Breaking: The Oatmeal still sucks

Since everyone on my Facebook feed feels the need to re-post that pandering Columbus Day comic, here:

But that's how the Oatmeal works. Stuef found a presentation given by Inman in which he explained the six principles that he uses to pick ideas for Oatmeal comics:

  • Find a common gripe
  • Pick things everyone can relate to
  • Create easily digestible content
  • Create an infographic
  • Talk about memes and current events
  • Incite an emotion

[...] As far as I'm concerned it doesn't matter whether or not Inman is misrepresenting himself as a relatable, struggling artist. Inman's comics aren't bad because he's a hypocrite or a faker (though it doesn't hurt). Inman's comics are bad on their own merits.

He can't draw. This is admittedly not an obstacle to success on the internet, where the Hallmark-for-engineers margin scribblings of XKCD's Randall Munroe can engender a kind of slavish devotion, but at least Munroe's stick figures, fedoras and all, seem to reflect some level of warmth or personality; Inman's jagged illustrations are reminiscent less of their creator's character or humanity than of the easiest shortcuts in whatever vector-graphics program he's using. [...]

The only thing that differentiates his comic "Why Nikola Tesla Was the Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived" from an illustrated essay is that it's white text on a black background, and Inman has hastily copied-and-pasted stars all over the graphic. It's indistinguishable from the hasty SEO-scam "infographics" -- really just long, haplessly illustrated lists of facts -- where Inman got his start. [...]

This, ultimately, is Inman's real failing: his inability to write comics that are his, from him, about him, by him, and not just comics that fill a space he's identified in the impossibly huge audience for content online. The Oatmeal doesn't feel like something from its creator's brain, marked by its creator's obsessions, driven by its creator's passions, the way even the worst newspaper strips do. It feels like something written by a committee. Or an algorithm.

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39 Responses:

  1. Phil Nelson says:

    Worst of all it's BORING.

  2. To each his own. I don't see why I should get up in arms about other people liking stuff I hate.

    I expect the author of the linked rant also thinks occasionally about how much traffic his writing gets.

    • jwz says:

      Why? Because I wish my friends had better taste and thought more critically about how they are being transparently manipulated by this pabulum.

      • The article you link to fails to convince me of anything at all. You could've flamed it much better, I think.

        • jwz says:

          Cool story bro.

        • PatrickH says:

          Agreed. I don't get the point of people hating what other people find funny.

          And that article did nothing for me. His drawing style, even if it "sucks", is his own. I like it, and I find it quiet funny. And so what if he draws comics that make money- that's his job!

          Nobody is being "manipulated" if they, you know, use their brain.

  3. J. Peterson says:

    I'm not endorsing The Oatmeal, but apparently the Buzzfeed story was rather sloppy journalism.

  4. If I share an Oatmeal comic it is usually not for my immediate friends who have already seen it anyways. I share it because he has made a point effectively in a medium that allows one-click influence to those distant friends and acquaintances outside the little bubble we live in.

    I shared Columbus Day because, yeah, it's a bit contrived and I'm not jumping on Inman's bandwagon, but yeah: Honoring this genocidal maniac with a holiday is ridiculous. I could tell high school buddies in the Midwest that they really should read some 800 page academic polemic about the oppression of indigenous peoples or whatever, or I could say "look at the funny comic!" Which do you think will actually get clicked? More importantly, which will change opinions? He knows SEO and marketing. That's his job.

  5. So basically Matthew Inman is the Scott Adams of the twenty-teens?

    (Adams, of course, was the Jim Davis of the late 90s / early aughts.)

  6. bode says:

    It is at times like this I feel better about having quit facebook. I feel dumber having learned that fucking idiot exists, angry that he prints money, and even angrier that people apparently worship him; Barnum would have been proud. What hath God wrought? And why are people so fucking stupid?

  7. Sam Kington says:

    Most webcomics that turn pro make money through some ads, and then mostly print versions and merch (e.g. PvP's "Joss Whedon is my master now", "Han shot first"; xkcd's epic posters). The Oatmeal's approach appears to be to start with the merch, and then make sure that every comic fits the business model. That's why I've never bothered bookmarking his website.

