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The Oatmeal profiled in The Economist

Nice write-up for Matthew Inman, the creator of the Oatmeal over at the Economist:

The simplicity of Mr Inman’s drawing style, coupled with an innocent rowdiness?think of Michael J. Fox or Lee Evans swearing?has made his site popular. It is visited by 3m-4.5m viewers each month. Most visitors look at several pages. The site debuted in 2009, although similar work predates it by years. Indeed, Mr Inman’s style is typical of the crop of cartoonists who began careers on the web, rather than in a print medium. He uses bold, even strokes and bright colours, and is not constrained to a particular panel size or narrative format. Forms are simplified, with schematic facial features. “A lot of my characters are poorly drawn but well dressed-up,” he quips.

Good news for Oatmeal fans. The Economist reports book collection of The Oatmeal is due out in March by Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Community Comments

#1 Donna Lewis
January/3/2011
@ 10:57 am

I love this site. Nice nod for Matthew!

#2 Mike Lester
January/3/2011
@ 11:06 am

“as well as a cottage business that brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.” -The Economist

Like global warming, the science is in and the debate is now settled: web cartoonists win.

btw: very funny, insightful stuff however, is it a comic?

#3 steve skelton
January/3/2011
@ 6:57 pm

I don’t know about everyone else here, but this story is a great way to start the year. I love his stuff, and the commerce component of it is very inspiring. This guy is more inspiring to me than the whole Mark Zuckerberg Facebook thing.

Thanks so much for posting this, Alan. Best of luck to you in 2011.

#4 Mike Peterson
January/4/2011
@ 4:54 am

Mike Lester: I don’t know that it’s a “comic” so much as it is a modern equivalent of Mad Magazine or National Lampoon delivered on-line so that the articles appear as they’re ready, rather than once a month in a lump. But it’s certainly cartooning news, since those individual pieces use cartoon elements, just as the spoofs in Mad or the Lampoon.

Is “Mad” a comic book? A question for academics to ponder. But if you try to hide it in your social studies text so you can read it during class, your teacher will probably call it one when she calls the office to tell them you’re on your way down there.

#5 Jesse Cline
January/4/2011
@ 8:25 am

I love this guy! Seattle Weekly did a similar write up on him a couple months ago.

“not constrained to a particular panel size or narrative format”

This is one of my favorite things about the Oatmeal.

#6 Mike Lester
January/4/2011
@ 8:51 am

Funny, clever, irreverent: no doubt. The “art” not withstanding, it’s clearly content that’s found an audience. But, while nothing would make me happier for the creator than this being a true statement, I’m not sold:

?as well as a cottage business that brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.? -The Economist

#7 Al Urker
January/4/2011
@ 8:55 am

?as well as a cottage business that brings in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.? -The Economist

When they say “cottage business”, are they be talking about the feature itself or the combined business of all web cartooning? Yes, I’m easily confused.

#8 Alan Gardner
January/4/2011
@ 10:14 am

@Al, @Mike – I interpreted “cottage business” to be webcomics in general and it doesn’t stretch my imagination that webcomics as a whole has a market value of hundreds of thousands – at minimum that means $200k.

#9 Al Urker
January/4/2011
@ 10:46 am

Thanks, Alan. That’s what I thought, too. “Hundreds of thousands”, while being pretty vague, is still pretty much nothing when taken for an entire industry.

#10 Jesse Cline
January/4/2011
@ 11:24 am

They mean the feature itself. According to the Seattle Weekly interview he “estimates his take-home pay for 2010 will be just over a half-million dollars.”

http://www.seattleweekly.com/2010-09-22/news/eat-your-oatmeal/

#11 Jesse Cline
January/4/2011
@ 11:27 am

Also, I’m not vouching that it’s true. I am just assuming he told the Economist the same thing, and they were referring to his little outfit as the cottage business.

#12 steve skelton
January/4/2011
@ 11:36 am

What does it really matter? Here you have a talented cartoonist who has succeeded in keeping ownership of his work and he has created a stream of revenue that is impressive. Shoot, anything over 75K would impress me, so what does it matter what the number really is? As cartoonists, this is an emerging business model that should give reason for optimism.

#13 Tony Piro
January/4/2011
@ 11:42 am

Half a million dollars? Yeah, but that’s in webcomic currency. Once you convert to real dollars it’s barely anything.

#14 Jason Nocera
January/4/2011
@ 12:42 pm

@Jesse – thanks for a link to that Seattle Weekly article. Very informative.

Here’s a couple of disheartening quotes for someone who wants to go this route to be a cartoonist. It sounds like his time is occupied by a lot of other stuff:

On page 3:
“It’s a good thing he can whip out a comic in a few hours, once an idea is formed. He has to spend the rest of his day dealing with inventory management and other entrepreneurial issues.”

On page 4:
“Inman publishes more like one or two a week.” (comics.)

Does that mean he only spends about 4-6 hours a week creating comics?

#15 Al Urker
January/4/2011
@ 12:50 pm

That makes being an actual cartoonist at the bottom of the priority list. How can you expect to be creative and produce decent work like that? Not a good formula, and not what I would consider cartooning.

#16 Scott Kurtz
January/4/2011
@ 12:56 pm

He’s not a cartoonist. The Oatmeal is not a webcomic. To use those terms to describe what he’s doing is misleading in my opinion.

There are a million of these “list” sites out there on the net. “Five reasons Dolphins would be better if they were made of bacon.”

The guy used SEO manipulation to get people to take quizzes and relink popular “lists” across social network sites to the point where Google got pissed and kicked one of his sites off of their ranking system.

He’s brilliant. And he’s manipulating social networking to make a buck. But he’s not a cartoonist. And he doesn’t create a comic.

He runs a social networking link trading business.

#17 Jesse Cline
January/4/2011
@ 12:57 pm

“A lurker”

#18 Alan Gardner
January/4/2011
@ 1:08 pm

@Jesse – thanks for catching that. Embarrassed that I didn’t. “Al” can no longer comment on this blog.

