‘The Oatmeal’: an Eisner surprise
I’m not sure why I was so surprised that Matt Inman’s The Oatmeal received an Eisner Award nomination this year, but judging from some other online reactions, I wasn’t the only one.
It’s not like it doesn’t deserve it. The Oatmeal easily has a larger following than the other nominees. How many copies does a print copy have to move these days before it’s considered a success, 100,000?
The Oatmeal has hundreds of times more than that — 5 million unique readers according to a 2010 Seattle Weekly article. It’s even hugely profitable. That same article mentions Inman’s take-home pay in 2010 was a half-million dollars. A huge part of it is Inman’s expertise at SEO, which just means he played the same game that made BuzzFeed the household name it is today.
The Oatmeal covers a variety of subjects. Some of the entries have intentionally inflammatory subjects, such as ‘“How to suck at your religion” and “What it means when you say ‘literally.’” Inman tackles these subjects with the burning righteousness of an angry political pundit, depicting the wrong as googly-eyed fools and leaning heavily on the bold and italicized font settings. I thought for sure those would be the most popular strips on his site.
However, as of this writing, the highest-ranked in the “Most Popular” section are a multi-part comic about long-distance running and why the mantis shrimp is Inman’s favorite animal. It should be noted that, despite the less-controversial subject matters, Inman does not ease up on the rhetoric. “It is Genghis Khan bathed in sherbet ice cream,” he writes, as if daring the reader not to love the deep-sea creature. “The mantis shrimp is the harbinger of blood-soaked rainbows.” Similes and metaphors: the lifeblood of The Oatmeal.
When Inman really gets going, his comic starts to resemble a blog with doodles drawn in the margins. This is where The Oatmeal seems like an odd fit for the Eisner Awards. Past nominees have leaned toward the visually pleasing. Inman’s art is intentionally crude. As popular as it is, The Oatmeal‘s nomination feels like Ricky Gervais crashing a classy party.
Inman and the comic are inseparable. The Oatmeal is his voice; it functions as a sixth sense, turning the Internet as an extension of his own being. This influence allows him to approach challenges with an air of bravado. When content aggregator FunnyJunk posted his comics without permission, Inman enacted “Operation BearLove Good. Cancer Bad,” which included a mocking comic and a fundraiser that generated $220,000 that would be donated to the World Wildlife Fund and the American Cancer Society.
His most visible project is the Tesla Museum. In August 2012, Inman ran an Indiegogo campaign that brought in $2.1 million toward the restoration of Wardenclyffe tower. Even more recently, Inman used his comic to issue a publicl appeal to Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, to help with the museum: A two-part strip titled “What it’s like to own a Tesla Model S” included the image of a luck dragon making love to a Ferrari. The comic ends with the following:
Elon Musk, if you’re reading this: You owe us nothing, and you’ve done nothing but good things in the name of Nikola Tesla. But the fact remains: Tesla Motors, a company now worth billions, is using Nikola Tesla’s name and they’re using his technology, and all we want in return is a little bit of help.
And Musk replied, offering his assistance. While Inman’s swagger can sometimes be brash and off-putting, it’s also wickedly refreshing. It seems that a day doesn’t go by without a story of a comic creator being denied compensation or credit. I can’t see that happening to Inman. Whether it’s marathon-running or Tesla museums, he’s a guy who knows what he wants. And if he wants something badly enough, he’s coming after it with the intensity of a turned-on luck dragon.