July 10, 2012 at 12:20 AM ET
"I convinced a large scary friend of mine to bring his shotgun," Matthew "The Oatmeal" Inman explained about a week ago, when I asked whether he was taking any security measures while preparing to fulfill a promise made to the Internet's population.
The amateur guard must've been enough, because on Monday, Inman posted photos of $211,223.04 — in cash — along with a drawing of someone's mother "seducing a Kodiak bear." It was an admittedly bizarre gesture, intended to fulfill the cartoonist's pledge to donors across the Internet, that money that could've been spent battling jerks in court was better suited for charity.
"Trying to explain it was insane," Inman told me on Monday evening.
Back up! Tell this story from the beginning!
Even though many people don't recognize his name (or his face), the 29-year-old man pictured above is an incredibly popular cartoonist. You've probably seen plenty of his work — such as "10 Words You Need To Stop Misspelling," "What It's Like To Own An Apple Product," or "Cat vs Internet" — in your Facebook feed, on Twitter, or on your favorite blog at some point. It's almost impossible to avoid Matthew Inman online.
About a year ago, Inman got fed up with a website — called FunnyJunk — which had become particularly prone to re-hosting and monetizing his work. He wrote a blog post declaring that FunnyJunk had "practically stolen [his] entire website." FunnyJunk's owner responded by claiming that Inman was threatening to sue him and removing any content which referenced "The Oatmeal."
That was the last Inman had heard from FunnyJunk, until June 2012, when he was served with papers explaining that the site's owner was threatening to file a federal lawsuit unless the cartoonist paid $20,000 in damages. Inman consulted a lawyer before posting the letter online, along with his rebuttal and an explanation of what he'll do.
"I've got a better idea," Inman wrote. "I'm going to try and raise $20,000 in donations. I'm going to take a photo of the raised money. I'm going to mail you that photo, along with this drawing of your mom seducing a Kodiak bear. I'm going to take the money and donate one half to the National Wildlife Federation and the other half to the American Cancer Society."
Inman's fundraiser — which was dubbed "BearLove Good. Cancer Bad" — was incredibly successful. He collected over $200,000 via a crowd-sourcing website called Indiegogo.
Hell hath no fury like a lawyer scorned
While Inman was raising money for charity though, Charles Carreon, who at the beginning of the tale had simply been FunnyJunk's legal representation, was seething.
When I reached out to Carreon in early June, the attorney told me that he had to remove his contact information from his website due to the large number of people who'd contacted him after Inman's blog post went online.
"I really did not expect that he would marshal an army of people who would besiege my website and send me a string of obscene emails," he said.
Carreon filed a lawsuit — on his own behalf — against Inman, the charities he was raising funds for and more. He wanted to freeze the funds and to silence the criticism of his actions.
The situation quickly escalated and even freedom of speech fell on the line for a while — as it often does whenever someone's Internet activity leads to a legal mess.
Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) — a donor-funded nonprofit organization created to defend digital rights — broke down the whole drama in a blog post, describing Carreon's initial legal threat — the one which inspired the charity fundraiser — "baseless" before proceeding to explain just how "outrageous" the attorney's legal demand was. The EFF teamed up with Inman's attorney Venkat Balasubramani to fight Carreon's lawsuit.
The battle's done and the Internet kinda won
"Matthew Inman spoke out against Carreon's threat of a frivolous lawsuit, in a very popular and very public way," the post quoted Opsahl as saying. "This was nothing more than a meritless attempt to punish Inman for calling attention to his legal bullying. We called him out on this in our briefs, so it's no surprise that Carreon was left with no choice but to dismiss."
"We're very pleased that Carreon has seen that his lawsuit had no merit, and hope that this is the end of his abuse of the legal system," EFF Intellectual Property Director Corynne McSherry was quoted as adding.
All's well that ends with silly photos
Now that we've covered the basics of this convoluted story, you probably understand why Inman struggled to explain to his bank why he needed to withdraw over $200,000 in bills, if only for a little while.
"So there's this bear ... and he's having sex with a lady who's really overweight ... and I make comics ... $200,000 in cash," he started to describe the exchange before seemingly giving up. "I had to fill out a bunch of tax forms."
The money in Inman's photos isn't the money he raised for charity, mind you. In fact, Indiegogo already transferred the grand total to the National Wildlife Federation and American Cancer Society, split right down the middle.
In order to avoid further aggravating the situation with Carreon, Inman withdrew an amount equivalent to the fundraiser's total from his own account. The money was only out of his account for a couple of hours, for the photo shoot, before Inman redeposited it.
I reached out to Carreon, to see what he thinks about how this strange tale ended, but he hasn't responded yet. Maybe he's waiting to receive Inman's gift — a photo of the money along with a framed drawing of a woman seducing a bear. I'm told that the package is being shipped out tomorrow, so Carreon won't have to wait long.
"[The situation is] an education in the power of mob psychology and the Internet," he told me back in early June. I have a hunch that he still stands by that comment.
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