#19 August J. Pollak
January/4/2011
@ 1:26 pm

He?s not a cartoonist. The Oatmeal is not a webcomic. To use those terms to describe what he?s doing is misleading in my opinion.

And he doesn?t create a comic.

Scott I honest to god do not understand this. At all. Not trying to be snotty here but can you please then, in your personal opinion, actually describe:

1. a comic?
2. a cartoonist?
3. creating a comic?

I can understand saying he’s a bad cartoonist, or a lazy cartoonist, or any personal opinion of his art or work ethic you so wish. But under what criteria has Inman failed to meet in that he’s not a cartoonist? What is “misleading” here?

#20 Scott Metzger
January/4/2011
@ 1:41 pm

What August said. Scott, I don’t understand how you think he’s not a cartoonist. Not trying to be snotty here, either – your comment just baffles me.

I checked out his stuff earlier. Not only is he a cartoonist, he’s a very talented cartoonist.

#21 Alan Gardner
January/4/2011
@ 2:08 pm

@scott – I’m not sure I see that he’s doing anything different than the webcomic model. Tell me where I’m missing your view – but what I see is a loss leader comic (or humorous graphic) that he leverages using viral/social media to sell stuff in his store. “List” content is web pollution in my opinion, but empirical evidence for a decade now shows people click on headlines/links that start with a number and he’s exploiting that. Successfully.

#22 Mike Peterson
January/4/2011
@ 2:26 pm

As I noted before, he draws cartoons, but what he produces is itself not really a cartoon. As Scott notes, it’s more akin to the lists at collegehumor.com that are often linked at HuffPost. Those, too, are illustrated, but with funny photos (often stock or posed rather than of the actual things on the list).

I wouldn’t bother to try to draw the line between illustrated humorous essays, illustrated humorous lists and “actual” cartoons. But, as Scott also notes, his business plan is not based entirely on his humorous whatevertheyares.

Unlike a cartoonist, who runs cartoons and then sells those cartoons in other forms, Oatmeal also has a substantial interest in harvesting email addresses for businesses. Example: He’ll have an array of boxes, some of which take you to his work. But others take you to advertiser sites where you are invited to enter your information before you realize you’re not going to get to see a funny whatevertheyare.

Cartoonists who want to make a living outside the syndication model are, indeed, going to have to learn to run a business based on their cartooning. But I see Scott’s objection to classifying this feature as a cartoon, because the actual cartooning plays such a minor role in the overall enterprise.

#23 Scott Kurtz
January/4/2011
@ 2:26 pm

Well, admittedly I’m being a bit of a snob about it.

But honestly, I’m getting to the point where I’m sick of anyone who wants to just label the BS internet joke site they created a comic strip being able to do so with hugs all around.

At some point, isn’t it okay for those of us who really try to master this craft to take some pride in what we do? And adhere to some standards I guess? I mean, these days anyone with a sense of humor and the ability to draw stick figures can call themselves a cartoonist. The word is losing it’s meaning.

A friend of mine pointed out that a recent study theorized that all these lists and countdown shows started with the Y2K scare. That America became kind of addicted to lists and counting down to things.

There is a LOT of internet content right now that is all about listing things. It’s easy. It’s super easy. Anyone can do it. This guy has been really smart about how he’s gone about doing it, and he’s disguised it as a comic strip to give it some credibility.

As someone who considers himself a legit cartoonist, I kind of take offense to it.

@alan

Buisness model wise you’re right. He’s utilizing the same business models that webcomics use. I’m not discussing the business model. I’m discussing the creative aspect of what he does.

#24 Pablo Picasso
January/4/2011
@ 2:40 pm

What’s with this Jackson Pollock guy? Admittedly I?m being a bit of a snob about it.

But honestly, I?m getting to the point where I?m sick of anyone who wants to just label the canvas they splattered with paint “art” being able to do so with hugs all around.

At some point, isn?t it okay for those of us who really try to master this craft to take some pride in what we do? And adhere to some standards I guess? I mean, these days anyone without a sense of humor and the ability to splatter paint can call themselves a painter. The word is losing it?s meaning.

A friend of mine pointed out that a recent study theorized that all this paint splattering started with Jungian psychotherapy. That America became kind of addicted to finding meaning in random abstract nonsense.

It?s easy. It?s super easy. Anyone can do it. This guy has been really smart about how he?s gone about doing it, and he?s disguised it as a painting to give it some credibility.

As someone who considers himself a legit painter, I kind of take offense to it.

#25 Alan Gardner
January/4/2011
@ 2:48 pm

At some point, isn?t it okay for those of us who really try to master this craft to take some pride in what we do? And adhere to some standards I guess? I mean, these days anyone with a sense of humor and the ability to draw stick figures can call themselves a cartoonist. The word is losing it?s meaning.

@scott – I get what you’re saying about craft and standards but cartooning isn’t solely about art it’s largely about commerce. Individuals, such as yourself, hone and perfect the art to create a better comic in hopes of making more money. Right?

Even if we removed the “webcomic” label – we’d still the debate regarding it’s a “comic”. It is sequential art. It tells a story. I have a hard time calling it anything other than a comic.

Out of curiosity – do you view Randall Munroe as a cartoonist?

#26 August J. Pollak
January/4/2011
@ 2:57 pm

I mean, these days anyone with a sense of humor and the ability to draw stick figures can call themselves a cartoonist. The word is losing it?s meaning.

I don’t want to start a pointless snotty nitpick fight with you, but drawing stick figures IS being a cartoonist. A cartoonist is a person who draws cartoons. The word isn’t losing its meaning, Scott; it’s broadening. Now I fully respect wanting to defend the professional meaning of the word but I still have to accept that a lot of people make a profession out of making bad comics.

Look, I agree with you that lots of cartoons suck. Just this morning I was sharing with some friends how awful this political cartoon was: http://editorialcartoonists.com/cartoon/display.cfm/94426

Look at it. It’s three panels of a xerox. He uses a lettering font, too, which isn’t a bad thing but just emphasizes that literally the only thing in that comic that was actually “created” were the squiggly dialog lines. So yes, it’s crap. It’s a crappy, crappy cartoon. But it’s still a cartoon.

