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Geek Gift-Giving

SXSW Interactive announces The Oatmeal's Matthew Inman as first keynote speaker

By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Sept. 7, 2012

Geek Gift-Giving

Matthew Inman's brand of funny is serious business. On The Oatmeal, the wildly popular humor site he created in 2007, Inman illustrates goofy quizzes ("How Many Tapeworms Could Live in Your Stomach?") and sprawling, multipaneled comics that range from funny to informative to rabble-rousing. They have names like "How To Suck at Your Religion," "How the Male Angler Fish Gets Completely Screwed," and "Why Nikola Tesla Was the Greatest Geek Who Ever Lived."

Maybe you're thinking to yourself, I sure have been hearing a lot about Tesla lately. Are they on a comeback tour? (Actually, yes: They play San Juan, Puerto Rico in October with Bret Michaels and Stryper. Eleven-year-old me just squeed.) But, yeah, original Tesla, the Serbian-American genius inventor and futurist? He's been in the news because his laboratory, Wardenclyffe – the place where he did much of his pioneering work in electrical engineering – was in danger of being torn down. A nonprofit group called the Tesla Science Center needed to raise a staggering three-quarters of a million dollars to purchase the property and land. And to accomplish that, they needed a hero.

Enter Inman. A Tesla devotee – and rabid hater of Thomas Edison, Tesla's rival ("the only thing Edison truly pioneered was douchebaggery") – Inman launched an Indiegogo campaign, Operation Let's Build a Goddamn Tesla Museum, in early August. Within a week, the original goal was met; as of this writing, nearly $1.2 million has been raised.

This isn't Inman's first success with innovative crowdsourcing. When another humor site, FunnyJunk, sicced a lawyer on him after he publicly outed them for running his comics without attribution or compensation, the lawyer threatened Inman with a defamation suit unless he coughed up $20,000 in damages. Instead, the Seattle-based cartoonist started a campaign, Operation BearLove Good, Cancer Bad, to raise that exact amount and then donate all funds to the National Wildlife Federation and the American Cancer Society. He raised the $20,000, alright ... and another $200,000 on top of that.

So, in addition to having a terrific sense of humor and a particularly elegant way of sticking it to bullies, Inman has some pretty interesting ideas about how to make the web work for good, not evil. Presumably he'll be sharing those ideas when he delivers his keynote speech at the 2013 South by Southwest Interactive Festival next March. Great geeks everywhere rejoice. And the Greatest Geek? He probably approves, too.

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