The closing keynote speaker at South By Southwest Interactive described his talk as one about “comics, creativity, crowdfunding and poop jokes.”
I’d say that was a pretty accurate description. Matthew Inman, creator of The Oatmeal, had a packed room at the Austin Convention Center laughing throughout his keynote address. Inman has used The Oatmeal as a platform for observing the evolution of words like “douchebag” in today’s vernacular and explaining how your cat may be plotting to kill you. Inman also headed two successful crowdfunding campaigns in 2012, one of which turned a nuisance lawsuit on its head by raising money for charity instead of paying damages to a rival website.
Before touching on his crowdfunding campaigns, Inman spoke about how he gets his inspiration.
“I’m not a cartoonist. I’m a stand-up comedian whose stage is the Web,” Inman said. “I write comics where I tell truths, anecdotes and observations.”
Inman finds inspiration in funny anecdotes in his life and works them into comics about things everyone can relate to. He doesn’t use the traditional panel format, and often draws his characters in an unattractive, almost adolescent way.
“I like the character of The Oatmeal to be thought of as this bloated alcoholic who comes out at night,” Inman said.
Inman said he used to try to harness and control inspiration, but that didn’t work.
“Inspiration is like food poisoning, it sprays out of you when you don’t need it,” Inman said.
This was one of many lines that got laughs from the crowd. Inman’s jokes, no matter how immature they may be at times, work because he doesn’t try too hard — he draws inspiration from life that everyone can relate to.
Inman said he often looks to science and nature to draw comedic inspiration. He once again had the audience laughing while talking animatedly about the Mantis shrimp and inventor Nikola Tesla. Things are funnier if you focus on topics that are likeable and compelling, Inman said.
“I’m always asked how to get more likes on Facebook and other bullshit social media metrics that people use,” Inman said. “Write about things that make you angry, sad or you think are funny. Don’t put (effort) into begging for tweets and likes.”
Inman’s comics are funny, so funny that FunnyJunk.com was posting them and removing the attribution. Inman blogged about it and later received a later stating that he either needed to pay FunnyJunk $20,000 in damages or be sued in federal court. Inman comically annotated the letter with his plan for getting back at FunnyJunk’s lawyer, Charles Carreon.
Inman planned to raise the requisite $20,000, take a photo of the money and send it to Carreon along with an illustration of his mother “seducing a Kodiak bear.” Inman then planned to donate one half of the money to the National Wildlife Federation and the other half to the American Cancer Society. Thus, “Operation Bearlove Good, Cancer Bad” was born.
Long story short, Inman said Carreon sued him anyway, as well as the National Wildlife Federation and American Cancer Society. This elevated Carreon to a “level 60 villain” in the Internet’s eyes, Carreon said.
Inman said his joke in no way “backfired” as the media claimed.
“It fired perfectly straight, hit the asshole in the head, blood came out of the back of his head, turned into money and landed in the hands of a bunch of grizzly bears who needed it,” Inman said.
Operation Bearlove Good, Cancer Bad ended up raising about $220,000, and was a warm-up round for “Operation Let’s Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum.” Inman aimed to purchase the land on which Tesla’s laboratory stood to build a museum in his honor. Inman succeeded, and raised nearly $1.4 million.
So who do you give credit to for the two campaigns’ success? The Oatmeal? Crowdfunding as a model? Inman said he thinks the success came from enabling people to pay for things they couldn’t before.
“These campaigns weren’t about perks or products, they were about righting a wrong,” Inman said.
Inman attributed his success to Tesla and the hackers, hobbyists and geeks of the world for wanting to make the world a better place.