There is a LOT of internet content right now that is all about listing things. It?s easy. It?s super easy. Anyone can do it. This guy has been really smart about how he?s gone about doing it, and he?s disguised it as a comic strip to give it some credibility.

Again, making overly broad statements in the form of ” all _________ type of comics suck” is unhelpful and unfair. For one thing, The Oatmeal is NOT “just list comics.” His most popular strip right now is this one:

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cat_vs_internet

Now argue the QUALITY all you want. But that’s not a “list.” That right there is a comic.

But what if EVERY comic he did really WAS just lists? Who cares? Is there a particular reason that wouldn’t make it a comic?

So to reiterate my previous question: describe a “cartoonist.” People say xkcd is “just some stick figures.” Is it not a cartoon? Wondermark doesn’t even use any original artwork; is it no longer a webcomic? Was there ever a rule about what can and can’t be a webcomic? Alright, so The Oatmeal uses a lot of lists and graphics. So do lots of other cartoons.

Scott I would think that you above many others would have more understanding of how irrelevant it is pondering what comics “used to mean.” Cartoons also “used to mean” six-figure paychecks for newspaper syndication. It “used to mean” an image of a snake saying “join or die.” It “used to mean” you couldn’t even own your own work most of the time. It “used to mean” that a single guy at a desk could say that a strip about people who work at a magazine about video games who (gasp!) use naughty language and make fart jokes sometimes would NEVER work! Things often don’t mean what they used to anymore. Your career is based on proving a lot of guys wrong…. so don’t be that guy.

#27 Stephen Beals
January/4/2011
@ 2:58 pm

Matt, that was brilliant (big surprise … but you’re not a real cartoonist, you … uh … spit paint through a straw, don’t you?)

#28 John Read
January/4/2011
@ 3:07 pm

“These days anyone with a sense of humor and the ability to draw stick figures can call themselves a cartoonist. The word is losing it?s meaning.”

Scott, anyone can call themselves whatever the heck they want – a kid with bat and ball calls himself a baseball player and a high school drama student calls herself an actress – but there’s a big difference between what a person SAYS they are and what they’re PAID to be. The drawings of amateur cartoonists do not diminish the work of professional cartoonists, nor does labeling themselves cartoonists affect the job title of Scott Kurtz or Wiley Miller or Jim Lee.

#29 Ben Carlsen
January/4/2011
@ 3:35 pm

Personally, I’m just glad a notable publication is taking notice of something that at least some people deem to be “a web comic.” It might make other folks actually give web comics a second thought.

#30 Scott Kurtz
January/4/2011
@ 4:05 pm

@alan

I actually consider Randall a more successful essayist than a cartoonist. But you know, he’s telling stories and conveying thoughts with words and pictures and so I really don’t have a problem with calling him a cartoonist.

I think that he’s got a unique voice, and a clear vision and he’s showing us his world view. That’s a far cry from assembling a tangled mess of pointless lists which link to more lists that link to an internet quiz about how many Justin Beibers you can beat up and calling yourself a cartoonist.

Also, cartooning is not about commerce. Making a living as a cartoonist is. But being a cartoonist is not.

@John Read

He can call himself a cartoonist all he wants. When the Seattle Times calls him one, or Andrews McMeel calls him one, I get offended. Cause he’s not. And they’re validating his delusion.

#31 Mike Lester
January/4/2011
@ 4:07 pm

Defining cartooning limits it. By definition.

#32 Kris Straub
January/4/2011
@ 4:17 pm

I agree: no one should try to define definitions. That’s so myopic.

I wonder if my brother, who is very funny but has never drawn a line in his life, knows he is a cartoonist?

#33 Stephen Beals
January/4/2011
@ 4:27 pm

These discussions only pop up when somebody is successful enough to get noticed, but arbitrary labels are always frustrating.

I spent years in two art colleges only to be told by schoolteachers, librarians, truck drivers, etc. what “art” is versus “craftsmanship” or “crap” or “my kid could draw that”. After years of training, doctors don’t have to take laymen opinions seriously. That will never be the case with art.

So we’ve gone from a desperate need to get “comics” included in the same sentences with “art” to a need to define a comic.

I don’t think it will matter. The public will define it for us whether we like it or not. Look for The Oatmeal book in March, see where it’s shelved and notice how people refer to it. Then have fun trying change however people label it.

#34 August J. Pollak
January/4/2011
@ 4:36 pm

But you know, he?s telling stories and conveying thoughts with words and pictures and so I really don?t have a problem with calling him a cartoonist.

In what way, exactly, is Matthew Inman not doing this?

#35 Pablo Picasso
January/4/2011
@ 5:06 pm

I’m glad this didn’t make the print edition of The Economist. Then his status as “cartoonist” would be even more official.

Fantagraphics released a great anthology called Abstract Comics that features things many people here would not consider comics. But guess what? No one has to ask for your permission to call themselves a cartoonist. Push the boundaries of concepts like “stories,” “images,” and “sequence” and see what you can some up with.

I’ll anticipate this reply: “So anyone can say they are a cartoonist? That’s dumb, we need rules!”

The fine art world went through this a long time ago and I’m glad the value of Dadaism wasn’t initially debated in an age with internet forums.

Turns out you can make comics without labels, without video game references, without words, big boobs, talking animals, or numbered lists about bacon and Dolphins. Without things people consider images. No rules. You can appropriate and subvert that stuff that already exists and flout copyright law, though I’m sure even more of you wouldn’t consider that real art. Thank god Marcel Duchamp and Bansky never listened to people like you.

Doesn’t mean any of it’s good, of course.

You can put two dots on a piece of paper and call it a comic and, if you can put together some cohesive argument about the form, I’ll admit that yeah, it’s a comic and probably not a very good one, but neither are most of them I read.

#36 Scott Kurtz
January/4/2011
@ 5:20 pm

@August

If he’s telling stories, they’re buried in a mountain of lists and quizzes and links to his posters for sale.

