Supporters: Oatmeal Cartoonist Matthew Inman Draws Inspiration from Nature
To help protect wildlife, comic artist Matthew Inman galvanizes online fans to donate more than just clicks, shares and likes
TO KEEP HIS 7 MILLION MONTHLY READERS HAPPY, where does the creator of one of the Internet’s most wildly popular humor sites go for new material? Like many cartoonists, Matthew Inman, the irreverent intellect behind the Web comic and humor blog The Oatmeal, draws much of his inspiration from the animal kingdom, particularly cats and dogs. (His comic collection How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You was on the New York Times Best Sellers List for 23 weeks.) But Inman also is inspired by wild creatures such as dolphins, gorillas, baboons and, especially, bears. His wildlife cartoons are what led him to Danielle Brigida, NWF’s senior manager of social strategy and integration—and to donations to the Federation of more than $100,000 by Inman’s online fans.
Inman’s interest in wildlife goes back to childhood. When he was 7 years old, his family moved from Southern California to a remote part of northern Idaho that received a single television channel. “My reality changed completely,” Inman recalls. “I started to spend a lot of time outdoors.” Bear and other wildlife sightings were common in the 30 acres of forest that surrounded his home. On top of that, “my mother was a professional teddy bear maker,” Inman says. He adds that the bear puns bandied about by family members could be “unbearable.”
Now 30, Inman moved to Seattle 13 years ago to work as a computer programmer and website designer. (He designed his first sites at age 13.) To supplement his day job, he started an Internet dating site that included cartoons and humorous blogs about relationships. Soon the humor content was so successful that he sold the dating site and became a full-time comic artist, creating The Oatmeal in 2009. Two years later, Inman launched a fundraising campaign on the site—“Operation BearLove Good, Cancer Bad”—asking readers to donate money to NWF and the American Cancer Society.
Why NWF? When Brigida, a longtime fan, shared some Oatmeal comics on Twitter a couple years earlier, Inman got in touch. “I’d been thinking about donating to a conservation organization for awhile,” he says. “After meeting Danielle, I thought, ‘This is my group. They’re really fun people who do good work to help wildlife.’” Since the initial fundraiser, both Inman and his fans have made additional donations to NWF totalling about $15,000. “For years, I’ve been making jokes about bears,” he says. “I decided it was time to start giving back.”
When Inman first launched his fundraising initiative, “I was terrified,” he admits. “I thought no one would donate anything, and I’d be humiliated.” Instead, he raised his initial goal of $20,000 in 64 minutes and more than $100,000 in less than 24 hours. “I think the humor helped,” he says now. “It’s a good way to get people to listen.” Brigida agrees: “Especially with heavy, complex issues like the environment, humor can get people listening and caring.”
Today Inman still looks to wild animals for comic inspiration. (Recently, he’s been “preoccupied” with mantis shrimp.) “When you look around and see what’s happening to wildlife and much of the natural world, it can make you sad,” Inman says. “But there’s also a wealth of comedy in nature.”
Laura Tangley is a senior editor at National Wildlife.