t we take a moment to look at their very first strip, which was published in November of 1998 on loonygames.com:

There it is, comic sans font, typos and all. In fact I almost wonder if even this was touched up at some point, since a later strip from mid-1999 doesn’t even have word balloons.  A quick scan of their wikia page for 1999 also seems to show that, although certainly prolific, there was a time they did not hold hard and fast to their current M-W-F schedule, such as this comic (suggesting a vacation?) that immediately precedes a 16-day gap. They also had sketch days while attending conventions!

So at that point did they dream of empire? Maybe, maybe not. But from those humble beginnings they stuck with things, migrated to their own site, and by the time the Age of Khoo dawned (no, seriously, in this 2004 article they already refer to the early years as “B.K.” or “Before Khoo”) were already a known commodity, working as full-time comic creators and making a living off ads and reader donations. They made their own names, but Khoo is unquestionably the one who took them to the heights they’re at now.