#37 Stephen Beals
January/4/2011
@ 5:31 pm

@ Pablo Picasso, very well said.

And I’m not just a saying that because you’re one of my favorite painters of all time.

#38 Scott Metzger
January/4/2011
@ 5:39 pm

Scott,

I don’t see all the lists you’re talking about. The home page is filled with cartoons, like this one:

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/minor_differences2

And if you click on the previous pages….more cartoons. Funny ones.

If this guy isn’t a cartoonist, the world doesn’t make sense anymore.

#39 Scott Kurtz
January/4/2011
@ 5:57 pm

@Scott

Yeah, clearly the world doesn’t make sense anymore. Cause that guy is a hack. And the Economist is praising his ability as a cartoonist.

#40 August J. Pollak
January/4/2011
@ 6:14 pm

If he?s telling stories, they?re buried in a mountain of lists and quizzes and links to his posters for sale.

“Buried?” Scott, this is getting silly.

The strip I linked to earlier is a giant banner across the top of his page. It’s literally the first link on his website. There is an ad, followed by the archive of all his comics.

The “quizzes” you claim that are buried on his site do not appear on the home page at all. They’re located on a tab marked “quizzes,” which is right next to the tab called “comics.” Chronologically the most recent one is on the third page of his archive.

And if by poster sale links, there are none on the home page. If you mean ads in general, well then there are fewer ads to his own merchandise on his website than you have on yours.

And no I’m not trying to play gotcha or accuse you of anything there; I’m only pointing this out because your accusations against him hold little water and it remains my legitimate confusion as to what in the heck you are so upset about.

You are a successful cartoonist. He is a successful cartoonist. The difference being you like your comics and don’t like his. So is that really it; you just don’t like his comics? You’re allowed to say you just don’t like his comics. You don’t need to insist that he’s not allowed to even be called a cartoonist because you think he’s a bad one.

#41 August J. Pollak
January/4/2011
@ 6:16 pm

And the Economist is praising his ability as a cartoonist.

(Head explodes)

Scott, it’s The Economist. They’re praising his ability to have a successful financial model.

#42 Mike Cope
January/4/2011
@ 6:24 pm

Inman has 16 quizzes, but over 80 sequential art stories (i.e., “comics”). For example, his “Cat vs. Internet” comic (alone) has over 151,000 likes on Facebook.

“Just the fax, Ma’am.”

#43 Dave Stephens
January/4/2011
@ 6:46 pm

At least he is honest enough to say his drawings really suck… I don’t know any ‘hacks’ that say that, do you?

Cathy’s drawings were incredibly weak, too, however, I would never call her a ‘hack’ nor would I call any artist a ‘hack’ just because their art skills are sub-par or even sub-sub-sub-par – if their badly drawn and horribly designed characters are FUNNY, then, as far as I’m concerned, they have succeeded in making a successful cartoon…

Of course, my preference is for marvelously rendered, carefully designed and hilarious cartoons and it is those cartoonists that I admire and respect the most – just crack open a New Yorker and you can find quite a few… I’ve heard there’s a bunch online, too! LOL

#44 Scott Kurtz
January/4/2011
@ 6:58 pm

August. I’m a successful cartoonist.

He’s a success. But he’s not a cartoonist.

Free country. My opinion.

#45 August J. Pollak
January/4/2011
@ 9:47 pm

Well, yes. Of course. You obviously have the right to your opinion. Just as I have the right to be incredibly disappointed that you don’t want to to explain it. I was sort of hoping for a little more than “because I say so, nyah” from you, that’s all.

#46 Shane Davis
January/4/2011
@ 9:54 pm

Dunno, but that ‘old guys in the gym room’ cartoon was funnier than Hell…

#47 Stephen Beals
January/5/2011
@ 1:22 am

@Shane, man that was funny, wasn’t it? And accurate. Another excuse for staying away from the gym.

I was suckered. I thought we were defining a comic strip, but it’s just the same ol’ bearing of strong opinions. It’s a useless exercise.

Here’s how it goes: An artist (or more likely a musician) spends his life improving his skill and working very hard. Then somebody that is believed to have a lesser skill set comes along, hits a nerve, and becomes enormously popular.

Animators snarled at Mike Judge and cartoonists made angry remarks at Cathy Guisewite even when she was gracefully retiring. Underneath it all was anger that the public liked that stuff.

So these angry artists devise a number of theories to explain the success of the supposedly less-talented, all of which fall flat in the face of the sheer number of fans, ratings, or products sold.

I don’t believe any other reason given.

#48 guy endore-kaiser
January/5/2011
@ 3:51 am

What if we called him an octopus?

#49 Mike Peterson
January/5/2011
@ 4:52 am

He’d be right seven times in a row. Then he’d die.

#50 Jim Lavery
January/5/2011
@ 7:38 am

Let’s just say Scott K has 3-4.5 million reasons per month not to like Oatmeal

#51 Henry Clausner
January/5/2011
@ 8:39 am

Speaking of Jackson Pollocks work and methods…I applied the splash method on designs for a T-Shirt company many years ago (circa 1980)…it was fun to do..I lined up all the shirts on tarps in the back yard on the grass and used fans to disperse the paint splatters all over them…I made money on that gig..but i didn’t call it art….the end user thought it was art.
***I think #33 summed it up nicely*****

#52 Mike Lester
January/5/2011
@ 9:32 am

Another in a series of helpful cartooning tips:

A BRIEF HISTORY OF CARTOON IRONY

’80’s: toast / cats
’90’s: bacon / frogs in blender
00’s: bears (-or confusing it w bare, get it?) / unicorns
tomorrow: (your suggestions here)

(-and btw: I know “Old Guys in Gym” like that who then inexplicably say to one another, “Hey, let’s play gin nude!”. The observational commentary alone makes the guy a cartoonist.)

#53 rick stromoski
January/5/2011
@ 10:15 am

>>>He?s a success. But he?s not a cartoonist.

