Matthew Inman is sitting comfortably in a downtown Washington restaurant, looking remarkably refreshed for a multitasking artist and entrepreneur who just took a cross-country red-eye. Then again, what’s not to be invigorated by?
On Wednesday, the best-selling humor author and creator of the online comic the Oatmeal released his 10th book, “Why My Cat Is More Impressive Than Your Baby” — he was in the District to kick off a book tour at Politics and Prose’s Union Market store. And on Friday, Illumination’s animated “The Secret Life of Pets 2” officially opens — the first feature film for which Inman proudly received a credit, as “creative consultant.” (“I worked on a bunch of cat jokes,” he says with a grin, “and got to storyboard.”) Inman is also in development on his own animated feature for Illumination.
Meanwhile, the Seattle area-based cartoonist continues to work with his fellow company leaders on their growing card-game empire, “Exploding Kittens,” which set crowdfunding records upon the project’s launch in 2015.
So when does that leave Inman time to work on the Oatmeal, the Eisner Award-winning “storytelling-meets-infographics” feature that this month celebrates its 10th anniversary?
To be honest, Inman says, he won’t be regularly creating the Oatmeal much longer.
“It’s been wonderful, but I need a break,” the bearded artist says. He has a so-long-for-now Oatmeal comic he’s been working on, about his insights into creativity. But after he publishes that — probably by midsummer, he says — he plans to step away for “a couple of years.”
“I’m not going to retire,” the 36-year-old says. But he’ll go on long-term hiatus and then publish an occasional Oatmeal strip when, “if I put out a comic, it’s a blessing.”
Which means the new Oatmeal book could be the last collection that fans see for a good long while. Inman doesn’t travel much anymore to promote the Web comic, but he’s on the road because “I’m really proud of this book,” he said. More than just a collection of his random comics, “Why My Cat Is More Impressive” has a connective sensibility as Inman jokingly opines not only about kittens and babies, but also about dogs and their owners, as well as human relationships.
The new book also puts his creative evolution on full display.
It was June 2009 when Inman decided to start putting his comics online. He had worked for an Internet marketing company and launched a successful Internet dating site. “Ultimately, I was just bored,” says Inman, who moved to Seattle after growing up in Idaho. “I hated being a marketer. I hated having to sell my ideas. So I just started cartooning. And then those started just getting tons of attention.”
Today, Inman loves to draw, but a decade ago, it was a chore. “I hated drawing vector art with a mouse,” he says of painstakingly clicking and pointing using Adobe/Macromedia Fireworks. (Now he uses a Cintiq and a stylus.) But that was good enough visually to get across his ideas, which he loved writing.
His first viral comic was “How to Tell If Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You.” Then he pivoted to such poster comics as “How to Use an Apostrophe” and “How to Use a Semicolon.” “They had some utility, so people could hang them up for a reason,” he says.
The Oatmeal quickly had 100,000 unique visitors, and by that fall, Inman had millions of readers. He was ready to switch full time to cartooning — not that he announced it so declaratively.
“If you tell your friends and family you’re going to be a cartoonist, they look at you like: ‘So you want to borrow money?’ Or: ‘So you’re asking to move in with me?’ “
Relatives needn’t have worried. The Oatmeal began to routinely make the front page of Digg, helping drive large traffic to his site. “I kind of got this cool symbiotic relationship with that community,” Inman says.
The book offers streamed in, and Inman published the popular “Five Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth.”
“The thing that I felt like I was getting right that nobody else [in Web comics] was — that I really wanted to keep hitting on — was relatability,” Inman says of the Oatmeal’s origins. “A lot of my stuff wasn’t relatable — I did random comics about pterodactyls, about dinosaurs — but a lot of it was: You read it and you walk away saying, ‘That’s so true.’ “
Inman’s creative appetite grew for longer-form visual storytelling and outside projects. And some of his most personally rewarding comics have engaged his love of research, technology and science. He cites his comic “Why Nikola Tesla Was the Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived.” “That was the first comic where I ignored the voice in my head telling me that this is too long,” says Inman. “And getting Nikola Tesla’s museum saved was a big deal.” (The Inman-headed Indiegogo campaign, on behalf of the Tesla museum on Long Island, raised more than $1.3 million.)
Now, Inman is to the point where he says: “I love the Oatmeal — that muscle. I’m just tired and it’s been a decade of writing comics for strangers from my basement, and I want to try something different for a while.
“So this could be the last Oatmeal book.”
With that, Inman prepared to leave, ready to talk to bookstore patrons about his latest — perhaps last — Oatmeal book. His Uber would arrive soon.
As he stood, though, Inman looked anything but tired. He looked reinvigorated for that next creative venture.