MATTHEW INMAN’S brand of humor isn’t for everyone. His web comic, The Oatmeal, is a bugnuts bouillabaisse of crack-addled tyrannosaurs, bear-on-pterodactyl copulation, and snark-laced lessons in proper grammar and spelling (“If you put an A in ‘definitely,’ then you’re definitely an A-hole”). But since July 2009, when the Fremont resident and onetime web developer started dishing out his absurdist analyses of everyday life populated by doughy, dead-eyed pseudo humans, he’s recruited an impressive army of fellow twisted thinkers who dig what he does. And this March, he’ll reward his minions’ loyalty by releasing his first book, 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth. And, c’mon—what’s not hilarious about flogging a dolphin?
I would say I’m driven 20 percent by anger, 20 percent by anxiety, and 60 percent by everything else. I’m not quite as gripey and angry as I make myself out to be in my comics. But I definitely feel strongly about most of the things I write about.
My characters are all very simple. They look like blank, overweight babies. I’ve found that the more you put detail into them, the less people find them funny. But when you draw a blank character, it’s almost like people can project their own humor onto it. And it’s funnier. Gary Larson is a good example of that. His Far Side characters are all these overweight blob people. And a lot of them have glasses on and don’t have pupils. Same thing with South Park and The Simpsons. Those are all very simply drawn people. When you start adding things like bangs and eyelashes and eyebrows, it starts to look like someone you might know who you have a bias against.
People who tell me that they audibly laughed, that’s great. I’m not a stand-up comedian, so I don’t get to see people laughing. The only feedback I get is when someone says LOL on Twitter.
If anyone criticizes me on Twitter, I claim to have slept with their mom. I’ll tweet back and say, “Last night with your mom was amazing. We made love under the stars.” Basically I’m just baiting them. It’s a terrible habit, and I should probably stop.
But I can’t complain too much. The same mechanism that allows people to give me all this terrible feedback allows me to put my content out to people and share it. Yeah, I hate to see people tweet nasty things about me, but I’m also tweeting out to people and building an audience. And the negative is so small, you know? It’s like one out of every 2,000 comments is a negative one. So I try not to let that poison the others.
I’m 28, and from 19 to 25, my idea of fun on a Friday night was, “Let’s go get drunk!” Now it’s shifted. What excites me more now is the thought of drinking coffee at home and drawing or writing. Maybe I’m aging prematurely and you’re not supposed to do that until you get to 40 but, for right now, I’m way more passionate about that.
At my old job I realized I’m tough to work with. I’m really stubborn and opinionated and a firestorm. There’s a couple offices out there right now without me in them that are better off. “It’s really nice in here. It’s so relaxed. It’s because Matt’s not here!” So I think me working from home is doing a lot of people a lot of good.
I had a disclaimer on my site that said, “Don’t email me about grammar mistakes unless they’re glaring.” But I still got emails, like, “I don’t know if this is glaring or not, but you have a dangling participle…” So I changed it to say, “For example, if I write, ‘Yesterday, I got home from work and raped the yard,’ that’s glaring.” Since that example was posted, not so many emails. Mission accomplished.
Sometimes I’ll realize I’ve made the same joke in three or four comics, so I’m like, “I’m going to make a comic today, and it’s not going to have a bear or poop in it. That’s my goal today!” You have to say these things to yourself.
I’m taking classes on cartooning, like traditional cartooning. It’s fun, but it’s definitely a learning process. It really opened my eyes to what a terrible artist I am right now. The guy who teaches this class has been drawing comics for 30 years—real comics. He can take a pencil and go from top to bottom on the page and have a character sitting there that just looks great. And then he inks it in another minute and it looks spectacular. With me, it looks like you gave a kindergartner some ink pens and just let him make a mess.
I don’t even like oatmeal. It tastes like ground-up cardboard.