In just a perfunctory glance through his site I laughed out loud several times.

I’ve been to other web based comic sites from posters on this blog and have yet to laugh out loud or even mildly smirk.

He’s doing something right.

#54 steve skelton
January/5/2011
@ 11:26 am

He’s not a cartoonist, and now I am going try not to get sauce on my albatross while I eat a sandwich that is really a boat.

#55 Donna Lewis
January/5/2011
@ 12:07 pm

I’m just a girl. It’s the only thing I can prove.

#56 Glenn Fleishman
January/5/2011
@ 12:17 pm

Wanted to drop in here: I’m the Economist writer who penned the Oatmeal piece.

To clarify: the cottage business is Inman’s; I didn’t realize that could be read ambiguously, and sorry for any confusion. I know there are several other never-been-in-print or web-focused comic artists out there who make a living at it, but I’ve been informed since The Oatmeal piece ran that the haul is quite a bit larger.

There’s a power law curve, of course. Some webcomics folks are making nearly nothing, and others possibly grossing a million a year from merchandise. It’s likely that the entire category of webcomics, excluding the Penny Arcade empire, grosses tens of millions a year. I’m looking into that, because it’s fascinating.

And those who commented on why Inman was featured: you’re right. The cartooning story is interesting when it’s backed by the revenue (if not profit, which he doesn’t disclose). I’ve been writing about and interviewing cartoonists of all stripes for over a decade, and the constant drumbeat question is: what happens when print dies? how can we make a living from the web/net? Inman isn’t the only answer, naturally, but isn’t it interesting that he’s grossing as much as he is?

Is Matthew a cartoonist or comics artist? He’s largely telling stories through sequential events, either in one panel or a sequence of panels. I don’t see that the definition is stretched from, say, anything Scott McCloud defined, or what regular comics readers would infer.

“The Economist is praising his ability as a cartoonist”: Let’s be clear. That’s not precisely what I wrote. I explained how his style is well suited to Web, and (almost as a medium, if you can call the Web a medium) it’s what he was born into. Artists who started with ink, watercolor, and other media have a hard time dealing with the horrible limits of what the Web can do.

#57 Ted Rall
January/5/2011
@ 12:59 pm

It?s likely that the entire category of webcomics, excluding the Penny Arcade empire, grosses tens of millions a year. I?m looking into that, because it?s fascinating.

I’d be curious as to how The Economist, or any other respectable publication, would factcheck such an assertion. Very curious.

#58 Scott Kurtz
January/5/2011
@ 1:15 pm

Guys, I am being a curmudgeonly baby about the whole thing. Don’t think I don’t know this.

But the man is a self-admitted SEO tweaker who’s first business was gaming google’s ranking system by embedding keywords into quizzes. Then when that blew up in his face he created The Oatmeal, which feels like a different variation of the theme.

It doesn’t feel like the efforts of a cartoonist.

Now that’s not me trying to define the world, or assign labels. It’s also not jealousy. There are a TON of cartoonists and web entrepreneurs doing better than I am. You can’t compare your living to someone else’s. It’s a maddening bad habit. You can’t do it. And I never do. I just try to make as much as a living as a can doing what I love.

Believe me when I say I do not begrudge Matt his income or success and I am not jealous of it. I’m in awe of it and would love to pick his brain about it.

My issue was with him calling himself a cartoonist. And it’s a personal issue. I just spoke it publicly.

#59 Scott Kurtz
January/5/2011
@ 1:19 pm

I?d be curious as to how The Economist, or any other respectable publication, would factcheck such an assertion. Very curious.

How does any journal fact check that kind of data if the companies aren’t public? I’m asking seriously.

#60 Glenn Fleishman
January/5/2011
@ 1:30 pm

@57: Hi, Ted. By finding independently verifiable information, or obtaining data that appears reliable from the source; in both cases, disclosing how it was obtained. If I talk to, say, 20 comic artists and merch fulfillment places, and they give me their numbers and they seem legitimate, I can present the source in that fashion.

That’s what I did with the Oatmeal. I didn’t say Inman grosses hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. I reported what he said about his grosses. I’d have to audit his books (or he’d have to open them) to know for sure. However, I checked on his Web site traffic, and discussed enough details of production and fulfillment that I felt comfortable ascribing those numbers to him.

For a piece this casual, I don’t start with the assumption that a subject is lying. For instance, when we spoke ahead of your trip to Afghanistan, I relied on the numbers you gave me about costs and such, and presented those in the print Economist article on crowdfunding as having come from you. (True, those were expenses, not revenue figures.)

@59: “How does any journal fact check that kind of data if the companies aren?t public? I?m asking seriously.”

I’ve been writing business news for over a decade, so I suppose I can answer that question. For cottage firms, unless the numbers are being used in a way to patently mislead, obtain bank loans, etc., I typically rely on what I’m provided by a source, tempered by reality, and attributed to that source. I’ve had times when the numbers seem unreasonable, and (so long as it’s intended to be public) I might call vendors and suppliers, talk to complementary or even competing businesses, and so forth. I try to get a picture of the verity of the data.

For larger private businesses, it’s much harder, because stating without verification that a business does $10 million a year might, in the right publication, enhance that business’s reputation or ability to obtain financing. In cases like that, I will ask for and look for verification, sometimes from analysts who track an industry sector, or put in context the numbers that are claimed (but not independently audited or verified) with the scope of a given industry segment.

I wrote about Wayport several years ago, for instance, and they gave me unverifiable numbers of a variety of kinds, but they had enough business partners, and enough of the outside of the business was known, I was able to provide a fairly decent sketch and scope.

#61 Glenn Fleishman
January/5/2011
@ 1:31 pm

@58: “Then when that blew up in his face he created The Oatmeal, which feels like a different variation of the theme.”

I don’t believe that’s the correct chronology, based on my research, although it’s the basis of a lot of “complaints” about Matthew succeeding.

I like The Oatmeal. I wouldn’t have written about the financial side if I didn’t enjoy the comic.

