Blogger’s bizarre sense of humour Internet success
by Kylie Robertson
Meet Matthew Inman. If you don’t recognize the name, that’s okay. He’s more commonly known as the Oatmeal, after his website TheOatmeal.com. TheOatmeal.com features comics and a blog, both drawn and written by Inman, as well as quizzes that provide the answers to all the burning questions you may have such as, “How many five-year-olds could you take in a fight?” or “Have you ever considered making love to Bigfoot?”
The online name actually has nothing to do with food, Inman said: “I used to play a game when I was a teenager called Quake, and when I played, my name was Quaker Oatmeal, so when I signed up for anything over the Internet, my nickname was Oatmeal. Rather than calling my site something specific or using a description, I just gave it the name I’ve always used.”
Somewhere between four and five million people view the site every month, a feat that isn’t lost on Inman.
“Before I made the Oatmeal, I specialized in building things on the web that got attention, viral marketing campaigns, et cetera,” Inman said. “But I didn’t expect millions and millions. When the site first went up online, I got a quarter of a million hits and I thought that was pretty average, a good reflection of what I’m capable of. And it just jumped from there.”
Inman grew up hoping to be- come an artist, but that changed the second he got his first computer at 13. From that point, he was sold on becoming a programmer (which he achieved early in his career). Inman, now 28, is able to make a comfortable living in between the two worlds: he earns a take-home pay of about $550,000 every year. Most of the profit is from the sale of his merchandise, but about 20 per- cent is from ad revenue generated by his website.
But even with the wild popularity of his website, it’s not often that Inman is recognized in public around Seattle where he lives and works. “Actually, last week was the first time I really got a taste for it. I was out grocery shopping and someone came up to me and said, ‘Hey, are you the guy who made that site?’ I have a bunch of Oatmeal shirts, so when I wear those around people sometimes stop and ask me if I’m me. But this was one of the first times I was recognized without wearing an Oatmeal shirt.
“I don’t attach my photo to my site very often; maybe only once or twice in the past. It ruins the illusion. It’s like meeting your favourite radio DJ in public and thinking, ‘THAT guy? That’s the guy I enjoy listening to?’ My appearance has very little to do with my humour.” Recognition on the Internet, however, is a different story. Inman said he’s gotten several scathing emails from people who were offended by his comics.
“This woman called me a Nazi because, according to her, I was discriminating against dyslexics (with the comic ‘10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling’),” Inman said. “It was actually New Year’s Eve when I got that email, and immediately I knew I needed to make the email comic (on my site). I put everything up, including her name, email address and photo. I feel like I won. It was a game and I got first place. It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about making me feel better and I did,” he said.
“I’ve also received emails from people who tell me, ‘Man, I’m such a huge fan, I’ve been reading your blog for the last year! But that last comic you did wasn’t very good. Could you make your next one more like the others?’ ” said Inman.
“That’s like going to see a stand-up comedian, laughing at every joke and then after he tells a joke that you don’t enjoy, standing up and saying ‘Hey, you’ve been very funny so far, but that last joke wasn’t very good. Can you make the next one better?’ ” he said with a laugh.
In 2011, Inman will be using a new medium to distribute his comics: books. “Five Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth” is due out March 1, 2011. “I’ll be doing a speaking/book tour as well with the release,” he said. “I’m kind of picturing it as me in Barnes & Noble with my little folding table, and about 10 kids will come in to see me.”
Inman hopes to release a second book as well, and to experiment with the world of animation. And all this is from a man whose online identity references a breakfast food. “I actually don’t like oatmeal at all; I never eat it.”