The outside world: comics interesting things internet
by Harry Connolly
(Added later: Inman offers a response to the article in question and it’s quite long. It’s also a pretty detailed dismantling of the article itself, in which the cartoonist points out several of the comics he’s done that on controversial topics.
All of which flies in the face of the original article and what I’ve written here. I encourage people to check it out.)
Should I have said “barrier” in the subject line? Maybe it should have been “path” with a question mark at the end.
For example: there’s this unfriendly article on Matthew Inman, the guy behind The Oatmeal. Inman started out as an SEO expert, creating quizzes, cartoons, and other sites that included links to clients’ sites, driving up their Google ranking. When he got sick of that job, he struck out on his own. A quote:
“With The Oatmeal, I wanted to create something where the viral marketing itself was the product, rather than trying to put it on something else.”
Some of this most popular, most-linked comics are about grammar misuse; he basically instructs people how to use the language correctly, and makes fun of the ways people get it wrong.
Not that he particularly cares about grammar himself. The truth is, he noticed it was something people got angry about on the internet, did some research to look up the correct usages, drew the comics, then had an editor check them.
End result: profit. He even sells posters to schools, which is a nice gig if you can get it.
You can see this all through his site: Comics about how terrible it is to fly a plane. About bad customer service over the phone. About people who talk in movie theaters.
Are these things that Inman himself cares about? The question misses the point. The readers care about it. People on reddit care and once they start linking to him there it spreads all over the internet. Inman wants to make comics that reinforce the opinions you already have. His usual everyman protagonist, bald and overweight, is supposed to be “relatable” for his audience. It certainly doesn’t represent the cartoonist himself, who is a full-on fitness nut.
Sure, they’re funny. I’ve laughed more than once on his site; the guy is clever and has a way with the over-the-top joke. His drawing style is also unique and expressive, the sort of thing that make people think I could do that if I wanted to even though they couldn’t.
Then there are things that are odd or absurd, like the online quizzes. How many 5-year olds can you take in a fight? How long would you last if you were chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor?
All that stuff is charming and linkable, but it comes from me, not from him. It’s tailored to appeal to me. If I were to guess, I’d say this comic about making things for the web is personal to him, if you forget about the fat guy gorging himself on Cheetos or whatever that’s supposed to be. The rest of it, who knows?
So I’m stuck in this weird place. You know that thing that happens when you’re all “MY GOD WHAT A GREAT MOVIE THAT WAS IT’S MY NEW FAVE I WISH I COULD DO THAT!” and your friend says “You mean the movie set in New York that didn’t have a single non-white face in it?” or “You mean the movie where the villain murders all these people to get a magic doohickey and the hero defeats him by giving him the doohickey?” or “You mean the one where the world is set right by reinstalling a king?” or “You mean the one where the cops can only stop the bad guys by ignoring all those pesky laws, regulations, and restraints on their power?”
When that happens, it’s like walking into a glass door. Boom. I am being pandered to so efficiently that I didn’t even notice. How could I not notice?
It’s like a Hollywood movie, I guess. Big summer tentpole pictures are full of characters and story choices designed to appeal to the widest possible crowd, and that’s fine. I enjoy movies like that. I enjoyed THE AVENGERS and WRECK-IT RALPH.
But I enjoy them at a remove. I know they’re designed to flatter and thrill me without being personal in a challenging way. I know they’re not going to tell me anything I’m uncomfortable with, as long as I’m in the target audience. There’s nothing wrong with that. Let me repeat, with boldface: There’s nothing wrong with that. People make work for all sorts of reasons, and the marketplace of ideas and entertainment is large enough even for the stuff aimed at SEO. And who wants to hate on a Wookie Jesus iPhone case?
One of the big changes that the internet has brought about is the idea that niche markets pay, if you keep your expenses down. If you’re good and “authentic” (by whatever definition) you can reach people.
But to reach really really large audiences? Millionaire in just a few years audiences? Best to click on through to the article above and study up on Inman’s advice.
Folks, I just donated $25 to The Hero Initiative, which is basically the price of three matinee tickets to The Avengers (plus a buck).
The movie is bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars, and none of that goes to the people who originally created that content, many of whom are living in difficult situations. I donated as a way to show my thanks and my respect, and I hope you do, too.
The Dusk Society set a… well, is it a new low? Because I’ve read some genuine shit in my time, and this book, while it was definitely bad, was mostly just dull and anti-dramatic. The villain continually thought up reasons not to kill his enemies, the photo-based art was ugly, and if there was an interesting way to get a plot point across, this book dodged it.
Sure, it’s supposed to be fore kids, so they didn’t want a lot of bloody murder, but you can’t call a villain worse than Satan if all he ever does is collect magic trinkets and tell his henches not to kill people.
The plot covers the recruitment of four modern teens into a monster-fighting society (they each have Speshul Powers Or Skills). I got bored with it less than halfway through, but my son read the whole thing, laughing all the way through.
Then you get to the end of the book, when the sexy teacher in the bad clothes who inducted the students into the Dusk Society offers a contract to the reader. Would YOU like to be a secret monster fighter???
The large size is easier to read. But here’s what the contract says:
I solemnly promise to serve The Dusk Society, with my life* if needed.
I understand that my life will at risk–everyday.
Signature of member
Notice that asterisk? What it refers to is handled in a caption, not even on the contract itself. It reads:
*UPON DEATH, ALL YOUR LIFE SAVINGS AND PROPERTY WILL BE SEIZED BY THE DUSK SOCIETY. WITHOUT NOTICE, THE DUSK SOCIETY MAY ALSO EXERCISE THE RIGHT TO ACQUIRE THE SAVINGS AND PROPERTY OF ANY SURVIVING RELATIVES.
That is one helluva clause, isn’t it? I’m tempted to make a joke about asking kids under 18 to sign contracts, or about the ways cults enrich themselves from their members, but in truth this sort of dopey story choice just makes me depressed.
By the way, that thing beside the couch is a cat.