A Fiendish Conversation with Matt Inman
The creator of webcomic The Oatmeal tackles the Internet's fascination with cats.
Matt Inman has a lot on his mind: grammar, pets, Nikola Tesla, Sriracha hot sauce (he actually has a line of Sriracha popcorn). Since 2009, the Seattleite has been compiling and sharing his hilarious-if-random thoughts to make his popular webcomic The Oatmeal, which has garnered an Internet-savvy horde of devotees. His latest book How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You, featuring his most popular cat comics and some all-new feline content, has already become a New York Times bestseller.
We chatted with the cartoonist about the universality of cats, Bill O’Reilly, and zoology.
The Oatmeal covers many topics, so what led you to making a book entirely on cats?
The first comic I ever did that sort of took off and made me realize I should be a comic artist was a comic called “How To Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You.” And, you know, throughout the years I have realized that cats are a great source of comedy. My readers love all my cat comics. In regards to my own personal cat ownership, I don’t have a cat. We had 17 cats growing up, so I’m kind of channeling that.
Do you have a theory on why the Internet is so cat crazy?
The best way to answer that is to compare them to dogs. Because dogs, they’re on the Internet and there are some funny dog things, but it’s nothing like cats. And I think that’s because cats are more universal. In terms of, if you own a cat and I own a cat, we both kind of see the same humor in some cat on the Internet. We see our cat. It’s less polarizing. But if I have a dog and it’s a Shih Tzu, and you have, like, a Rottweiler, there’s definitely not the same type of humor.
How To Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You dethroned Bill O’Reilly’s latest book for the no. 1 spot on Amazon’s bestseller list when it was released? Umm…what do you think that says about our society?
I guess it is sort of a sad state of literature when you’ve got some guy who writes poop jokes for a living next to some guy who spouts bullshit on political news for a living. [Laughs] I don’t know what to tell you. Why is my silly cat book at the top? Because I have strong following. And it fell off right away. Michael Chabon had a new book out and he’s at, like, no. 11. And that man is running circles around every other author out there right now. He should be no. 1.
And also that list isn’t really an indication of select quality or breadth of work. It’s just an indication of what’s hot right now. It’s like they always say: Every Transformers movie is, like, the highest grossing movie ever or something, and Transformers movies are total shit. It doesn’t mean it’s quality, it just means it sold a lot.
And not to say… I just told you I think my work is shit and it sells a lot. That’s not what I’m trying to say.
How has the book tour gone? How is it to meet fans of the webcomic?
It’s good. You know, there’s nothing natural about what I’m doing right now. I go to a book signing. I’m a comic artist, so I work alone and I work kind of privately. And going from that to standing up in front of 500 people a night and then sitting at a table and meeting, and shaking hands with, and drawing pictures for, and taking photos with all 500 people is not a natural thing. And because of that I become kind of in an unnatural state, in terms of just kind of being frizzle-fried. I have to hear about—like, every third person tells me about their cat. And it’s kind of sweet for the first, like, 800 people, but after a while you’re kind of like, “Please, no more about cats! Tell me about your parakeet, or what you had for lunch. Anything but your goddamn cat.” But other than that it’s good.
Do you have any routines you follow before making a comic?
Not really. My creative process is just chaos. Sometimes I come up with ideas when I’m running or about to fall asleep. Sometimes I draw them in the morning or I draw them at night. Generally speaking I take about eight hours to write a comic. Every time I write one that I really like, I always feel like that’s my last good comic. I feel like my creativity pool is limited and I’m always like, “Okay, that was the last joke! There are no more jokes.” And it’s pretty much felt that way ever since, like, the first month I started making comics.
If you weren’t making webcomics, what other job might you peruse?
This is kind of a copout answer, but I’d love to do stand-up comedy or comedy writing for animation or a TV network or something like that. And on a more realistic level, I would love to be—this is gonna sound silly—a tour guide at a zoo or a zookeeper. Just because I love public speaking and I’m a bit of a naturalist. I think if I could walk around and tell people about giraffe poop all day or whatever, I would be pretty happy with that. The only caveat is I hate children. So my zoo would be “No Kids Allowed.” I’m not sure it would survive very long.
Nov 1 at 7, University Book Store, free