Thursday, February 09, 2012

5 Very Good Reasons To Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (and Other Useful Guides) by "The Oatmeal"

I don't know what deep trauma would make a man want to appear in public under the name "The Oatmeal" -- particularly when he already has a perfectly good name, like Matthew Inman -- but it's probably enough to just note that such trauma must exist, quietly hope that he's healing comfortably, and move on.

Inman has been making comics, and things that aren't exactly comics but certainly aren't prose, either, on the Internet since mid-2009, and is now reasonably famous for doing so. (That makes me feel terribly, terribly old, but never mind that for now.) And so, like all things of reasonable popularity on the Internet [1], the comics of The Oatmeal have been collected into a bound sheaf of thin slices of dead trees, under the name 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth (And Other Useful Guides).

It actually is more useful than the standard book of cartoons, since Inman's standard operating procedure is to research something (punctuation, coffee, obscure and frightening animals) and then write up actual facts about that thing, in humorous form, almost half of the time. The other half, as required by Internet Law, is made up of things like "the 10 Types of Crappy Interviewees," "7 Reasons to Keep Your Tyrannosaur off Crack Cocaine," and "The 8 Phases of Flying." [2] The result is usually crude, almost always crass, typically profane, and often very funny for people (like much of the traditional Internet) who either prefer or can tolerate those first three traits.

There's a lot of cute animals doing horrible things, and creepy/frightening animals doing silly things here, plus the grammar lessons. You actually are at risk of learning something from an Oatmeal cartoon, which is not the case for most webcomics. (Although, just today, I did learn that Restless Leg Syndrome is a STD in one particular fictional universe.)

Inman's site isn't well designed for browsing; it's much more of a traditional '90s-style personal site than a blog or webcomic, making this book, oddly, a more user-friendly experience. (His minimalist RSS feed is also annoying, as long as I'm already being persnickety about tiny points about my medium.) So this is a swell book to leave on your coffee table to poke through or to read (as I did) during quiet moments in the smallest room in the house.

[1] I've said this a thousand times before, but it bears repeating: this is not a new effect. Before the Internet, there was still a flood of silly little humor books, but they had to be based on magazine articles and vague unformed concepts and the so-called "sense of humor" of people in big leather chairs at New York publishing companies. Nowadays, the Internet serves as a farm team for such silliness, so, presumably, the books picked up from blogs are more likely to be successful, and that actually does look like progress if you squint at it correctly.

[2] Note a pattern? Inman is no dummy; lists of all kinds are more frequently shared than other kinds of content. The Oatmeal is actually very well designed for Internet popularity, whether deliberately or just because Inman's interests resonate with the general audience.

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