Daily Archives: December 10, 2012

The Webcomic Overlook #216: Look Straight Ahead


I read Derf Backderf’s graphic novel My Friend Dahmer not too long ago. It’s an almost sympathetic look at Jeffrey Dahmer, one of Mr. Backderf’s classmates while growing up. The signs of Mr. Dahmer’s decline are obvious. He’s a heavy drinker. He does an impression of a person with cerebral palsy to entertain his classmates. He is into strange hobbies, like dissolving the bodies of tiny animals in acid.

What makes Mr. Backderf’s portrayal to be a little sympathetic, though, is that he points out that the other students he hung around with were almost as bad. Dahmer wasn’t even the most off-putting student Derf knew. In fact, Derf’s story wasn’t picture perfect, either. He pulled horrible phone pranks and messed with the yearbook. He mentioned substance abuse wasn’t so weird in his school in the 70’s. He and his friends even formed a Dahmer Fan Club, which aimed to imitate Dahmer’s weird performance ticks.

Derf really believed then, that before Dahmer’s terrible first murder, he was a guy who could have been saved. That slight glimmer of hope is what the main character in Elaine M. Will’s Look Straight Ahead is reaching for. After one of Jeremy’s psychotic breaks, his friend cut ties with him. “You do realize that now everyone thinks you’re going to start shooting the place up?” he says. It’s a horribly lonely spot, but Jeremy realizes that unless he gets better, his friend might be right.

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Buzzfeed: Inman “a fitness buff”. Also Elvis. Also wrote a comic about rape.

Shocking revelations from Buzzfeed!  Jack Stuef reveals that The Oatmeal‘s Matthew Inman likes to work out!

Inman is also a fitness buff. Though he draws himself on The Oatmeal as a blob of a man, he’s actually young and attractive. Inman has said he draws himself that way because attractive, detailed characters are less “relatable” for his audience.

In an interview with Men’s Health Singapore, he detailed some of his running feats, including completing an ultra-marathon of 50 miles, and explained why he doesn’t draw comics about a subject that interests him so deeply.

“I would love to make a comic about ultra running,” Inman said. “But not many people can say, ‘Oh, yeah, I totally know what that feels like, running a hundred miles.’ Similarly, I wanted to make a comic about snowboarding because I love snowboarding. But I don’t know if enough of my readers will get it. So I try to limit my comics to the stuff on everybody’s frequency.”

Which ties into Mr. Shuef’s main complaint about Inman: he’s so stuck in his search optimization mode that his comics are devoid of passion.

Inman has always focused on traffic, not comments or criticism. But until the rape controversy, Inman had never faced such sustained criticism from so many corners. And even if he has admitted to pandering, comic artists are an inclusive community, and nearly all I talked to said they were happy to have him part of it.

“Inman’s large and loyal following (and their wallets) is the envy of nearly every cartoonist,” New York Times cartoonist Brian McFadden said in an e-mail. “Because he’s a relative newcomer, some of the old farts are jealous and bitch and moan by saying ‘I could do that.’ Well, they didn’t.”

That loyal following lends him a special power, one Inman has taken advantage of on a couple of occasions recently, both according to a standard Internet-attention-grabbing script. He may be able to attract criticism, but he’s also shrewd about drawing in goodwill.

In June, Inman was sued by attorney Charles Carreon as part of a dispute with FunnyJunk, an aggregating site that Inman showed to be hosting his comics without attribution. The lawsuit was clearly ridiculous, and Inman, clearly in the right, took the opportunity to attract even more positive press for The Oatmeal, leveraging his audience to accumulate over $200,000 in charity donations to the American Cancer Society and National Wildlife Federation. It’s not entirely clear what the sudden charity push had to do with the lawsuit, but after the money had been donated online, Inman withdrew a similar sum of money sitting in his own bank account and took photos of himself with it to post online (before re-depositing it) to further gloat about the annihilation of Carreon in the court of public opinion, aided by the moral authority of his large audience.

Now that he’s accumulated this mass audience, he’s begun to toy with its power. He’s said he wants a seven-figure income; he’s talked about writing comedy or becoming an animator. And his peers are watching with a mixture of interest and fear.

“He’s like Elvis right now, swinging his hips, and we’re all still doing the Buddy Holly thing,” said Nicholas Gurewitch, the cartoonist behind the webcomic The Perry Bible Fellowship. “Not say we’re going to die in a plane crash. We’ll be just fine. Unless Inman takes over the world. Which he could do.”

The rape comic in question was one published recently about raping a keyboard button over and over again. It has since disappeared from the site after a lot of online controversy, after which Inman rage quit Twitter.

What can we take away from all of this? The internet, she is a fickle beast. Also sorta interested to see Inman’s webcomic on amazing feats of power running.

(h/t Robot 6)

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