  8. Wow. That dude has serious envy issues.

  9. DaveL says:

    I feel really lame now: I like The Oatmeal, I like XKCD, I even like jwz. I am totally shot down by Slate wannabees on Gawker. What am I allowed to enjoy?

    Oh the shame. All die.

    • MattyJ says:

      The Oatmeal makes me laugh sometimes, and I now know the proper usage of 'who' vs 'whom'. Bobcats are always funny.

      I think this is more a failure of social media where some people just choose to post and repost EVERY GODDAMN COMIC and say 'read this'. I'll stick to my RSS feeds, thank you.

      Besides, Columbus was a douche.

      • DaveL says:

        Columbus was known to be a douche 500 years ago. They put him in jail for it. Doesn't mean he didn't do something awesome (cf. Werner von Braun).

        I haven't had Columbus Day off in forever and half, anyway. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

  10. Jeff Clough says:

    This post reminds me: We're overdue for an installment of "Which Web Comics/Real Comics JWZ is Reading Now."

    Get on that, would you?

  11. bode says:

    Apropos of nothing I find it totally ironic and hilarious that ess eff has the oldest continuous Columbus day celebration in the country, circa 1868. Take that, 1930's Knights of Columbus forcing TR to do their bidding!!

  12. Jen Tilson says:

    Well, honestly I did not know all of that (and all of the other stuff that's recently been floating around online about how awful he is). Sigh.

  13. Patrick Berry says:

    Pollack couldn't pain. Mozart wrote "too many notes". So and so's work is invalid because their previous job offends my delicate sensibilities. Throw up a slow clap gif and call it day.

  14. Jok says:

    I read The Oatmeal, I enjoy it. I read XKCD, I enjoy it (sometimes I don't get it, I'm not English native-speaking). I love youtube videos of zefrank1 / true facts (even though I think the mantis shrimp subject was a total rip of The Oatmeal's :-P). The fact is, that a lot of content publishers are now trying to get money from their publications, and we must deal with it.

    Anyone running a business can be criticized the same way. Whatever your "art"/"craft"/"expertise" is.
    When reading http://www.dnalounge.com/backstage/log/1998-1999.html , for example, I haven't really recognized the description of the place I have seen, Friday night, where, behind the "burlesque" denomination, is just hidden the fact to show half naked girls in a strip show. So long for the "I love music", "live music" etc. And to find cool DJ music I had to sneak into a creepy basement on 6th and Market.
    You can spend a blog entry as big as The Oatmeal to try to defend yourself from getting easy money with strippers and say the DNA lounge is not like a dark Tenderloin lapdance because your music is cooler in your shows, but that's it: your haters gonna hate, and they will just point that money rules your choices.

    PS: As mentioned, Buzzfeed, gawker actually pay ad campaigns on most of the Social thingies/recommendation engines, and you can't really ignore the fact that trolling someone famous drives traffic to their sites full of outbrain(TM) shit with top-10 lists of whatever ... just saying (money rules their choices too...)

  15. Brian B says:

    Inman can do it right if he tries; his comic on distance running was personal and heartfelt, and it worked, and it resonates with people. It's the only Oatmeal comic I've heard people actually talking about (besides my friends in the peeverein who adore the grammar-nazi posters).

    It's like watching the office fuckup step up and run things smoothly when the boss is sick, then go back to surfing Reddit on company time.

  16. Alan Storm says:

    I have this deep seated suspicion there is no Shaun Inman, and The Oatmeal is an SEO strategy that merged with Google and Facebook's super computers, gained self awareness, and is amassing money for some unknown nebulous purpose — The Singularity™ we all deserve.

  17. Jimmy the Geek says:

    Is Max Read trying to copy Buzzfeed's traffic generating tactics? Gawker bitching about shady SEO marketing is just kinda pathetic.