Over the years, I’ve written about Bob Mankoff, Ted Rall(!), Michael Jantze, and a few dozen other panel, strip, web, and unclassified cartoonists. I start with the notion that what they do is interesting and worth discussing, whatever the specific focus.

#62 August J. Pollak
January/5/2011
@ 1:48 pm

But the man is a self-admitted SEO tweaker who?s first business was gaming google?s ranking system by embedding keywords into quizzes. Then when that blew up in his face he created The Oatmeal, which feels like a different variation of the theme.

Okay, so what exactly is that “different variation?” Because as many have noted, the “different variation” he’s doing right now is COMICS.

It doesn?t feel like the efforts of a cartoonist.

Again, these are the statements that are giving me the Mugatu “crazy pills” feeling, Scott. You keep saying he isn’t a cartoonist. He does things that “don’t feel like the efforts of a cartoonist.” What the heck are the “efforts of a cartoonist” that he’s not doing?

And yes, I know, it’s “your opinion.” WHY is that your opinion? What is he doing that you’re not, or vice-versa, that excludes him from being a cartoonist? I’m not trying to dogpile you here. I swear to god I really do not know. I. Don’t. Get. It.

#63 Jason Nocera
January/5/2011
@ 2:04 pm

But is he a professional cartoonist or a professional poster salesman? Seems like there’s always different viewpoints depending on who we’re discussing when it comes to the merchandise business model.

#64 Ryan Sohmer
January/5/2011
@ 3:00 pm

@57: Why bother? Would you believe the results, in any event?

#65 August J. Pollak
January/5/2011
@ 3:01 pm

Oh god not again.

#66 Alan Gardner
January/5/2011
@ 4:21 pm

As a cautionary notice – if this thread turns into a print v. webcomic argument, I’ll close it down.

Keep the discussion informative, please.

#67 Ted Rall
January/5/2011
@ 4:50 pm

@Glenn: Your approach seems reasonable in general. What else can you do but report what people claim?

But there is quite a bit of cause for skepticism in the case of webcomics; indeed, there is usually cause to doubt the earnings reported by private, particularly new, start-up businesses in any field. I often think of dot-coms; does anyone really believe that Facebook is really worth $50 billion?

Donald Trump’s Trumped-Up Net Worth is a great example of how business reporters sometimes get played.

Unfortunately this can have unintended consequences, such as inducing people to devote time and energy to endeavors and approaches that really don’t have a chance of paying off. Sort of like all those news stories yesterday encouraging people to buy Lottery tickets.

P.S. As for my claims of expenses to travel to Afghanistan, that can easily be verified by, for example, asking The Economist how much its reporters spend when they travel there.

#68 Mark Hill
January/5/2011
@ 4:54 pm

I can see both sides of the debate here…

On one side, I can see what Scott is disturbed by in terms of craft. The art in ‘The Oatmeal’ is what many would politely call naive. It is clearly not the work of a trained artist and it appears on the surface that the art is of little concern to the creator.

On the other side, there is very nicley-written humor in the Oatmeal. And my favorite cliche or truism in cartooning is that great writing helps a cartoon much more-so than great art.

With that said, naive styles of cartooning and visual humor have been around for decades and they are not relegated to the web. Such things have been typically self-published, since the barrier to many venues was an editor who shut the gate on anything that didn’t look like “professional art”.

Many great cartoonists, including Charles Schulz, have talked about the importance of drawing “funny pictures”, rather than artwork that just delivers a funny line or dialogue. To me, ‘The Oatmeal’ is unpolished and almost painful to look at, yet it does have some funny-looking images.

It is troubling to hear about the keyword embedding & SEO manipulation with quizzes…and it also initially made me bristle a little to see someone so recklessly scatter lines upon a webpage, (and haphazardly design a character). But I must also admit that it takes some thought, work and talent to create drawings that make you laugh even before you read the text.

#69 Scott Kurtz
January/5/2011
@ 4:54 pm

As a cautionary notice – If you close down all print v. webcomic argument threads your traffic and donations will be down 85% in 2011.

Food for thought.

#70 Alan Gardner
January/5/2011
@ 5:08 pm

@scott – As a cautionary notice print v webcomic poo fights have hurt The Daily Cartoonist brand over the years. Whatever ‘gain’ I’ve had in traffic I’ve lost elsewhere. I’m reworking the comments completely in the new redesign (coming soon). I’m banking that I can grow traffic and donations in 2011 without comments. Yes there will be an initial dip in traffic – but I’m confident it will return and grow. I’d rather enjoy blogging in a vacuum/silence than babysit ego-centric @$$w1p3s who think every thought in their head is gold.

Food for thought indeed.

#71 MJ (Michael Pohrer)
January/5/2011
@ 5:15 pm

@Alan – Agreed! It’s just plain nonsense and not very productive. I enjoy reading the comic news and browsing through others comments. As soon as I run across a thread that ends up in this type of discussion, I’m out!

#72 Mark Hill
January/5/2011
@ 5:21 pm

As someone who has also avoided this site partly because of the flame wars being waged, (and has appreciated Alan’s work ever since his time at Full-Tilt features), a comment-free site sounds good.

#73 Scott kurtz
January/5/2011
@ 6:04 pm

@Alan

I look forward to all the wonderful content that will come with a comment free Daily Cartoonist. Like endless syndicated strip anniversary announcements.

Gonna be a golden year.

#74 Ted Rall
January/5/2011
@ 6:42 pm

Wow, couldn’t possibly agree more with Scott. No comments = fiscal suicide.

#75 Mike Peterson
January/5/2011
@ 7:50 pm

1. I just went back and had a fresh look at the site. He’s cleaned it up considerably in the past few months, since the days when it was riddled with disguised ads that spawned multiple windows that wouldn’t close. And I think his proportion of pure cartoons to other illustrated humor is higher than in the past. I still think it’s more like a magazine than a comic strip, but he’s certainly a cartoonist.

2. There are probably better opportunities to take a “no more of this endless web/print wrangling” stance. When the posted news item is about a web cartoonist whose finances are dramatic, it seems legitimate to discuss the web and print business models.

