The Oatmeal's Matthew Inman on His Love of Nikola Tesla, His Fear of Hairless Cats, and His Upcoming Visit to Changing Hands

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Speaking with Matthew Inman is a lot like reading his wildly popular webcomic The Oatmeal: It's a frequently funny experience, there's a smattering of humorous vulgarity involved, and the subject matter can be random. It's what we experienced during our recent conversation with Inman, and what the audience at Changing Hands in Tempe on Friday night will likely experience when the author and creator of The Oatmeal visits for a discussion and to sign copies of his latest book How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You.

Our chat with Inman covered his latest mission to create a museum dedicated to his hero Nikola Tesla, why he'd like someone to build a 100-foot statue of him, Daniel Day Lewis' acting style, bear defecation, and how hairless cats freak him out.

Confused? You won't be after hitting the jump and reading our interview.

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So what's the status of the Nikola Tesla museum? The land has been bought. It's done. It's in the hands of the non-profit. We can't disclose how much we bought it for, but it was a good amount and we've got some money left over. So, from here, the tentative plan is to clean up the property, which means mowing the lawn, I 'spose, kinda fixing the building up because its got a mold problem and its been broken into and trashed. And [we'll] try to have a one-day Nikola Tesla festival on July 10. That's on his birthday.

So will you play a role in the creation of the museum? After all, you helped make it happen. My role, you know, will be the same its been all along: Just being the spokesman for Tesla's awesomeness and that kinda thing. I would love it if they built a huge bronze statue of me, Kim Jong-il style, like 100 feet tall. But really I did this for Tesla, although I'd be really flattered if they named it the "Goddamned Nikola Tesla Museum." It would be pretty awesome but I don't think that's going to happen.

Is that your official title, the "Official Spokesperson for Tesla's Awesomeness"? That's kinda what I've been rolling with, yeah. I feel like that's my role. I don't know anything about building a museum, so I don't want to be like, "No, we need this exhibit" or "Let's put some dinosaur bones over here." I don't know what I'm doing, so I just sorta trust in them.

How does it feel having millions of Internet users at your beck and call? It's great to see both people act generously with their money on the Internet for an inventor who's been dead for 70 years. That, to me, is the coolest thing. Because I've done some stuff before where I'll direct people on the Internet to a comic or to a quiz or just some sort of thing. Go vote for me here or go click on this.

So they're very generous with clicks and refreshes and tweets and comments. But to see them pull out their credit cards and actually pay money for something to make a museum exist that isn't there was very awesome to be a part of that.

Are there any other causes or pet projects you'd like to support? I get asked that a lot, and right now I'm just so busy with the new book and Tesla and everything. I'm kinda just waiting to see if something comes up, because now I've got every charity on Indiegogo from here to the end of the world asking for some support with their fundraiser. For now, I'm not going to do anything, but probably in a few months I'm gonna find something else to do. I haven't made my mind up yet.

And that's the thing, the events surrounding the museum were so specific and everything coincided so well that I could never repeat the success of this. My next project will be super modest. Like I'm just going to raise 10 grand for like a kitty shelter or something.

Christian Bale is widely rumored to be starring in an upcoming Tesla movie. There are also a couple of indie Tesla movies in the works as well. Have any of these projects contacted you for support? Yeah. One of them is called Fragments From Olympus and they actually got started on this project before our campaign. Like before Tesla was hip. I had a perk where if you donated $33,000, I would write about you on The Oatmeal and the makers of this film were kind enough to donate $35,000. So that one I wanted to help out if I can.

Which actor would make an ideal Tesla, in your opinion? Christian Bale's great, he even looks like him. He's got kind that intense demeanor. I loved David Bowie in The Prestige just because everything he's in is pretty good. Other than that ... I'd almost go with Daniel Day Lewis since he's so good in everything and he's also got that sharp face. He can be very soft spoken at times, like in interviews he's like (softly) "Oh hi, I'm Daniel Day Lewis and I'm so happy." And when you see him in a film, he's like (gruffly) "I'VE ABANDONED MY CHILD!" So, I think the softer version would work really well for Nikola Tesla.

So have any cats tried to kill you lately? No, no. I haven't been around many cats. Somebody brought a cat to one of my book signings and it scared the shit outta me 'cause I kinda in this zone I guess where you have to talk to hundreds of people in a row all night long. And this girl walked up to me and it took me a few seconds to realize she had a little cat carrier with a little hairless cat's head poking out. She jokingly told me to sign it and thought she was serious for second. Like, "I'm not gonna sign your damn hairless cat." I got to pet the kitty, I never got to pet a hairless cat before. It felt like rubbery velvet. It was really weird.

Are cats truly evil creatures? No...we love them. We do. They're adorable, they're wonderful. We all think they're great. But if your cat was the size of a big cat, like a leopard or lion or a tiger, no matter how much you've cared for it, even if you've raised it from a kitten, there would come a day where that cat would look at you and put you in the ground. That's just how they are. Its like the only thing that separates you from death is just mass. It lacks the mass to kill you. Dogs aren't like that. I think if a dog was the size of a grizzly bear I still don't think he would decided to eat me. I think he would still be loving.

What sort of pets do you own? Right now I have two dogs, Rambo and Beatrix. I don't own a cat right now. I had a lot of cats growing up and throughout my life so I'm kinda in a dog phase.

Your recent comic about Rambo, "My Dog, The Paradox," was kinda profound as well as funny. Do normally shy away from schmaltzy stuff? I don't shy away from it, I've just never tried it until the dog comic, because I never thought to try writing thing as emotional, maybe because the things I write about are like coffee and grammar, so its hard to put emotion into that. But [with] my dog, I'm a huge fan of this animal and if he ever dies I will burn the fucking sky down in retribution to avenge his death. So when I wrote it, it was just sorta natural that it turned into that.

And now I've touched off a great response to that...It was funny, I had this girl who tweet at me, "Oatmeal, you make me laugh out loud and then I cried. Fuck you, I hate you." There was like this full spectrum of human emotion in the one tweet. And seeing that made me want to write more comics like that. I still do the regular old Oatmeal with bears shitting out people and the usual poop jokes and what not but I would love to occasionally dovetail into things that are a little bit more profound or emotional.

The content on The Oatmeal can seem utterly random at times. How do you come up with your ideas? Brain-farming. It's really how I brainstorm. I will come up with an idea that I want to write about, say unicorns or bears, and then, I'll think about it, and think about it. Now, when I sit down and think about it, I usually don't come up with anything I can use, but if I go running or while I'm in the shower or something all the pieces just click together.

I do, however, often pick subjects that everyone can relate to. Articulating a common gripe, talking about a childhood experience we all shared -- such as eating play-doh or being disappointment by the flavor of Juicy Fruit gum, or being topical and making something about current events. Say something we're all thinking but no one is putting it into the right words. Or just make something that's really damn interesting.

Matthew Inman is scheduled to appear at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe at 7 p.m. on Friday. Admission is free with purchase of either of his books ($14.95).

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