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The Oatmeal Talks About Punching Dolphins in the Mouth & His Past with PETA

The Oatmeal was conceived in 2009 and has since attracted 173,000+ Twitter followers and 288,000+ “likes” on Facebook. The compilation book, 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth, contains several comics from the site as well as twenty-seven unreleased articles. We caught up with the man behind The Oatmeal, creator Matthew Inman, to find out more about the popular webcomic.

Q: Was it difficult when you were working on your book to transition your work from a nontraditional medium to a more traditional one?
A: Yeah, the hardest part was that my comics are seven hundred pixels wide by five thousand pixels tall. So, if those were made into a book it’d be as tall as a book case. Re-sizing those were kind of a pain because they’re vector art [pieces] and I had to re-draw a lot of it. I spent more time re-sizing my comics to fit them to the dimensions of a book than I did working on new material for it.

Q: Have you ever gotten protested by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals)?
A: Yeah, here’s what happened. This was a few years ago before The Oatmeal was even around. PETA started this campaign called ‘Save the Seakittens.’ They drew the ocean with these little kittens swimming; they were kind of fish-like. They were trying to brand fish as sea kittens…That way people wouldn’t eat fish because they associate it with a kitten. So, I saw that and within hours of them launching this campaign, I launched my own called ‘Eat Some Sea Bacon‘ and it had little bacon-y fish moving around in the ocean. PETA was obviously unhappy and my campaign overshot theirs in terms of traffic. I got like ten thousand times as many people as they did.

So then, they must’ve forgotten who I was because two years later [after 'The Oatmeal' was founded] I wrote this comic called ‘5 Reasons Pigs Are More Awesome Than You‘ where I talked about the biology of pigs (how they’re fast and how they’re smart). PETA loved it because there was no mention of bacon or eating pigs or anything. They linked to it and I started seeing this huge flux of traffic from PETA; thousands and thousands of PETA people loving the comic. I actually switched the content out so that it showed them another article I wrote called ‘Why We Should Be Eating Horses Instead of Riding Them.’ It was this rant on why I hate horses. It took them eight hours to fix the link. For eight hours all these PETA people, thousands of them, were coming to my site reading my horse article instead of the pig one. Me and PETA, we got some history.

Q: Do you just pick random animals [i.e. dolphins] to abuse in your comics?
A: When I find something that kinda makes me chuckle, that’s what I’ll use…The dolphin thing is funny; that comic is so old to me at this point because that comic was around when I first started ‘The Oatmeal’ almost two years ago. I’ve almost become immune to how offensive that title is. I had a friend who went to Barnes & Noble and they brought the book to the cash register. The cashier said to them: ‘Well, that’s just terrible. I can’t think of a single reason to punch a dolphin in the mouth.’ She was actually upset by the title. Oh well!

Q: How do you market your comics online?
A: Most of my material comes down to creating things that are highly relatable that everybody likes. That becomes the marketing; I don’t write material in order to market my book. My material is what markets itself. Sometimes what I’ll do is I’ll pick a gripe, for instance something that drives everybody crazy like Facebook or misspellings, and then put in the right words. Find something that we’re all kind of enjoying or we all dislike but no one’s really said anything about it yet and trying to beat everybody to the punch; kind of like internet mind reading.

Q: What do you think this particular genre of comics has to offer people as opposed to traditional print comics?
A: They’re definitely bigger. They’re a bit more relevant and faster. I can write about whatever I want; there is no editor. There’s no one telling me, ‘No, this is too offensive or too polarizing.’ And they’re very educational; most traditional comics are just panel, panel, punchline. Mine are actually sometimes useful like ‘How to Use a Semicolon.’

Q: Why didn’t you include some of your blog posts in the book?
A: I didn’t include them because I wanted to keep most of the material a bit more “lasting”; less pop culture stuff and less gripes about films. This is mostly a compilation of comics. I feel like a lot of those will be, even in a couple of years, still be funny and relevant because they’re not tied to anything…’How to Suck at Facebook‘ is pretty tied to a specific time. So that’s why I left them [the blog posts] out.

I didn’t think I had enough blog posts like that. If I had fifty, I would’ve actually made a big part of the book that; when I made the book I only had three…And also as you know, books take forever to come out. A lot of people ask me ‘Why aren’t these new comics in there? The ones that we’ve been seeing?’ The cutoff was a year ago so a lot of the new stuff isn’t in the book.

Q: What’s next for you?
A: There will be another book out next year around the same time. In the short term, plenty more comics and I’m working with someone who specializes in turning comics into animated features.

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