How “The Oatmeal” Conquered the World of Web Comics [INTERVIEW]

Here at Mashable, we subscribe to The Oatmeal, a web comic created by Matthew Inman. Launched in the spring of 2009, The Oatmeal is a true Internet success story, with the site seeing nearly a quarter of a billion pageviews in 2010.

Inman’s wry observations on the absurdity of life, both on and offline, coupled with humorous illustrations, are shared by thousands across social networks, and are about to get analog with a coming-soon book.

5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (and Other Useful Guides) is available to pre-order now. It offers 160 pages of Oatmeal-flavored fun (incidentally weighs about as much as a large handful of dolphin entrails), and is due on shop shelves on March 1.

We caught up with Inman ahead of his book tour to talk comics, cats, and computers, and to find out if we can continue to look forward to more of The Oatmeal’s tasty goodness in 2011.

Q: Considering that you think oatmeal tastes like ground-up senior citizens, how did you come to give your site that moniker?

I used to play a lot of Quake in the ’90s, and when I played online my handle was always QuakerOatmeal. Eventually that got shortened to just Oatmeal and it became my default username on the web.

When it came time to create a website full of my creations, it was really tough to name the site based on the material within the site. Calvin and Hobbes, for instance, has characters by those names — so that’s an easy choice. My comic has no recurring characters though, so rather than trying to name it something like, I just called it “The Oatmeal”.

Coincidentally, some of my favorite amusements all start with The, such as The Onion, The Far Side, and The Perry Bible Fellowship.

Q: A lot of your comedy is inspired by social media. (Well, that and polar bears.) What makes social media such a rich source?

Two things, mainly. One being that I tend to write about things that play a heavy part in my life. I use Facebook, Twitter, and all that other crap all the time, so it’s a fun and interesting medium to work in. The same goes for comics about design and website development — I used to be a designer so I’ve got a wealth to say regarding that particular topic.

The second reason being that I truly enjoy making fun of people who “do” social media for a living (whatever “doing” social media means). The space is saturated with them right now and I like making fun of their douchey Twitter profiles and “How to become a social media communitization engagement DARK LORD” e-books and all that other garbage.

Q. How long does it take you to complete the “average” comic? And, aside from the obvious CrapPrinterBundle.exe, what software do you use?

I’d say about 6 hours, so a day’s worth of work. On some of the more complex comics they can take a week or two if I have to research them, such as my guide to using semicolons or infographic about coffee. I use Adobe Fireworks.

Q. You are huge on Twitter and Facebook. Has it been gradual growth or was there one pivotal comic/quiz/moment that exploded into a giant rainbow of sugar-coated success?

It’s been pretty gradual, I suppose. The site is still only a year and a half old, so I guess in that regard it all happened pretty quickly. I would say that a big moment that changed was in October of 2009 when I basically got off my butt and started producing comics like crazy.

At that point the site was only a few months old and wasn’t getting enough traffic or revenue to support me, so I was still taking on client jobs. I decided to go full bore with it and produce loads of new material. Shortly thereafter, a few of the bigger comics that really put me in the spotlight around that time were 10 Words You Need to Stop Misspelling, How to Suck at Facebook, and Why it’s Better to Pretend You Don’t Know Anything About Computers.

Q. How much of your success do you attribute to readers sharing your comics and quizzes via the social web?

Well, it definitely helps, but the real asset is the content itself. I continually disappoint marketers who interview me and hope to learn my secrets, and I end up basically saying “make things that people like.” With that in mind, I’d say it’s 80% the content, 20% the social media marketing.

I will say though that getting traffic from StumbleUpon and Digg were hugely helpful in the beginning, but now I’ve got an audience so I just try to focus more on continually putting out good stuff.

Q. With your book due to hit shop shelves in March, what’s next for The Oatmeal? Can we look forward to more web comics in 2011?

I’d like to do start doing animated shorts, but since I do everything myself it means I’d have to learn how to do that first, which is much more time consuming than regular cartooning. Also I really want to put together an iPhone/iPad/Android app — particularly on the iPad because that device is perfect for reading comics.

Regarding regular Oatmeal comics, you can definitely expect approximately ten buttcraptons of new material in 2011.

Q. Cats. Computers. The Konami Code. LEGO. iPride. Is it safe to say you are a bit of a geek?

Yeah, absolutely, but I hide it when I’m outdoors and/or in the presence of people who don’t eat 90% of their meals in front of a keyboard.

More Related Resources from Mashable:

The Origin of Twitter’s “Fail Whale”
Susan Kare: Interview With an Iconic Designer [GALLERY]
5 Funny Social Media Web Comics [PICS]
15 Great Geeky Web Comic Strips [PICS]
Top 16 Unusual Foursquare Badges

All images courtesy of The Oatmeal

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