The Oatmeal, a popular webcomic that is created entirely by cartoonist Matthew Inman, has moved beyond just making us laugh with his hilarious drawings and life observations. He has now become, for all intents and purposes, a philanthropist.
One Brave Cartoonist
It all started in 2011, when Inman wrote a scathing comic on his site asking his audience what he should do about the fact that a user-generated content site called FunnyJunk.com, among others, was hosting his stolen work on their site without giving him due credit. FunnyJunk’s lawyer, Charles Carreon, responded by filing a lawsuit against Inman for defamation of character. FunnyJunk asked that the post be removed from Inman’s site, and that he pay $20,000 in damages.
Instead of lying down and taking it, Inman decided to go back to his large and powerful fan base (The Oatmeal has over 715,000 fans on Facebook alone), and tell them what FunnyJunk and their lawyer were trying to do to their beloved webcomic. Then, in what can only be described as an extended cyber middle finger, Inman decided to solicit charitable donations from his audience. Instead of sending Carreon et al a check for $20,000, he decided to divide the donations up among two of his favorite charities.
The Oatmeal did not raise $20,000 for The American Cancer Society and The National Wildlife Federation; he ended up raising more than $211,000 for the charities instead.
Inman’s fans rallied around his cause, not just because they felt good about donating to the two worthy charities that he had selected, but also because they wanted to support the person whose talent and hard work has kept them entertained for years. The outpouring of donations effectively told FunnyJunk and their lawyer to stop stealing content, and to stop threatening the content-producers when they publicly point out that their work’s copyright has been infringed upon.
FunnyJunk’s lawyer eventually dropped his frivolous lawsuit, but clearly, a spark had been lit. Perhaps Inman hadn’t been prepared for the phenomenal outpouring of support from his fan base, but once he realized that he had the power of millions of web users in his corner, he seems to have decided to use his power to do some more good in the world.
The Tesla Museum
Fresh off of the success of his first charitable donation, a new opportunity to spread goodwill presented itself. Inman has often written about scientist Nikola Tesla, whom Inman calls “the greatest geek who ever lived,” so it was only natural that fellow Tesla fans wrote to The Oatmeal when they heard that Tesla’s Wardenclyffe, NY laboratory was in danger of being demolished. Inman told Slate, "I figured, I made a comic about Tesla, I've got a huge following of Tesla fans on my Twitter, and I've also had this successful fundraiser, so let's see if we can raise the money."
Raise the money, he did. After announcing his desire to buy the Tesla lab and turn it into a museum, Inman raised over $1 million in just nine days.
It’s unclear what cause Inman will choose to channel his awesome web power towards next, but knowing how he has operated thus far, it’s clear that he will continue to use his social media clout to help others in some way. He has already proven himself a capable leader whose goal is not simply to make us laugh with his very funny drawings, but to perpetuate his hope "that philanthropy trumps douchebaggery and greed." We can’t wait to see what he does next.