  18. Jesper says:

    I blame you. All of you. You're so fucking obsessed with being able to retweet or retumbl funny quips that although there's nothing to preclude "content" originating from someone having a strong thought-out opinion or a piece of art with heart instead of extruded through some corporate orifice, there's no incentive either, especially not to make up for it being outnumbered by the sheer volume of dumb shit posted.

    The Oatmeal may be cynical exploitation of these principles but he's playing what works. He is borne of an industry obsessed with the word "content" exemplifying generic stuffing achievable by anyone where the important thing is what sort of shiny container we can make it go into and how we can convert people's attention into adding a new level to our diamond-encrusted Ferraris. What bothers me isn't that assholes came up with that vision but that the rest of society fulfilled it. This is the gentle end of the sort of crap we'll have to deal with as long as that's true.

  19. Curtis Doty says:

    And he drives a Tesla...

  20. nw says:

    I think a lot of Inman's stuff is tedious and pandering, but he does occasionally produce something worth reading. A number of people have referenced the running comic, and I think that one's pretty honest, pretty decent.

    Really, I think this is just symptomatic of a larger dynamic: a number of traits are selected for within any medium, but only one of them is actually "talent." Some minimal level of talent may be a necessary condition of (relative) fame, but it's certainly not sufficient. You'll always have a few, say, Onstads and Van Goghs, but they're outliers.

    Thus, within comedy, the prominent figures are likely to the ones with a knack for self-promotion. Within safe, mainstream comedy, that fact will stand out all the more.

    There will always be an Inman.

  21. Ian Young says:

    So, let me get this straight: Gawker Media, purveyors of hastily-assembled unpaid-for vapid content on the Internet, is angry at Matthew Inman, purveyor of hastily-assembled, unpaid-for vapid content on the internet? You don't say!

    Is this what passes for Usenet flamewars these days?

  22. Asa Dotzler says:

    What does driving a Tesla have to do with this? Are Teslas a signal of something here?

  23. damaged justice says:

    Say what you want about The Oatmeal, at least it's not part of the Gawker network.

  24. Anil Dash says:

    Yeah, I think anybody amplifying a Zinn-informed perspective on the conquistador narrative is probably doing something meaningful. I mean, "can't draw" is probably a fair criticism, but it's drawing in service of telling an interesting story. I certainly don't imagine some AlterNet rant about the same thing would cross over to mainstream Facebook users.

  25. So here's what I don't understand about all the Oatmeal haters, and frankly all other haters of artists who achieve success. Not all successful models for comedy, art, or performance are complicated, and many of them don't need to be in order to be entertaining. I have a really hard time taking any of the "can't draw" or "he just focuses on mass appeal" arguments because they just sound like sour grapes to me. If someone wasn't clever enough to hit on a simple formula that worked, shitting on the person who did think it up is the least classy reaction possible. If something isn't your taste, fine. There's lots of comedians who don't float my boat, but I don't begrudge them their success because there are lots of varied audiences that do not require my presence or approval in order to keep on keepin' on. These people work hard for a living in a society that places very little real value on artists. Envious griefers who resent those who have managed to make it aren't helping, and they're just embarrassing themselves.

  26. Just because he's a pandering hack that you sometimes agree with doesn't mean he doesn't suck.

  27. FWIW, Native Americans / Caribbeans have been upset about the columbus day miracle for 8 decades now, and ignorant people of all political stripes call it sour grapes. If people will read The Oatmeal, and still not believe it when WE say it, yes that's a bit problematic; but at least the word gets out sooner rather than later.

  28. Bradley Dunn says:

    Is it that he actually listed how picks what to write about that bothers you so much?

  29. No, I thought he was a pandering hack before I learned that his pandering is actually as transparent as it appears. There are lots of pandering hacks out there, but it's fascinating to see an actual *explanation* of why a comic is so pandering and hackish: for it to be by design rather than accidental.

  30. Chuck Karish says:

    Columbus just worked the natives as slaves and shot them for sport. Some people can't take a joke.