The Oatmeal, unfair critics and ink by the barrel

“Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.”

That’s the old saying, which MediaBistro tried to update for the digital age. And it applies to people today who have popular sites — or worse, a lot of enablers. Hope Solo can just mention “haters” without being specific, and thousands of Twitter followers will mobilize against … someone.

That’s fine, as long as that power isn’t abused. With any form of power comes a line between proper use and abuse.

Now walking gingerly up to that fine line: The Oatmeal (Matt Inman), who has produced some of the funniest and most insightful comics on the web. Or before the web. Some hit me on a personal level — “Some thoughts and musings about making things for the web” is every web content creator’s life in a comic, and I’m walking proof that he nailed it with “Why working from home is both awesome and terrible.”

And you have to admire someone who not only writes and draws so well about cats and dogs but also produces a “Grammar Pack,” wonderfully illustrating the ways we literally misuse the English language.

When he faced a nuisance suit, he cleverly turned the tables on the lawyer pursuing him, seeking tens of thousands of dollars for charity but ending up with hundreds of thousands. of dollars for charity

The Oatmeal has stumbled into another controversy, this time over gratuitous use of the word “rape.” That led to a clumsy hit piece at Buzzfeed, which found an alleged profile page of Inman’s and ran with it. Oops. He’s not married, and he has no kids. (Also, Buzzfeed writer Jack Stuef somehow thought Inman was a Republican.)

So Inman, in the same style as his lawsuit response, shredded Stuef’s piece and Stuef himself on his blog, again proving that no one should make an enemy of Inman.

Roughly 90 percent of Inman’s piece is wholly justified, and most of the reaction on Twitter is along the lines of “Huh, yeah, take that, you stupid Buzzfeed writer.”

But is Inman going to get a complex from his two takedowns of his critics? And couldn’t he offer a more sincere mea culpa for the initial rape joke? Inman knows the Internet — he surely knows people have been excoriated (or fired) for better-intentioned rape comments than that. (Right, UFC fans?) You just don’t compare everyday things to rape. If you do, it doesn’t mean you’re a bad guy — it just means you need to learn not to do that.

Betabeat and Salon have questioned Inman’s response. So far, their comments sections haven’t exploded.

We’ve seen one talented comic artist, Scott Adams, go down a bad road. Dilbert is, by any measure, a terrific comic strip. Unfortunately, Adams decided that his success with Dilbert meant he was some sort of guru. He began to pontificate about things with which he had passing knowledge (the workplace) and things with which he had no knowledge (intelligent design, “men’s rights.”) Now Adams is pretty much at war with academics like PZ Myers.

Inman probably won’t go down that road. He seems to have a firmer grasp of life outside an office cubicle. But a little dose of humility never hurt anyone, even when you’re answering critics who haven’t done the slightest bit of accurate research. Others’ imperfections don’t make you perfect.


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