3. Alan, it’s your site and you should definitely do whatever makes you happy. But, having done turns in both talk radio and commercial television, I have learned that there is a difference between what people tell you they want and what they will actually support. Doesn’t mean you have to play to the least common denominator, but do bear in mind Twain’s definition of a classic as a book everyone praises but nobody has read. It applies to more than books.

#76 John Cole
January/5/2011
@ 8:32 pm

“Fiscal suicide,” due to a dearth of redundant, comically vitriolic, 150-message threads fed by the same dozen or so irate commenters?

I officially REALLY don’t understand the Internet profit model.

#77 Jeff Knurek
January/5/2011
@ 8:35 pm

Alan, I come to your site often to see what’s new, but first I dial 9-1 and then go to the main page. If I don’t see Scott or Ted’s names in the Recent Comments section, I dial the last 1 and send the police to their homes because something must be terribly wrong.

#78 Glenn Fleishman
January/5/2011
@ 8:38 pm

@63: I don’t see why he can’t be both. Should cartoonists be poor or bad at business?

@67: Yes, I agree. No one should look at Matthew Inman’s success and say, hey, I can do that in a year! He’s not sui generis, but it requires a very well-tuned sensibility, luck, timing, and skill.

I try to have a very high B.S. meter, too. I have unfortunately worked with a bunch of pathological liars in my life (none in the recent past), and I have a very accurate sense that has saved me from publishing ridiculous information in the past. In some cases, if it’s unverifiable, I don’t publish it at all, or note that it’s impossible to verify company claims.

“does anyone really believe that Facebook is really worth $50 billion?” I haven’t seen that reported in any reputable fashion. What happened and what business outlets reported is that Goldman and the Russian investor put dollars in as a percentage of ownership that would place the overall value of the company at $50bn. That is a verifiable fact, and even with Facebook being privately held the SEC could impose penalties for misrepresentation. Goldman and others are willing to pay at a $50bn valuation, which is different than worth.

#79 Matt Conning
January/5/2011
@ 8:54 pm

Scott and Ted, you are both successful cartoonists, however you both are also dicks.

#80 Stephen Beals
January/5/2011
@ 10:34 pm

Well, if you just want to think fiscally, Alan, you should stop the Daily Cartoonist and start selling drugs.

I know the same small group of people in endless, circular arguments has done wonders for 24 hour news channels, but it’s not as riveting as you might think.

People who effectively write only when they’re outraged or arguing burn me out pretty quickly. I’d rather get on the treadmill than read opinions that are reiterated and rephrased to death.

Somewhere, Al Capp is wishing he were here.

#81 Dave Stephens
January/6/2011
@ 1:46 am

If Al Capp was here, he’d be missing his wooden leg and somebody here would be walking funny…

#82 Henry Clausner
January/6/2011
@ 9:54 am

this is draining….

#83 Ted Rall
January/6/2011
@ 12:13 pm

Like climate change, controversy exists whether you ignore it or not.

It’s your website, Alan, and I appreciate the valuable service you provide here, but I think the most vibrant comics-related online forums have always been rife with controversy and vitriol. Take those elements away, and readers will drift away.

Yes, there are people who are turned off by harsh words and criticism. But not nearly as many as are turned on by it. That’s why politicians keep using attack ads. They work.

#84 John Sanford
January/6/2011
@ 12:22 pm

The only reason I come here is to read the comments. The rest of the site is news I’ve already heard elsewhere.
My opinion: Oatmeal is what you get when the height of comedic brilliance in this country is DAne Cook. IT sucks, and the drawings suck. If he’s making a living at it, then God bless him. He’s hooked into the American dream: Making crap and earning lots of money doing it.
Is it cartooning? I guess so, but man, is it fucking boring.

#85 Tom Wood
January/6/2011
@ 12:45 pm

Paging Alanis Morissette: People writing comments in the comments section complaining about the comments in the comments section!

#86 Clay Jones
January/6/2011
@ 1:48 pm

This guy is a cartoonist like Gene Simmons is a musician.

#87 Stephen Beals
January/6/2011
@ 2:26 pm

I like the work of most of the people who post here. I specifically like reading a Ted Rall book (remember books?) Even if I disagree with him, he has a solid perspective and makes me think. Wonderful.

And I don’t mind controversy and real debate. What truly gets boring is not a joke about old men in a locker room, but the same song over and over. I have most of your arguments about every subject ingrained deeply into my frontal lobe now.

But every popular site thrives on its comment section, so what do I know? I only commented to talk about what is/isn’t a comic strip and the conversation (as usual) didn’t go in the direction I thought.

#88 Pablo Picasso
January/6/2011
@ 2:45 pm

I think you need quizzes, Alan.

#89 Ted Rall
January/6/2011
@ 4:24 pm

@Stephen, I appreciate that. Stimulating discussion and thought is my main objective.

As for what constitutes a cartoon, of course “The Oatmeal” is a comic. Anything that has words and pictures together, particularly in sequential form, is a comic.

The fact that it’s not a comic that I find interesting does not not make it a comic. By that standard, there would be very few comics.

#90 Alan Gardner
January/6/2011
@ 4:55 pm

I think you need to start using your real name again, Matt. :)

#91 Zach Weiner
January/6/2011
@ 7:28 pm

@Alan

Yeah, a big part of why I come here is the discussions. Sometimes it’s stupid, but sometimes it’s substantive.

To some degree there is an intellectual fight to be had here – everyone one of us has to choose how much time goes to being a cartoonist and how much to marketing/merching. Mr. Inman is an example of a person who gravitates toward the latter, but he isn’t the only one. Plenty of cartoonists I respect a great deal (say, R Stevens or Jeff Rowland) make a lot of their living off selling stuff that isn’t books or ads.

Many of us are set in our ways about how to split between these two worlds, but I suspect some of the younger or newer cartoonists here might benefit from reading the discussion.

To summarize: No all internet fighting is unproductive, even when it seems most silly.

