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The Oatmeal is a webcomic launched by Matthew Inman in 2009. The comics touch on a variety of topics, including cats, technology, grammar, and food and are supplemented by blog posts about Inman’s life and other ventures.
Prior to the Oatmeal, Matthew Inman was a web designer, developer and online marketer who created the online dating site Mingle2 in 2007. He also created many quizzes, infographics, and cartoon listicles for several projects with his signature art style. Theoatmeal.com was registered on April 4th, 2009 and officially launched on July 6th, 2009 with a comic about the life of a tapeworm. During its first year, Oatmeal comics were shared on Trendhunter, Gizmodo, and Serious Eats. As of December 2012, The Oatmeal has more than 809,000 likes on Facebook and more than 348,000 followers on Twitter.
In 2010, Inman discovered that users of the humor website FunnyJunk had submitted many of his comics to the site without attribution. After contacting FunnyJunk, the images were taken down, but on May 25th, 2011, Inman found himself in the same predicament. That day, he compiled a list of other webcomics as well as newspaper comics which had been posted to FunnyJunk without any attribution to the authors, seeking help from his readers to correct the situation. About a week later, Inman posted an update noting that the owner of FunnyJunk sent an email to all of its members (shown below) claiming that Inman wanted to shut down the site, encouraging the users to contact him about it. Many users did contact Inman and he posted a letter insulting the intelligence of the commenters. The administrator also deleted most of the offending content mentioned in Inman’s first post, however, only the comics that were properly attributed to the Oatmeal were removed.
Operation BearLove Good, Cancer Bad
Just over a year later, on June 11th, 2012, Inman posted a letter he received from attorney Charles Carreon representing FunnyJunk threatening to sue him over wrongful accusation of willful copyright infringement. The letter demanded that Inman remove all mention of FunnyJunk from any website he has control over and deliver a check made out to FunnyJunk, LLC for $20,000. Inman annotated the letter and stated he was going to attempt to raise 20,000, take a photo of the money and send that to Carreon with a drawing of his mom seducing a Kodiak bear. He then would donate half of the money to the National Wildlife Foundation and the other half to the American Cancer Society.
The post was quickly shared on Reddit, accumulating more than 32,000 upvotes within two days. Within 64 minutes, the full $20,000 had been donated and within 24 hours, he had raised more than $117,000. On June 15th, Carreon filed a lawsuit against Indiegogo and Inman, claiming that he wanted to prevent charity fraud after he donated to the fundraiser, concerned that the selected charities would not get all of the money. The suit was voluntarily dismissed by Carreon on July 3rd.
By the close of the fundraiser, Inman raised $211,223.04 to split between the two charities. Despite a temporary restraining order, the funds were dispersed to the charities in early July. On July 9th, Inman posted photographs of the money, including one where the bill stacks were arranged in the letters “F” and “U”, which he mailed to FunnyJunk with the bear drawing in a frame.
Charles Carreon Parody Site
During Carreon’s debacle with The Oatmeal, blogger Christopher Recouvreur launched the website Censorious Douchebag (shown below), as the parody diary of Satirical Charles, a character based on Carreon. In June, Carreon accused Recouvreur of cybersquatting and trademark violation. Recouvreur filed a counter-suit, arguing that his parody was legal, which Carreon acknowledged in December, agreeing to pay Recouvreur $725 dollars for “recuperating costs.” However, Recouvreur had racked up more than $77,000 dollars in attorney fees and sued to have that reimbursed. On April 12th, 2013, a judge ruled that Carreon owed Recouvreur $46,100.25 for pushing the subject, engaging in “unnecessary, vexatious and costly tactics.” Law bloggers at Popehat and Public Citizen both criticized Carreon for representing himself in the situation. However, Carreon told Ars Technica that he did not regret sending his first letter to Matthew Inman and continues to think that he is a “great big bully.”
Nikola Tesla Musuem
On August 15th, 2012, Inman published a post titled “Help Me Raise Money to Buy Nikola Tesla’s Old Laboratory,” asking readers to donate money to the crowdsourcing website Indiegogo to help the non-profit organization Tesla Science Center build a museum for the electrical engineering pioneer. The piece of land in question, located in Shoreham, New York, had previously housed Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower (shown below, right), which had been destroyed following the inventor’s death. The same day the Oatmeal post went up, Redditor Twenty8k submitted a link to the The Oatmeal post to the /r/technology subreddit, urging other readers to contribute to the cause. The post received over 18,500 upvotes and 730 comments within the next four months. By September 29th, the Indiegogo campaign had received over $1.4 million, thanks to a grant from New York State. Contributions came from 108 countries and every state in the US, helping the campaign become Indiegogo’s fastest growing fundraiser.
On May 9th, 2013, Inman announced in a blog post that the former lab of Nikola Tesla had been saved from demolition thanks to the fundraiser, having been purchased by the Tesla Science Center nonprofit organization for $850,000. The post assured readers that the remainder of the money raised by the campaign would go to renovations of the property but that additional funds would be needed to build the museum itself. Inman also mentioned there were rumors of a network of tunnels underneath the property which may contain a “huge underground resonance chamber.”
Following fan backlash to a comic containing a rape joke on December 4th, 2012, Inman removed the offending panel (shown below, left) and replaced it with a message (shown below, right) complaining that comedians are being censored after Daniel Tosh received serious backlash after news of a rape joke he made on stage circulated on Tumblr this summer.
On December 7th, Buzzfeed contributor Jack Stuef published an article titled “The Secrets Of The Internet’s Most Beloved Viral Marketer”, detailing his responses and takedown of the comment as well as the history behind the Oatmeal itself. Stuef wrote about Inman’s background as an alleged search engine optimization expert, launching his comic by playing into popular ideas within the Digg community, arguing that the Oatmeal was not borne out of a love for art or comics, but built as a business from the beginning. Inman quickly responded with a blog post breaking down errors in the Buzzfeed article, as well as providing additional commentary on how he spent his money to help his sister raise her disabled foster kids. He then wrote a pointed message to Stuef, commenting on a joke he had made publicly about Sarah Palin’s disabled son.
On December 11th, the Columbia Journalism Review contested Inman’s claim that he did not have a PR person, noting that they found a LinkedIn profile for a woman named Amanda DiMarco with that title. Ten days after Buzzfeed’s post, Gawker writer Max Read posted his opinion on the situation, noting that Buzzfeed’s publishing model is quite similar to the Oatmeal’s.
According to Quantcast, The Oatmeal receives 160,000 monthly visitors from the US and is ranked at 10,902 as of December 2012. The site has a global rank of 2657 on Alexa. By February 2010, after only running for eight months, the Oatmeal was seeing 4.6 million visitors and 20 million page views per month. Along with a book deal, this allowed Inman to quit his day job and work on the site full time.
Ars Technica – The madness ends: Lawyer Charles Carreon to pay $46,100