#92 Dave Stephens
January/6/2011
@ 7:48 pm

And I would NEVER have discovered Ted’s, Zach’s or Scott’s wonderful work without their participation in the Daily Cartoonist’s comments section, so I appreciate this aspect regardless of how far afield these forums can stray from the main article…

#93 Jim Lavery
January/7/2011
@ 8:25 am

{{{{{group hug}}}}}

#94 Ted Rall
January/7/2011
@ 9:06 am

Thanks, Dave, that’s nice of you to say. And Happy New Year!

People who think TDC is full of unproductive flame wars obviously haven’t spent any time at the old Comics Journal message board or the Comicon boards. All in all, as the Internet goes, these discussions manage to stay relatively civil and free of ad hominem attacks.

#95 DavidMcG
January/8/2011
@ 10:58 am

In Alan’s defense, the “print versus web” argument (or more accurately, the “syndicated cartoonist versus independent cartoonist” argument) is repetative and inflammatory.

There is nothing new to say. There hasn’t been since at least 2005. The same arguments are exchanged every time. This isn’t controversial debate, it’s vitriolic copy-pasting.

#96 Charles Brubaker
January/8/2011
@ 2:29 pm

I agree with Alan and David. I’m personally glad changes to the comment section are coming.

#97 Jeff Stanson
January/9/2011
@ 9:07 am

From the comments here, I was wondering what the Oatmeal is all about. I took a look at it. Basically, I’m appalled that this guy is making $$$ off of this while other people are struggling to find jobs and have to stand in lines to get food stamps, and that the people who are working with them are only making peanuts. The fact that this guy’s fans have earned him $$$ says something about the sad state of the world.

#98 steve skelton
January/9/2011
@ 11:13 am

What? Huh?

Here’s a guy who does some funny stuff and figured out a way to make a buck off of it. Some of it is off color, and may not be your taste. So what. Big deal.

I am really surprised at how this story has generated so much discord. I mean, I draw a comic every day for pennies, and I put my heart into it, but I’m not so jaded that I can’t applaud someone who is making a living drawing funny pictures. Since when did cartoonists get so self righteous???

#99 Jim Thomas
January/9/2011
@ 1:08 pm

To be completely honest, the comments are the reason why I spend any time here (Not that I am anyone of consequence). Most of the blog posts are simply links to other people’s articles with very little editorial content. The comments by Cartoonists, hobbyists and people simply interested in the comics industry is the draw for me. Finding out what the community at large feels about a particular post is the lifeblood of the site, in my opinion.

More to the point, although people get turned off by “flame wars” or whatever, if a post doesn’t have more than a couple comments attached to it, it seems to prove that people are either in complete agreement on the issue or collectively don’t really care about that issue. Regardless, it means people aren’t actively on your site, linking to your site, or bitching to their friends about something they read on your site. Debates, engagement and bitching at one another, while sometimes frustrating or redundant, is the best good way to present many sides of an issue. While maybe no one’s end position on an issue changes, it does allow for all sides to be heard, and while not swayed, people on each side of the argument may find some points of agreement.

While many point to the print vs. web issue as being endless and never changing, even on this site the issue has changed from print v web to publisher v independent and even those lines are getting blurred. I agree that hundreds of comments on this issue often breaks down into useless noise, but there are always a dozen or so posts that push the conversation further. Take away comments because of the noise, you also take away those opportunities for cartoonists from all walks to hash out their issues. Perhaps you don’t want that on your site, which is fine. But that conversation will move somewhere else, along with the traffic.

#100 Gar Molloy
January/10/2011
@ 6:35 am

I also come here largely for the comments. It’s good to have a board for cartoonists (whatever that term actually means)

Let’s not forget that Kurtz loves trolling and tends to make up his mind about any given issue only after several rounds of argument. If anyone listens to the Webcomics Weekly podcast you can actually hear him starting to lose a little steam.

Now I can kind of see where Kurtz is coming from. I’m nobody of consequence in the world of comics (yet), but I’m a cartoonist the way gay people are gay. It’s a huge part of my self-identity and my friends are all sick of me talking about comics all the time. I don’t know jack about marketing or search optimisation or how to make money out of comics, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that stop me from making them!

So I’m not making any money out of it, but would still consider myself a Cartoonist. Is my claim to the title any more or less valid than someone who’s both passionate and successful? How about someone who’s less passionate, but more successful? These appears to be the pillars the bar is set upon, so how high are these pillars if you want to define someone as a cartoonist?

#101 Steve Walsh
January/10/2011
@ 5:56 pm

I wouldn’t ever bother coming here if not for the comments, to be perfectly honest.

#102 Charles Brubaker
January/10/2011
@ 7:46 pm

Not to be mean, but I don’t trust people who only come just to read heated comments.

#103 Jim Thomas
January/10/2011
@ 8:52 pm

@ Charles
You don’t trust them, really? What is not to trust exactly? There is nothing odious about people having an interest in cartoonists debating issues surrounding cartooning. A room full of people simply agreeing with everyone on every issue does not benefit anyone.

And it is not necessarily heated comments that people find interesting, but passionate discusson. It is not that people just enjoy a good pissing match, it is that professionals in the field of cartooning are debating issues about the field of cartooning. The draw of a site like this is that it provides an outlet for this discourse. Do people lose focus? Sure. Does this mean that there is nothing valid in the exercise? Absolutely not.

#104 Rosscott
January/11/2011
@ 12:26 am

This article, along with others, were mentioned in the latest Webcomic Beacon newscast with some discussion (arguing?) http://webcomicbeacon.com/episode-154/

#105 Mike Peterson
January/11/2011
@ 4:29 am

Charles: After freshman year, my college courses were all in seminar format. Other people in other majors sat in lecture halls taking notes. We can argue over who got the better education, but I didn’t see a difference in how trustworthy people were based on whether they wanted to hash things out or simply absorb the information being presented.

#106 Patrick Scullin
January/26/2011
@ 11:42 pm

Whowhatnow? I like Oatmeal with Raisins.

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